I’ve suffered from anxiety for a very, very long time; perhaps as long as I remember. It was brought on by a great many things, from abandonment to bullying. Or, it was possibly always there, just hidden away, waiting to be brought on by some trigger or other. I believe that some people are definitely more naturally inclined to feeling anxious; if you’re introverted, for instance, I think you are more likely to suffer the effects of anxiety, especially if you are around people a lot of the time. Of course, that’s not to say that all introverts are anxious, just as all extroverts are not all impervious to its effects, as they would be completely wrong generalisations.
When people ask me how anxiety feels, I take inspiration from a post I read on another article about anxiety; imagine you’re walking down a staircase. You reach the bottom step, and you know you’ve reached the end, and as you put your foot out, you expect to feel the floor. Except you haven’t reached the bottom step, and your foot struggles to find purchase in the empty air where you expected the floor to be. Of course, the floor is near, and the feeling of your stomach sinking only hits you for a moment. Now, imagine you’re feeling like this constantly. Every second of the day. It never stops fully, only lessens with practice. That, my friends, is how anxiety feels. A churning feeling in your stomach, as if you’ve forgotten something, but can’t quite remember what. As if you know there’s something wrong, but can’t quite place it.
In my case, these feelings are combined with the also troublesome factor of OCD, which can make it even worse, but that’s a different potential post entirely. Over the years, and through the help (and not so help) of multiple therapists, counsellors, and friends, I’ve developed some strategies for coping with my anxiety. Of course, this list is neither complete, nor useful to every single person, but I hope that it at least helps somebody, at least a little.
You’ve probably heard of this before. It gets plastered on a lot of leaflets you find in dreary hospital waiting rooms, and “famous” people on talk shows can’t get enough of it. It’s seen as the new health fix, ready to cure every ill to do with the mind that biology ever came up with. I don’t agree; mindfulness is something that either works for you, or doesn’t. If you can’t properly grasp the notion of it, you will never fully be able to benefit from it, and that’s fine.
Mindfulness is a lot to do with accepting your anxiety, and focusing on it, which a lot of people can find triggering and uncomfortable. To let your anxiety speak to you, and to really acknowledge it, is no easy feat; for most, problems that cause the anxiety get pushed to the back of the mind, forgotten until you can really address them, instead allowing the anxiety itself to take over. In some way, mindfulness is the same, but the pushing away part is taken out of the equation. To be mindful is to listen to your problems, and answer them. When you’re sat on a train, and you can’t help but feel anxious that your taxi may be late, logically, it will do you no good. Until you get to the station, and beyond the ticket barriers, there is absolutely nothing you can do, and mindfulness is about sitting quietly, speaking to your anxiety, and telling it to stop, and leave, because there is absolutely nothing you can do. This can be really difficult at first, but over time, if you are the sort of person who can practice mindfulness, it gets easier, and it starts to help. By being logical, you can control your anxiety, and take back your life.
Whilst mindfulness is incredibly useful to those who can practice it, not all anxiety is logical, and therefore, it won’t always work. When that won’t work, something I find useful is to find a distraction. Nothing too complex, as this will likely cause frustration, but just something small that will help. For instance, watching the next episode of your favourite show on Netflix, or playing a game on your smartphone, such as Candy Crush, or simply having a chat with someone nearby. It’s amazing what just talking to someone can do to anxious feelings. I’m not saying talk to your friend about your anxiety; just talking about anything can help a lot, as it forces your mind to focus on something else.
One of the most important aspects to dealing with anxiety is ensuring you have a good support system in place. I’ve been lucky through the last few years of my life; I have a supportive partner, parents, friends, and nurse practitioner, but not all people are so lucky. If your support group is less conventional (online friends, for instance, can be invaluable), then that’s absolutely okay, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, in September, my support group is going to be needed more than anything; I’m fairly sure that doing a mental health nursing course, whilst struggling with mental health problems, is going to come with its own set of issues, and it’s going to be important to put support there for if I need it. If you’re in any sort of education, speak to your teachers or tutors and try to get a support plan in place for in case anything goes wrong.
Remove yourself from the situation
If you can, when you’re feeling anxious, get away from whatever’s causing it. If you’re in a busy place, try to move to somewhere it’s more quiet. Stereopublic is a great app for people suffering from anxiety to download; it will help you to source nearby quiet spaces, and you can also upload specific quiet spaces that you have found, in order to help others seek out a moment of peace. If you can’t physically remove yourself from the situation, close your eyes, and breathe for ten seconds. Focus on your own heartbeat, and try to imagine that you are in a different place, without so many people. Meditation like this is a fantastic way of leaving behind whatever is making you anxious, even if you can’t physically get away.
Remember, most people suffer from anxiety at some point in their life, whether that be a chronic anxiety disorder, or just average anxious thoughts. It is perfectly normal to feel this way, and I’d be surprised if there is anyone in the world who hasn’t felt anxious at some point or other. These methods are good for anybody at all, whether you have a diagnosed problem, or whether you’re just going through a stressful time of life. If you feel like you need more help, please contact somebody who can help, through the links below, and remember, you can get through this.
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm)
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.
Phone: Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)
Young suicide prevention society.
Phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Mon-Fri,10am-5pm & 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm)
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Action
Support for people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Includes information on treatment and online resources.
Phone: 0845 390 6232 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and OCD. Offers a course to help overcome your phobia/OCD. Includes a helpline.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am-10pm)
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)