The Journey through Anxiety: what it is, why it’s here and growing over it

Have you ever felt like something wrong is about to happen, even though everything seems fine, at the surface of your life and day, and you  can’t find an actual real reason to worry? That „heart like a tight fist” feeling and a subtle or perhaps strong shortness of breath you just can’t get rid of? I’ve been living with this since more than 10 years, now. And this is a text about my journey towards dealing with it and living with it anxiety.

According to epidemiological surveys, one third of the population, globally, affected by anxiety during their lifetime. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. The experts at APA define anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. So many of us have feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about a challenging meeting or job interview, about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or discussion with your family or friend.

And especially during times like these, when the Covid19 pandemic is impacting our lives as we knew them, our jobs, our safety and, above all, our health, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. 

It’s not unusual for people to find it hard to control their worries. Particularly for those whose feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives, on a regular type of living.

The journey

dealing-with-anexiety

To cut it short, here are the 6 steps I found most useful, in my journey of understanding and dealing with Anxiety:

  1. Accept it. Know it’s there. Between the first types of more vivid anxiety moments and me actually doing something about them other than simply living them, it’s been about 4 to 5 years. Most of my anxiety happenings are actually similar to a hyper emotional mini-crises, now. But they use to be really overwhelming attacks i struggled to keep in, for a long while. And because anxiety can make you seem moody, weak, unstable, oversensitive, in a world where you mostly have to show power, certainty, reliably, stubbornness and self-control, to grow your career and keep social relationships in the „normal” sphere, in a country like Romania where emotional health and healing support stated developing later than in Western countries, it’s not easy, even today, i believe, to move from denial and deep burial of these emotions towards understanding and dealing with them. But it turns out, it’s crucially necessary for your wellbeing and actual growth – professional and personal as well.
  2. Learn about it. Understand why it happens, how it happens, where and when it happens most in your life. This may happen by reading about it, reaching out to a psychologist or psychotherapist, confessing and sharing with your trusted best friends or family, if you have been living in an environment where it feels you can get support from them. I’ve started by doing the first two, gradually.
  3. Work on living with it and dealing with it. There’s no shortcut I know about, in really going through this. But it’s not rocket science either, for any self-aware and eager to grow person. It may also have something to do with my general work & life philosophy of working for the things you earn, but the best advice I could give anyone fighting anxiety as I was, is start doing things about it today – progress is not going to be revelatory, it will come in baby steps you might not even see, but it will happen. You’ll wake up one day realising your’re actually working through your anxiety attacks by realising they happen faster, understanding what caused them easier, talking yourself through overcoming them naturally. I’ve been working with a cognitive behavioural therapist for the last 5 years and here are some of the books on this topic i’ve read so far:ANXIETATEA (Anxiety) by Scott Stossel, Status Anxiety (Status si Anxietate) by Alain de Botton,  Rewire your Anxious Brain, Mind Over Mood.
  4. Trusting your gut. if your therapist doesn’t make you feel safe, if the things your are learning from different experts don’t seem to help you, if people around you stigmatise or avoid you, this says something about how useful and nurturing that resource actually is for you. Getting out of toxic relationships, carefully curating your sources of information and prioritising your sense of progress over what others think you should achieve are all much needed. Learning to trust yourself more is a steppingstone for using your mind rather than letting it use you, as I’ve came to discover in time.
  5. Discover healthy positivity. I’m still struggling with the cliche of saying „It’s ok.” too often, even when things are really not or hurtful events are happening. The first stage of this started early in my childhood, during a difficult family period. I’ve taught myself, i guess, to say „it’s ok” in order to move on with learning, going to school and getting good grades, being the outgoing and witty little girl I was. The second stage was saying „it’s ok” in front of painful, unfair or uneven happenings in relationships – both friendship and romantic ones, as I was gradually growing into a chronic „saviour”. The third stage was when I was so grateful for the opportunity to work over time, do the work of others or step into work situations i was not prepared for, and earn a living on my own early in my teenage years, I failed to get a very good grip of boundaries between working hard to perform and exploitation or burnout. It took many years, many articles, some books and a few TED Talks for me to understand that healthy positivity is not about programming your brain to say „It’s ok” no matter what, as this causes huge internal conflicts that generate even more anxiety. But rather to let yourself feel your reality, with positive and negative feelings, and focus on getting over the bad our hard with a positive feeling of continuance and life moving forward. Being yourself and thus allowing positivity to run though your mind and soul, rather than forcing it in without actually living it.
  6. DO Things: they say action is a great way of dealing with anxiety. Stand up from the place where anxiety starts kicking and move to a lighter, open space. Go out and take a walk, look at the sky, let the sun get into your eyes making them so aware of its bright shine. Blow bubbles. Use an app that helps you relax and deal with Anxiety – Headspace is really nice, but there are others! Take a scented foamy bath. Watch a cheesy Tv series, a nice comedy or an action movie, with a simply plot that unclenches your mind. Or watch a complex documentary about your brain, to really understand it. Call someone dear, that person you’ve been delaying seeing or talking to for too long. Turn towards your friends and family that don’t make you feel guilty for anything, not even in the worst of days. Read a book. Go to the gym. Clean up your room. Bake that cheesecake. Go shopping. Write in a journal. Do something that actively moves your brain cells, to get back control over your mind.  Or do any of these 36 things. And them realise what you have just achieved.

The motivation

Sometimes, the words of others sound like music to our ears. And this is especially useful in dealing with anxiety as inspiration from others can show you different facets of dealing with it, and these quotes can become mantras to help you go trough your stages.

Trust yourself. You’ve survived a lot, and you’ll survive whatever is coming. – Robert Tew

Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions. — Pema Chodron

Smile, breathe, and go slowly. —Thich Nhat Hanh

Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment. — Grenville Kleiser

Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight. —Benjamin Franklin

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

No amount of anxiety can change the future. No amount of regret can change the past.– Karen Salmansohn

No longer forward nor behind I look in hope and fear; But grateful take the good I find, The best of now and here. — John G. Whittier

Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained. — Arthur Somers Roche

Physical comforts cannot subdue mental suffering, and if we look closely, we can see that those who have many possessions are not necessarily happy. In fact, being wealthy often brings even more anxiety. —Dalai Lama

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. — Amit Ray

Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries. — Astrid Alauda

Never let life’s hardships disturb you… no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages. — Nichiren Daishonen

Nothing is permanent in this wicked world — not even our troubles. — Charlie Chaplin

I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear. — Steve Maraboli

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. – William James

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

The science

While anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including: panic disorder; phobias – such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or social anxiety disorder (social phobia),the specific condition i’ve been writing about is called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.

GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include:

  • feeling restless or worried
  • having trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations

Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, to some extent, if anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress with regularity, these is ca cause for concern. Reaching for professional help can help you better and faster understand symptoms and your worries, fears and emotions to find out how you can step forward into dealing with them.

What causes anxiety? The exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood, although it’s likely that a combination of several factors plays a role. Research has suggested that these may include:

  • • overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
  • • an imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
  • • the genes you inherit from your parents – you’re estimated to be five times more likely to develop GAD if you have a close relative with the condition
  • • having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
  • • having a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis
  • • having a history of drug or alcohol misuse

Sometimes anxiety can be caused by an automatic reaction to a person, place, situation, memory or thing called a „trigger”. You may know exactly what your triggers are, or you might be able to identify new triggers by recording your anxiety and life events on a day-to-day basis. In therapy, you can work on your reactions to these triggers, or make changes in your life to rid yourself of the triggers.

However, many people develop GAD for no apparent reason so don’t spend too much time trying to self-match your context with your symptoms, as the past situations that might have led you to experiencing anxiety can be harder to perceive without some degree of personal development work.

Who is affected? Anxiety is a common condition, growing with today’s lifestyle hooked on heavy traffic, pollution, consumerism, increased social perfection standards and work performance pressure and competitiveness. Slightly more women are affected than men, as research shows, and the condition is more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59.

How anxiety is treated: GAD can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can ease your symptoms. These include:

  • self-help and peer help
  • courses and classes focusing on anxiety management
  • books and videos available online, with personal stories and expert presentations on anxiety
  • keeping a healthy & balanced life
  • exercising, hiking, meditation or relaxation techniques, yoga, fitness and generally, staying active
  • psychological therapy – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • medication prescribed by doctors– such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other plant-based solutions available on the market, from teas to pills.

The self-help that supports progress

Mood and anxiety disorders can really affect a person’s thinking. We might start seeing the world through different lenses because of how we are feeling. Symptoms of these illnesses can make it more difficult to see things in a positive light or feel hopeful about the future. It’s not as easy as simply „thinking positive” to overcome your anxiety, but you can learn to spot self-defeating thoughts and see them for what they are.

anxiety-self-help

Self-defeating beliefs may include:

  • Believing things are all good or all bad
  • Anticipating the worst will happen
  • Believing the good things in your life don’t count
  • Thinking that if you believe something (for example, that someone is angry with you) it must be true

Many people have found that practicing self-talk helps them to beat their self-defeating beliefs. So, here’s an A-B-C example of self-talk exercise you could practice if you notice yourself having self-defeating thoughts:

A. Self-defeating thought: I will never feel better.

B. Rational response: Never is a long time I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow.

C. New thought: Even though I feel terrible right now, I won’t always feel this way. This too shall pass. 

Talking as therapy

Talk therapy can also help you identify this type of thinking and work to correct it. More than 40% of the people in DBSA’s survey said their health care providers suggested talk therapy as a treatment for their anxiety. Therapy can help you do many things, including:

  1. Understanding your situation and learning about it
  2. Defining and reaching wellness goals
  3. Understanding and overcoming fears or insecurities
  4. Understanding and overcoming triggers that may cause anxiety attacks
  5. Coping with stress
  6. Making sense of past traumatic experiences
  7. Developing a plan for coping with crises
  8. Understanding why things bother you and what you can do about them

Relaxation Exercises

Relaxation exercises include activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Many people living with anxiety and mood disorders find these exercises to be very helpful.

Deep breathing

Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose into your abdomen. The hand on your abdomen should rise with each breath. Exhale slowly and gently through your mouth. Continue taking these slow, deep breaths for 5-10 minutes.

Progressive muscle relaxation

First find a comfortable position. You can do this exercise either sitting or standing. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes.

Make a fist with your right hand. Notice the tension in your hand when you do this. Clench the fist for one minute and then relax your hand. Be aware of the difference between the tense and relaxed muscles. Repeat.

Continue these steps for the following muscle groups. Relax your muscles after each step.

  1. Clench your left hand into a fist.
  2. Flex your biceps while bending your elbows.
  3. Wrinkle your forehead.
  4. Close your eyes tightly.
  5. Press your lips together tightly.
  6. Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
  7. Clench your jaw.
  8. Suck in your stomach and hold it; then expand it by taking a deep breath to fill it with air.
  9. Arch your back to tense it.
  10. Press your heels into the ground to flex your thighs.
  11. Make your calves tense by curling your toes down.
  12. Tense your shins by bending your toes towards the top of your foot.

Meditation

Find a quiet location and make sure you won’t be interrupted for 10-15 minutes. Get into a comfortable sitting or lying position. Find a spot on the ceiling or on a blank wall to focus on. Take a long, deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then let it out very slowly. Repeat this two more times. Now close your eyes and continue your breathing pattern.

You may want to put on soothing music while you meditate, or you may be content to sit in silence. Focus on your breathing. Anytime your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to thinking about your breathing. You can do this exercise for as long or as short of a time as you want. When you are ready to finish, sit still a moment and take several deep breaths and return to whatever activity awaits.

Peer Support

If you are feeling anxious, depressed or manic, talking to others may not be the first thing you want to do. However, you might want to keep an open mind about support groups online of offline, as they are places where you can learn about your disorder and find understanding and new ways to cope.

Talking to a health care provider

You have the best chance of getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment that works if you tell your health care providers all of your symptoms. In addition to symptoms like worry, tension and fear, be sure to bring up symptoms like pains in your head, back, or stomach; shaking or trembling, rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath for no apparent reason. If you often forget things, make a list of symptoms or concerns before your appointment and bring it with you.

Tracking your symptoms daily can surprise you. You might notice patterns or certain symptoms that affect you more than you realized. See yourself as a partner with your health care provider. You aren’t wasting their time by asking for things you need.

Ideas from others dealing with anexiety 

Here are some more ideas gathered from stories of people who live with anxiety. Of course, this is just a starting list. You may use the things that work for you and add ideas of your own.

Tell yourself you can feel better when you are having a difficult day. Even if you don’t feel better right away, know that you have the tools to work toward wellness. Use affirmations, for example, „I can get through this.” or „Nothing is all bad.”

Get enough rest, eat nutritious meals and do some type of physical exercise daily.

Get help before there is a crisis. Make an appointment with your health care provider to stabilize your mood before an episode occurs.

Take time to recover if you have had an increase in your symptoms. Allow yourself to take things slower.

Prepare yourself for stressors that can’t be avoided by talking with a trusted friend before dealing with a stressful situation, setting aside time to be alone after stressful incidents or taking a break during the day for a brief rest or meditation. Canceling or postponing a stressful encounter if you are not feeling well is a legitimate way of taking care of yourself.

Write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal or on paper you throw away if you are not ready to talk with a health care provider or support person. Reading your journal entries over a period of time can give you insights about some of your thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

Express yourself through music, art or other creative activities. You don’t need to worry about the quality of your work or share it with anyone when you are finished.

When symptoms keep you from going out, call someone, write a letter, or contact someone by e-mail.

Allow yourself to relax and make a commitment to spend some time relaxing at the same time each day or week. With books, ebooks, Apps, movies, games, meditation, aromatherapy, a nice bath or just taking time to enjoy the outdoor for a a few minutes.

Break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Set realistic expectations for yourself. No one can „do it all.” Perfection is impossible, yet many people believe they must be perfect and put themselves under stress trying to achieve perfection. Work on accepting yourself as you are and not punishing yourself for your mistakes.

Look for triggers you may not be aware of along with patterns in your symptoms and stress levels. Keep a journal of the time of day and what you were doing when you felt stress, fear, worry or panic. Stressors/Triggers > Event > My Reaction (Thoughts, Emotions, Actions) > What Can I Do?

e.g. Arguing with a loved one. I get anxious, my thoughts start to race, I feel like everything I do is wrong. I’ll take a deep breath, remind myself I am worthwhile. Be aware of my own attitude, discuss this stressor with the loved one if possible or in therapy to understand how to settle the situation. I’ll give myself time to understand. 

Remember this:

Anxiety fortunately has remedies. Let yourself feel the feelings. Learn how to change the messages you’re sending yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you need medication. But don’t just use medicationKnow and accept your limits and don’t be afraid to admit and enforce them. Stop and breathe.  Know that you are not alone. Look around you. We are social beings. We leave with others like us and they can also be a rich source of hope, balance and positivity. But the main and richest spring of wellbeing you have is yourself. 

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