As I said in my first post, I don’t know why I have anxiety. The “why” question is a big one and, after a lot of consideration, I’ve decided to bypass it altogether (for now). Here, I’m just going to focus on my personal “highs and lows”. By this, I mean the things that can make my anxiety worse and those that make it better.
I am deliberately focusing here on my experiences and the things that help me personally. I do not presume to know what will bring on or help someone else’s anxiety and so it’s important that this post isn’t misinterpreted as direct advice. However, to anyone reading this who also suffers from anxious thoughts: if this post helps you understand your own anxiety better or inspires you to try a new coping mechanism, then that’s great! And if anyone ever wants to discuss ways of managing anxiety, I would LOVE to chat about it! So without further ado…
Let’s just get this one out there straight away. Those flipping hormones. All those who go through it know what PMS does to the mood and for me, it’s one of my biggest anxiety demons. Everything is ramped up while I’m waiting for my period to just start already. It’s so much harder to control my thoughts and to stay rational when all those hormones are racing round my brain and helping my mind to play tricks on itself.
This is a big one – possibly even the main one. Rumination is one of my biggest enemies, and rumination is brought on by boredom. My brain has been used to being busy my whole life and so now, whenever I’m bored, it needs something to do. It needs to be challenged and stimulated on a daily basis otherwise, in the absence of anything substantial, it feeds on those unwanted thoughts just to stay active.
(This is a major theme, which I’m going to revisit in a future post.)
3.) Coffee and alcohol
I’ve paired these two together because the effect is the same; these two play havoc with those pesky thoughts. I’ve almost cut coffee out of my life completely (I say almost because today I actually had my first coffee in a very long time and instantly regretted it), which breaks my heart because I absolutely love it. But it’s necessary – nothing is worth the shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and shaky hands that coffee now induces in me.
I still drink alcohol – I’ve toyed with giving it up completely but I nearly always cave (I’m a people-pleaser and extremely susceptible to persuasion, plus I just love a good glass of chilled white wine when catching up with friends). To be fair, unlike coffee alcohol doesn’t always bring on my anxiety, so long as I’m sensible. But the sense of rising panic and near-hysteria I usually feel when experiencing a hangover is enough for me to have a strict word with myself and swear never to go over my limit again.
Yep, you did read that right! This is a weird one, but I’m fairly certain it deserves a place on this list.
I love a good Netflix session as much as the next person and it’s always a great way to wind down after a long day. But I’ve come to realise that I’m often a lot more clear-headed and “together” when I haven’t watched anything for a long time (so to be fair, I shouldn’t really be blaming Netflix for this one – what I’m saying here really goes for all TV/films/moving images). I’m not really sure why this is; it could be something to do with my brain having to process all those moving images when it’s already under stress, or the fact that screens/TV interrupt sleep. Either way, I did an experiment a while ago and didn’t watch anything at all for a week. I slept so much better (I didn’t remember any of my dreams and didn’t wake up in the night at all), and I felt a lot more clear-headed in the days – whether because of better sleep or a clearer mind, I don’t know.
This list isn’t exhaustive; the above are just some of the main culprits. But now to the GOOD…
I’m in between counsellors at the moment, but having a counsellor has really helped me. Just talking to someone who doesn’t judge, who won’t interrupt and who is giving me their undivided attention helps so much. Plus, once my terrifying, horrifying thoughts have been shared with another human being, they often don’t seem so bad.
Equally, writing thoughts down helps my mind to organise and process them. Rather than whirling round my head in a chaotic maelstrom of hysteria, they’re on paper in front of me and I can start to build links and decipher patterns in my thinking.
Yep, I know. It’s one of the things we’re all constantly hearing about, whether it’s yet another MBSR course at work or any one of the several mindfulness-related bestsellers in the front window of Waterstone’s.
But I don’t mean embarking on a 12-week course – I mean using the Headspace app. I don’t really have the space here to go into too much detail on this (I’m aware I’ve already been writing for quite a while…) but I just want to say: the Headspace app is brilliant and has helped me immensely. For anyone who wants to hear more, I’m going to revisit this in a future post.
3.) Yoga and Pilates
I used to be one of the biggest yoga sceptics (and didn’t even know what Pilates was until about two years ago). I knew thousands of people swear by it and I understood how it helps the body, but I just couldn’t see how it could help the mind.
I’m now fully converted. Yoga keeps me balanced and on track and it helps keep the anxiety at bay. I still don’t really understand how, but I’m not one to argue!
Pilates does the same. When I was living in Florence last year, I went to a Pilates class nearly every day and I barely experienced any anxiety at all. I’m fairly sure there was a correlation.
But seriously though. I have an adult colouring book and a box of felt tip pens and this is genuinely one of my main saviours. I colour every time I’m in a bad phase and even when I’m not, and it’s just the best. It’s a form of mindfulness in itself, in that it demands concentration and present awareness, and it’s just so soothing.
This is also not an exhaustive list; there are many other things that help me (exercise, chamomile tea, reading books and surrounding myself with people, to name a few) – but I’m aware that I’m now on four pages on Word and didn’t plan to go over three…
So I will close here but, as always, please let me know any thoughts you have and feel free to comment below.
PS: On the theme of giving equal attention to the highs and the lows of life, I’ve decided to introduce a “Low of the Week” and a “High of the Week” as an accompaniment to all my posts:
LOW OF THE WEEK: Saturday morning, after a rare cup of coffee. I was in the Isle of Wight, with my family (i.e. one of my happiest and safest environments) – but the coffee just brought on so much panic, self-doubt and general feelings of foreboding.
HIGH OF THE WEEK: Thursday afternoon: tea, flapjacks and a much needed catch up with one of my best friends (you know who you are!) whom I hadn’t seen in WAY too long. So much laughter and all of the deep meaningful chats – two of life’s greatest joys!