Anxiety shouldn’t be seen as a heavy, taboo, stigmatised subject. Just like physical health, we all have mental health. It just so happens that sometimes I struggle with my mental health. And that’s okay.
I happily chat about my experiences of anxiety and panic, because doing so means I help normalise discussions about mental health and can help someone relate or feel less alone, which is important to me.
I have always had anxiety. As a child I was painfully shy, nervous pretty much all the time, and a worrier. And those feelings have grown with me, from being a child to becoming an adult.
Anxiety will mean different things to different people and will feel differently to different people. For example it can include worrying, overthinking and fearing the worst. You’ve probably heard of the term “fight, flight or freeze”, which can be used to describe how some people respond when they experience anxiety.
We could look at anxiety like touching a hot stove. Our brain and body are trying to protect us from danger, which is why when we feel the heat of the stove, we pull our hand away quickly. Anxiety is there to protect us from harm, for example if a tiger appeared in your garden, anxiety alerts us of the danger. For some of us, however, we experience that same level of anxiety, and our body reacts as if we are in extreme danger when we receive a work email or an invite to a party.
For me, anxiety starts with butterflies, which turn into knots in my tummy, and I get very flushed, hot and sweaty. And believe me, when you’re already feeling anxious the last thing you want is to look red faced while your glasses steam up. Oh and there’s usually crying. Yep, I’m a crier.
Sometimes, when my anxiety has been at its most extreme, I’ve also had a panic attack, which again will feel very different to different people. Some people may feel tightness in their chest or pins and needles in their arms or legs when they are having a panic attack, but for me its always about my breath. I end up gasping, unable to control my breathing, feeling like the next breath will be my last.
Now that sounds dramatic, and even as I’m typing this I’m wondering if it has really felt that bad, but it has. I remember the extreme panic clearly and the desperation to breathe.
So, what is a trigger for my anxiety and panic attacks? Well, it can be anything really. In the workplace it can be a vague email, which I can overthink, or a deadline I don’t feel I can meet, because the people pleaser in me doesn’t want to let anyone down. It can also be social situations, where I feel like people will be looking at me, judging me. Oddly, I’m more comfortable delivering training, than I am standing around making small talk.
But the good news is, I’ve got lots of coping techniques in my Mental Health Toolkit, which help me deal with feelings of anxiety and panic. That sounds a bit technical, but all the following things can help lift my mood and give me perspective:
Mindfulness – I find my mind wanders, so I like to listen to different mindfulness and guided imagery recordings, so that I can completely focus on the sound of the voice on the recording and stay in the present moment.
Work-Life-Balance – This isn’t an easy one for everyone, but we can all make sure we include some self-care in our time away from work.
Counselling and Coaching – Over the years I've spoken to a lot of different counsellors and coaches, and that's ok. Talking helps me gain perspective and let go of my worries.
Cats – my pair of rescue cats bring so much happiness, and I think the saying “time spent with cats is never wasted” is very true.
Rock Art – I’m a self-taught artist, and I can be my own worst critic, but I become totally focussed and lost when I'm painting rocks. And once painted, I hide the rocks for people to find as an act of kindness.
Running and Walking – sometimes I struggle to motivate myself, but I know I will benefit from exercise and the endorphin boost I get for my efforts.
Anti-Depressants – not many people know I take an anti-depressant, but if I'm serious about removing the stigma associated with mental ill health, I want to be fully authentic. I take one every day, and it works. And there's absolutely no shame in it. I used to wake up every single morning with my tummy doing somersaults, but with medication it feels like a blanket has been thrown over my anxiety and it is muffled and easier to manage as a result.
Sleep – I have early nights, and that’s because sometimes being anxious is really exhausting.
Massage – spending an hour of relaxation, focussed on my aching muscles, can help any feelings of anxiety melt away. The same goes for a warm bath full of salts and bubbles.
Time for Me – Sometimes this includes the above, and sometimes it includes flaking out on the sofa watching something light-hearted on the telly, as I do love a bit of reality TV.
That having been said, everyone’s Mental Health Toolkit will look different, these are the things that work for me, and I hope everyone living with anxiety and panic is able to find things that work for them.
I can’t wait to start at Kubrick and wish everyone at Kubrick and beyond all a positive and reflective Mental Health Awareness Week.