Over the past couple of months I’ve had a bit of an anxiety setback. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a chronic condition and naturally there are times when it’s better and times when it flares up again. Couple that with emetophobia, a stomach bug and a weird constant indigestion thing I’ve had going on and my brain has just gone haywire.
A big part of coping with this kind of stuff, for me, is accepting what I’m feeling as “just anxiety”. I’m not dismissing it, the sensations are VERY real. Some nights I have panic attacks so severe that all the little muscles in my legs twitch as if I’ve just done 100 squats BUT accepting that it’s just anxiety and that I won’t vomit (my ultimate fear) I can begin to wind down again and relax. When I can’t convince myself that I’m okay on my own, having a phone call with someone else can help a lot. Most of my friends are aware of my phobia and GAD and are happy to talk me down from a meltdown at any time of day or night so I’m very lucky in that respect.
Day to day there are loads of practical things that I could (and should) do to help keep anxiety at bay. I know that limiting caffeine, particularly later on the day, can really reduce the risk of a late night panic attack. Sometimes it’s a choice between falling asleep at my desk or knowing that I won’t be able to sleep at night and therefore may get anxious. It’s a tough choice to make and usually caffeine wins out but since I’ve treated myself to a cute little cafetiere and beautiful fresh coffee I’m hoping that my morning hit will be enough.
For me, anxiety tends to strike between 10.30pm and 11.30pm so I have two choices, either fall asleep before then which isn’t always possible (see above) or distracting myself during that period. For the past month I’ve fallen asleep to either Family Guy or another Seth MacFarlane creation or Peep Show playing in the background. It keeps my mind busy enough that I don’t get worked up but they are shows that I’ve watched to death so won’t get too caught up in them. I know the advice around sleep hygiene is no screens in the bedroom, and if that’s what works for you then great, but I need at least background noise, if not something to watch when my brain is like this.
I’d love to be able to write that working out helps and on days when I’ve smashed it at the gym I feel serene and centered. The jury is still out on that one. Right now, as I sit here typing I’m sleepy and today was my first day back in the gym after over a week off. There may be a correlation and I probably will sleep well tonight but there doesn’t seem to be a discernible pattern when it comes to exercise and my anxiety. I have written in the past about it worsening my symptoms – thankfully since I stopped forcing myself to do it that seems to have dissipated – but I don’t think exercise soothes anxiety for me in the way I have seen it work for others.
Talking is great and it’s good to be open about mental health, we all know that, but avoiding talking about issues or triggers too close to bed time or when I’m in a little bit of a vulnerable place is a must. I recently had a panic attack at work that started while on the phone to a consultant, because two colleagues were having a really loud discussion about diets and “summer bodies” that included a colleague grabbing at themselves in the middle of the office. It can’t always be avoided but removing myself from difficult situations tends to help. If I hadn’t been on that call I would have made a point of leaving the room.
After finding myself in difficult situations or after a panic/if I feel one coming on I’ve started colouring in again. It really does help. It’s not purely a distraction because it doesn’t require much concentration but it allows you to let the thoughts drift in to your head and drift out again without engaging them or letting them build. As horrible as anxiety it is, it’s all caused by harmless thoughts. They only have power if you engage with them and believe them.
Do you have any tips for dealing with an anxiety flare up?