My circumstances around loss, led me down a path of anxiety and depression. At times my anxiety has felt debilitating and has resulted in extreme fear and agoraphobia. I want to share what anxiety feels like and to encourage others to talk about their own experiences.
Can you relate to a level of fear where you cannot seem to “get a grip” but know that it’s totally irrational? At various times in my life, I’ve been there and I also want to share what’s worked for me.
First, let’s talk about the 3 F’s.
Over the years, I have to come to learn how anxiety is fuelled and I know all too well that my fight or flight system is a huge part of how any of us respond to a perceived threat. You’ve heard of this before, right?
But just recently, I came across a third ‘f’ words. There is a theory that suggests over time, we have adapted to add the option of ‘freezing’ into our response system. It’s thought that we may freeze up because we either don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, or want to allow additional time to assess the situation we find ourselves in. Makes sense?
When you have anxiety, it’s easy to think of the fight or flight responses as a giant pain the ass. But the truth is, it has actually served us since, well, forever. The need to determine whether you should take flight from danger or indeed puff yourself up for a fight was an important part of our survival. This level of alertness was needed. Even to this day, when real danger is at large (like facing a lion), this type of response is defo warranted.
However, it all goes a bit pear shaped when there is no real danger present. And that’s the thing about grief and loss – as shitty as it is, there is no actual threat. So the fact that your brain perceives significant changes to your life, your environment, or your ‘normal’ routine as a threat is hugely unhelpful.
What you can do about anxiety.
As I have done numerous times, you can grow from loss and take control of whatever fears may showing up – especially if you feel like they are starting to consume your life, creating persistent panic or preventing you from functioning. The first thing to recognise is that you have a choice. Once you are aware how much you’re anxiety is holding you back or perpetuating your “stuckness”, you can choose to distance yourself from it.
Here’s a few tips to get you started:
TIP 1: Identify with your monkey mind. You know those thoughts that running rampant in your mind and catastrophizing situations? In the first instance, just notice when they pop up. When you identify with what’s happening, get some help to deal with any negative thoughts and behaviour patterns.
TIP 2: Take some deep breaths and meditate. The key here is to be able to give yourself some space when you feel anxious. Developing a regular practice is like building a muscle in the brain that is more easily flexed when you actually need to tap into some calmer feelings.
TIP 3: Help yourself. It always helps if you can journal or write down a little question and answer session. One of the most powerful questions to ask yourself is “what would I say to a friend”? This will help you to think about things more clearly and detach yourself from your anxiety. If you’re looking for some self-help tools and techniques, there are plenty of resources and support groups online.
TIP 4: Talk about it. If your anxiety feels overwhelming and you know it’s impacting on your life then seek help from a professional. If this seems like a big step then it always helps to start by talking to somebody that can offer you support. Therapy and coaching have both had an impact on my ability to move forward with my anxiety.
TIP 5: Look after yourself first. Find ways to take plenty of down time and be mindful of finding healthy ways to work through your anxiety, such as improving your diet and taking some exercise (even just a gentle 10 minute daily walk made all the difference to my wellbeing).
I’m not a mental health professional and these suggestions by no means, replace medical advice. But please shout up if you want to talk about what’s happening and need some further support.