Mental Health

5 C's To Managing My Anxiety

For the last decade, I have been suffering with crippling anxiety. As I made the transition from my teens to my twenties, my anxiety continued to grow and I started to feel like I was no longer in control of my thoughts, emotions, actions or behaviour. This year, it started to feel stronger than it ever has before. It was like I was living with an uncontrollable monster inside my head, one that was trying to destroy my life and constantly paralysing me with fear and doubt. I have been trying different methods to get rid of this life-ruining anxiety with no long-term success. I was trying to find a ‘magic cure.’ I wanted to be ‘normal.’ I wanted to be ‘anxiety-free.’ That was the problem. I was trying to eliminate my anxiety, rather than learning to manage it. I believe I have found the best way to manage my anxiety and it isn’t just one thing, it’s a combination of five different things. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but I believe I now have the right tools in my anxiety toolbox to not only manage my anxiety on a daily basis but no longer let it take over my life and jeopardise my health and happiness.

CALM

If I consistently practice yoga and meditation and give myself a little bit of time each day to unwind and slow down, it has a huge impact on my anxiety levels. Yoga has the amazing ability to change the outcome of my day. Focusing on the breath takes my attention away from my thoughts, even if it is only for thirty minutes a day. If I ever find myself overthinking, a quick sun salutation is sometimes all it takes to press the refresh button. I started doing yoga about five years ago and I still remember the first time I tried it, honestly, it has been a lifesaver during my lowest moments. I go through phases of laziness when I don’t practice and I see a big change in my mood when I don’t spend time on the mat. I need to be stricter with my yoga practice because it really does benefit my overall wellbeing. Meditation is something else that keeps me grounded. I have the Headspace app on my phone and sometimes a guided meditation is all it takes to change my mindset for the day. Yoga, meditation and finding time for self-care are all the ways I find calm in my day.

CBD

Something new I decided to try was CBD oil. I have always known about it, well before the current CBD craze that has swept the internet recently. I was always a little hesitant but decided to buy some a few months ago. I was taking it every day and felt much calmer. However, I didn’t know if that was just a placebo effect. When I ran out, it gave me a chance to see how I would feel without it. I spent four weeks without my daily dose and slowly but surely, the panic started to return, I found myself going back into old negative thought patterns and whenever I felt stressed at work, it started to affect me in a physical way, tight chest, headaches and light-headedness. I’ve started to taking it again and the only word I can use to describe how it makes me feel is zen. I know CBD oil has many benefits but for me it keeps me in a even-tempered state, it’s almost as if the things that usually trigger stress and lead to anxiety didn’t bother me in the same way…. magic!

CREATIVITY

I’m a creative person. I love art, music and poetry. I am always looking for new ways to be creative. What I have found is that having a consistent creative outlet, whether this may be cross-stitching, painting, playing guitar and ukulele or writing poetry, it has a drastic change on my thoughts, my mood and my overall anxiety level. Something that has really helped me is creating an art journal. On a regular basis, I get out my art box, which is full of paints, pencils and pastels and I just create. I spend hours, I get lost in a creative haze and during that time, I am free to do whatever I choose to do. Now that I have a job that gives me more time to spend alone to do these things, I have noticed a big difference in my health and happiness.

CAPSULES

I’ve never been one for prescription medication. I am extremely sensitive to anything doctors prescribe me, so when I can, I find natural and holistic alternatives. Holland & Barrett is one of my favourite places! What I love about it is not only can you find supplements to aid different problems in your life, the staff are extremely knowledgeable. After talking to someone in H&B, I decided to give 5HTP tablets a try. If you’re not sure what they are and what they do. 5HTP is a daily dose of serotonin (Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It helps regulate mood and low levels of serotonin can contribute to depression) I started taking them every day and my mood was so much better! I also stopped taking hormonal birth control (as I believed that this was contributing to my anxiety and depression, five months later and my mental health has improved dramatically, so I am 99% certain that being on the pill for a long time was a contributing factor to my decline in mental wellbeing in the last 9 years).

COUNSELLING

I’ve always been open on here about my struggles with my mental health because I think it is important, it helps to remove stigma and let people know that they are not alone. I have tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in the past, twice, but it didn’t work for me. This year, I finally took what feels like the final step in my anxiety journey. I booked to see a private counsellor. I was tired of my anxiety holding me back. I had no idea if it would work but I’m so glad it did. I’ve had five sessions already and I feel like a different person. The things that have weighed me down for years suddenly feel lighter. I still find myself being anxious from time to time but it quickly passes like a cloud, it doesn’t stick around anymore, it doesn’t build and build until I have a panic attack, I finally feel in control of it and this is because of my counsellor, she’s amazing and worth every penny!

Finding these five different things and doing them all simultaneously has been the key to managing my anxiety. Finally, I feel free from it. I no longer walk around believing there is something wrong with me because there isn’t. The label of General Anxiety Disorder that I wore so proudly for years has been ripped from my chest, I don’t want it anymore. Anxiety is a normal part of life. Allowing it to consume you and become part of your identity like I have been doing isn’t healthy, I know that now. Letting anxiety affect your daily life and being so paralysed by fear that you don’t allow yourself to be happy is madness, yet I let it happen for years. I was blinded by anxiety but now I see everything so clearly. I’m ready for then next decade, 2020 is going to be a continued year of personal growth for me and my number one goal is to continue managing my anxiety and live a calm, balanced, happy and healthy life.

milestones

365 Days Of Gratitude.

gratitude

For 365 days, I have been writing down three things I am grateful for each day and it has had some surprising results.

We all know the power gratitude can have. In the darkest times, if you can find at least one thing to be grateful for, even if it is something as simple as having running water, a warm home to live in or food in your fridge, it can change your perspective entirely. This is what happened to me.

I embarked on a journey of gratitude in 2016. It turns out, it was the perfect year to do it. I have had a difficult year. I won’t go into detail but it’s been really hard to stay positive most days. I downloaded the app Gratitude Journal on my phone on the 31st of December 2015. I wanted to see if writing down three things every day I am grateful for would actually impact my wellbeing and change my perspective when experiencing bad days.

It actually worked. Each night, I would write down three things I was grateful for that day. Sometimes they were very similar – my partner’s name, home and food. However, some days I managed to write down five or even six things I am grateful for. I didn’t feel like it changed anything at first. However, after a couple of months. It started to rewire my thoughts. Reflecting on my day each night with a list of things that made me feel grateful, happy and loved made me realise that life was about the smaller things.

Whenever I got caught up in a negative spiral of I hate my job, why does this always happen to me? and why am I not going anywhere?, I adjusted my thoughts. I  remembered my list. I am grateful for my friends, my partner and my home. It instantly reminded me to be grateful for what I have and not to focus on what I don’t have.

It had such an impact on my life that I’ve decided to carry on my gratitude list into 2017. It may not work for everyone but if you feel like you need to remind yourself every day of all the amazing things you have that make your life great, then start a gratitude list.

Opinion

Why I Had A Facebook Detox And Why You Should Too

unpluggg

So after deliberating about it for a while, I decided to go cold turkey and delete my Facebook app on my phone. I was tired of the EU referendum related statuses and I knew it was definitely time to take a break from social media. I logged out on my computer and removed Facebook from my bookmarks, I deleted the app on my phone, excluding messenger and decided that I wouldn’t go on it for a week. I also didn’t go on Twitter or Instagram but I rarely use those on a day to day basis.

It wasn’t easy. On the second day of my detox, I decided to log in on my phone to take a quick look at the oh so familiar blue news feed of pictures and statuses. It took me a moment to realise what I was doing and I quickly logged out, feeling rather stupid. I never truly knew how addicted I was to Facebook until this detox week. It feels like a compulsive need, I must see what everyone is up to and it’s an unhealthy habit that has to stop.

Sometimes we have to take a step back to realise the mistakes we are making. My mistake was letting social media have a certain amount of control on my life. I had many moments when I was out with friends or having a nice meal when my first thought was ‘I have to make a status about this…’ I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks like this and it just proves how much space social media fills up in our lives.

I’m not saying I’m going to delete Facebook any time soon because I rely on it for my magazine Zest For Life and I use it to chat to my friends that I don’t see every day. Facebook has many great qualities but there is also a dark side to it and I definitely entered it on many occasions. I was scrolling down my news feed when I got up in the morning, and it didn’t take long for me to feel bitter or jealous about the people who were always going on holiday, buying houses, having families and getting their dream jobs when I was sat at home, unemployed, broke and feeling hopeless about my future.

There have already been many studies linking Facebook and other social media sites to depression and it definitely doesn’t surprise me. Looking down at our phones constantly is unhealthy and dangerous for our overall happiness and wellbeing. I always knew that but often ignored it because I assured myself that it’s just the way of life now and everyone does it.

Maybe I’ve finally reached a place in my mind where I don’t want to be like everyone else? I will use social media for its advantages but now I know I can actually log out and unplug for a while, it has definitely changed my attitude towards it and if you ever want to feel refreshed, I recommend that you also unplug and just be in the present moment for a while. Sometimes you have to disconnect to reconnect with yourself and those around you. I’ll definitely be doing a social media detox again at some point and maybe next time, I will log out for longer.

 

 

milestones

Reaching A Mental Health Milestone

beating butterflies

During the past few years, I have struggled with my mental health. I have General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which means I constantly worry about everything and experience high amounts of anxiety for no reason at all. It took me a long time to accept that my anxiety was part of me, something that I couldn’t erase, something that couldn’t be ‘cured’ with a prescription of pills from the doctor.

A few months ago, when I reached a dark place with my anxiety and depression, I finally admitted to myself that I needed help. I would go days without leaving the house, I would sometimes sit and stare into space, pondering on the bad things that have happened in my life or bad things that ‘could’ happen in the future. I felt like I was trapped by my own mind, it’s a horrible feeling and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Having an anxiety disorder is unpredictable. You may go through periods of time without any anxiety at all and then all of a sudden, it’s back and suffocating your thoughts like a dark cloud. I thought I was strong enough to battle my mental health issue on my own and convinced myself that I was ‘in control’ and my anxiety would get better over time, but it didn’t.

I had tried all of the ‘self-help’ options and nothing worked. I was crippled by anxiety, always worrying about the future or feeling sad about the past. I reached a dark place, where I thought medication was the only option for me to proceed. Then, a shining light appeared and everything changed for me. I found the strength to ask for professional help. It was a waiting game but I finally got on the list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

I have to be honest, I was sceptical at first. I had convinced myself that my natural way of thinking, the negative way I approach life and every situation couldn’t be reversed. After a few weeks of therapy sessions, I started to notice a change. I had unconsciously started to think more about my ‘unhelpful thinking style’ and started to rationalise with the voice in my head when negativity surfaced. The great thing about CBT is that it strips back to the bare bones of how you think, how this effects your behaviour and how you can change this in the future.

David, my therapist was amazing. He was honest, critical and helpful in our sessions. Always sending me home with ‘homework’ to do, such as thought diaries and weekly schedules, he discovered what my triggers were and how to remove them from my life. For me it was during my alone time that I experienced more anxiety and more depressive thoughts. The answer for me was to always keep myself busy and distract myself by colouring, reading, doing yoga or simply doing some meditation.

Ever since I started CBT, I managed to pull myself out of the depressive state that I found myself in for months, started to fight against my negative thoughts and made small changes in my life that were going to improve my overall wellbeing. I am going to do yoga as often as I can, learn how to meditate, practice mindfulness and make sure I find time to relax each day. I’m going to still have bad days and now I realise that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes and it’s normal to worry, as long as it doesn’t take over your life.

I feel like I am reaching a mental health milestone. I have learnt in the past few months that anxiety cannot be ‘cured’ it can only be ‘managed.’ I have discovered that if I give attention to my anxiety and say to myself that I am mentally ill or there is something wrong with me, it only fuels my negativity and it will probably erase any progress that I have made.

I feel like I have reached a pinnacle of understanding. I accepted my anxiety was a problem, I asked for help and now I no longer feel alone on this journey to achieve a positive mindset. I have a long way to go but I finally feel like I can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel of worry, insecurity, anxiety and doubt. Like a butterfly, I feel free to go anywhere I want to go and do anything I want to do. I want to believe in hope instead of fear. I want to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. My anxiety will never ‘go away’ but I’m confident that I’m now in control of how I think, how I feel and how I behave.