Anxiety and Mental Health
Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. It's our body’s way of preparing us to manage those difficult situations. Sometimes anxiety can help us perform better by helping us feel alert and motivated.
Anxiety can come and go – but for some people, it can stick around for a long time and end up having a big impact on their daily life.
Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but there are some common signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Physical changes can include:
- a racing heart
- faster breathing
- feeling tense or having aches (especially neck, shoulders and back)
- sweating or feeling dizzy
- ‘butterflies’ or feeling sick in the stomach.
As a woman who suffers from anxiety (as I am sure many of us do) I often wonder “how the hell did I get here”? I had a good childhood, sure my parents weren’t the most loving or nurturing particularly during my early years which are a child’s formative years in terms of self image and emotional intelligence. But I did get a good education, we went on family trips every year both domestically and to New Zealand where my mum’s family are from. I have really fond memories of these. Yet something has always been missing, well felt missing, like I was the odd one out, the black sheep of the family.
In terms of my early childhood years I remember happy memories chasing and playing with my beloved dog Tammy in our backyard. We were pups, growing up together and had some awesome adventures :-)
What I do remember was a hot tempered father who when cranky would sometimes throw objects in frustration (never at his family, only thrown on the ground). I clearly remember a sense of fear when this happened and wanting to hide away or do something to make it all better (the start of me people pleasing). While this eased over the years I found myself reacting the same - run or make it better. In reality, neither were the best option. It was for him to manage and learn to control his emotions and frustrations, not me.
Then there was the eating issues during my early teens where I believed if I stop eating then I would be thin and that would mean everyone would like me. What!!!!!! And what I remember about this time was the lack of involvement or discussion by my parents. How does that happen???? Lucky for me I found no comfort in prolonged starving or vomiting and while I did lose a few kilos it was nothing drastic.
Then when I discovered boys, my goodness my thoughts went wild with illogical reasoning that a boy didn’t like me just because I was a brunette or my weight was too heavy. Maybe we just weren’t energetically compatible? Not that I ever considered that at the time. Again my negative self talk was inward blaming, that I must be the reason why things didn’t work out right?
Digressing slightly I can vividly my mother telling me quite young how such a difficult birth and baby I was, difficulty with feeding, colic and sleeping - wait isn’t that normal in babies!!!? However my younger sister was much easier birth and no problem to feed or get to sleep. It amazes me how powerful the words of a parent can be in those early years and how it can so easily distort a child’s sense of self and their sacral chakra.
I think for me my anxiety formed quite subtle over the years, clouded in harsh judgements, distorted self image and a negative sense of worth. While I had friends I always felt lonely and like I was sitting on the outside looking in, if that makes sense. What started out as a tiny flutter in my stomach turned into racing heartbeats, sweats, fear and heart palpitations. I began to retreat inwards even more which only heightened those emotions.
Over time I learnt to numb what I was feeling to the point where I actually felt nothing but a sense of numbness - am I alone here? Fast forward to my early 40’s I broke emotionally speaking, and took 3 months leave from my job to heal me.
My thoughts had turned to worrying endlessly, difficulty in concentrating and paying attention, unable to relax, withdrawing from friends and family, difficulty getting to sleep and waking up frequently leaving me feeling exhausted all the time.
What I know now is that time was really for me to just stop and rest. The healing came later, medicated, attending therapy and searching for what would “fix me”. And I don’t mean a quick fix either or a magic pill that would lovingly transform everything. Trust me I naively thought that was the way in the beginning.
What was my salvation was time, meditation, journaling, a great friend, and many helpful discoveries along the way.
What did I do?
- I sought solace and advice from a good friend who was wise beyond her years. While she didn’t offer the loving comfort I needed, she sure as hell did offer me practical advice of where some of my thoughts were coming from and how to reframe them. She was one of the key contributors to helping me get my life back on track.
- Began to unpack the meaning of self care for me - what did this look like, what did I like/ love/ dislike? This was a whole new me I discovered in the process. Initially self care looked like taking a shower everyday and making my bed. It progressed to cooking nutritious meals albeit quick ones but healthy nonetheless.
It now looks like regular scheduled downtime to take a bath, read, journal or listen to music.
More tips can be found in our guest blog posts from:
- Slow Coaching Co ‘Four simple hacks to help you prioritise your mental wellbeing in 2021’
- Cognitive Behaviour Education ‘Simple Steps for Solid Sleep’
- Talk about it - I sought counselling to help me unpack and release everything going on in my head and heart. My goodness that was a struggle at times and emotionally exhausting but can I tell you was so worth the tears and moments of vulnerability. Hanging onto past hurts and such negative emotion serves you nothing but more heartache and quite frankly I, you, we all deserve more!
The talking also took shape in the form of journaling which has evolved over time as I delved deeper into my emotional psyche. I haven’t yet read back over my earlier entries and one day I will.
For now I am choosing to move forwards and truly get to know, love and understand me.
- Began to notice my triggers and thought patterns - this one was crucial in overcoming and finally taking control over my anxiety. Being aware of unhelpful thoughts or circumstances/ people etc that are a trigger was quite a learning let me tell you. And it’s not just about identifying them, but also devising self calm techniques you can use anywhere anytime. For me this included deep breathing exercises - I thoroughly recommend Insight Timer and Relax Melodies apps. They have a wide variety to choose from, ranging from 5 mins to a couple of hours in length. I found the 5 min exercises really helpful particularly while at work.
There’s something really calming about plugging headphones in and just putting the focus back on yourself. Focusing inward and counting the inhale and exhale, visualising the emotions, thoughts, whatever you are feeling leaving your body as you exhale.
- Noticing my avoidance which was my earlier way of coping. This really served me no purpose in the long run as I didn’t them get the opportunity to build my resilience and in turn my self confidence. Now I am not saying this is easy by no means. What I will say is this. Facing some of my fears that were triggering my anxiety has built my confidence and in turn my self image. I literally felt a huge sense of pride in me (and in my chest) after each go.
In the end I made the choice to get better: It’s not easy and you have to make the decision that you want to and will find the answers to overcome your situation. It will not always be easy, but you can overcome the cycle of fear and worry with hard work and a willingness to learn from your everyday experiences.
I am living proof of this - happy for you to DM to discuss anytime xo
What is important is to not give up.
There are lots of websites and apps that can help you cope with anxiety
Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia. If you need help now, call:
- Lifeline– 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline– 1800 55 1800
- Mental Health Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team in your state/territory
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636