Although on Fridays, I usually post pictures of things that make me happy (and there are lots!), today I wanted to start my post with something that makes me unhappy… ANXIETY. There has been a lot of talk lately on social media about mental illness, and about breaking down the stigma that surrounds it – which I think it so great. (See the awesome video above, or click here). For too long, it has been something that is taboo; something that people fear talking about for risk of being judged by others or of being treated differently or unfairly. And that’s just not okay.
I have had issues with anxiety for as long as my memory goes back. As a little kid, going to sleep terrified me. When I was left alone in my room at night, feelings of panic would creep over me, often resulting in a full-fledged tantrum. Sometimes I cried and screamed, and sometimes I kept my parents up until four in the morning.
After many years, that phase passed, but my anxiety showed in other ways. I would wash my hands until they cracked and bled, convinced that there were harmful germs everywhere. I would find myself in tears, repeating some ritual over and over, wanting so badly to stop, but sure that something terrible would happen to my family if I did. I remember the first time I read about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and feeling so incredibly relieved – I wasn’t losing my mind; there were other people just like me.
Eventually, I was able to get some of the worst aspects of my OCD under control (apparently through self-inflicted and mom-inflicted exposure therapy, as a therapist recently told me – thanks Mama). And for many years I felt nearly anxiety-free.
It wasn’t until I was doing graduate work at university that it came back, in a different way, but much worse than ever before. I began having regular panic attacks, and just getting out of bed in the morning became difficult. I catastrophised nearly every situation – if I couldn’t get a hold of my dad, I would immediately think he had been in a horrific accident. The imagery in my head was vivid and horrible. Finally one day, I called my Mom at work and told her about the panic attacks, and all the things I had been feeling. She reassured me and made me feel better. I went to my doctor, and I started seeing a therapist.
Nearly three years later, I feel really good. I take anti-depressants (and occasional benzodiazepines) to manage my anxious symptoms, and I feel like I have many tools at hand to ensure that I can control my anxiety (thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy). So that’s what I’m going to share today – the things that help me manage anxiety. I’m most certainly not an expert, and what works for one person may not work for others since anxiety is different for different people – but maybe the things that have helped me can also help someone else.
1. Talk to your friends and family. Telling someone that you feel like you’re losing your mind is hard, but it helps. And in my experience, people are amazing, and will respond better than you think they will. My parents and my husband are so wonderful and understanding, and I’m so lucky to have them. The friends that I’ve talked to have been the very best, and in many cases have gone through eerily similar things.
2. When I feel anxious, I write it down. I have an “anxiety book” where I write down the things that are making me anxious. It sounds silly, but sometimes just writing it down on paper helps me put things in perspective. It can be easy to avoid the thoughts that make me anxious, but by confronting the issue and putting it on paper, I nearly always feel better.
3. Make a list. Keeping track of what feels like a zillion things in my head stresses me out. So I make a ‘to do’ list, and check things off as I get them done. I also keep a running list on my phone, so I can write things down as soon as they pop into my head, and then let them go.
4. If you can’t sleep, don’t stress. There are lots of times that I find it hard to get to sleep, with anxious thoughts buzzing around in my head. But the worst thing you can do is stress yourself out about that fact that you can’t sleep! I find progressive muscle relaxation really helpful – it quiets my mind, and relaxes my body. Check out this article from Anxiety BC on how to do it. And even if you’re up for half the night, force yourself to get up the next morning at a reasonable time – sleeping-in will only make getting to sleep the next night even worse.
5. Focus on the present. Don’t get carried away thinking about the future, and things you can’t control. If you find yourself getting carried away with ‘what ifs’, purposely stop yourself (I picture a big red stop sign, seriously), and make an effort to think about all the things that make you happy right now. Thinking about things that are beyond your control will get you nowhere.
So with THAT, here are a few things that made me happy this week :)