Anxiety has been a major problem in my life since a very young age. I remember having my first panic attack around the age of 8 and at the time I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and felt dizzy, I was wheezing and crying hysterically and it’s been something that’s stuck with me for years. Panic attacks became more frequent in my life around the age of 14/15 which made it incredibly difficult for me to go to school which was an issue as I was studying for my GCSE’s at the time. Those few years were probably the hardest of my life as I was keeping this massive secret about my anxiety, current mental health situation and also my sexuality and I eventually talked to a good friend who encouraged me to talk to my Mum.
Inevitably I ended up in counselling, which was fine, as I just wanted help to get through the day and it was the best decision I have ever made. I did an eight month course of CBT (For those who don’t know, this stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and just generally talked about the physical symptoms of a panic attack, as these can be different for everyone, my thoughts before and during a panic attack and then finally what I could do to help prevent a panic attack.
Having anxiety is hard as I know I’m stuck with it for the rest of my life and it’s a daily battle for me but I’ve learned some very helpful things to deal with it which I use often and have helped me feel more comfortable with my anxiety.
One thing that helped me was the use of flashcards. This was something that my counsellor suggested and I’m so glad she did as I found them so reassuring. They worked as a physical reminder to me and I could also tailer them to me personally as we made them together. I wrote out sayings and reminders on pink card, small enough to keep in a pocket to carry with me and I then laminated them so they would last. I carried these cards with me for months and if I ever needed a little bit of help I would take myself off and read through them and it would calm me down. Sometimes just knowing I had the cards on me helped me feel more comfortable and less anxious.
Some of the sayings on my cards:
I am calm
I can do this
I am in control of my thoughts
I can be anxious and still deal with this situation
It’s okay to make mistakes. I’m willing to accept my mistakes and learn from them
Remember to breathe
I know this is isn’t something for everyone but I have a very rational brain so it’s something that works for me. When I’m feeling particularly anxious in a situation and I’ve felt a panic attack coming on I act as though there are 2 different versions of me inside my head. There is the rational me and the irrational me. Irrational me is the anxiety fuelled version that I need to calm down. I do this by having a conversation in my head and I ask myself questions and answer them.
Why do I feel anxious?
What is the worst thing that’s going to happen in this situation?
What can I do to cope with the worst case scenario?
Then rational me tells irrational me to calm down in a stern voice like a teacher and I have to listen to it. It sounds crazy but it works for me and has helped me calm down in so many situations.
FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE
The first time my counsellor did this exercise with me I seriously doubted that it would ever work and I felt ridiculous. I sat upright and closed my eyes and vividly imaged a situation I had been in that made me feel happy and content. I focused on every detail from what I was wearing to the words I was speaking. All you need to do is find a happy memory and concentrate on it really hard. Imagine you’re tying to summon your patronus to fight off demontors. It will distract your brain and slow down your heart rate again.
REMEMBER TO BREATHE
Duh Rebecca people already know how to breathe! Seriously though, breathing is very important and is a simple way to calm yourself down. Google some breathing exercises or go to some classes and learn how to slow down your breathing. Again this will help distract you and calm you down. Also pay attention to the physical symptoms you experience when you have a panic attack or feel very anxious as knowing these will help you do something about it before it gets out of hand.
TALK TO SOMEONE
I know myself it’s very hard to talk to someone or trust someone with something that’s such a big deal to you but you’ll find if you tell someone you trust they can often help you through anxious situations whether it’s by getting you out of them or just talking you through them.
Remember that anxiety is not something that needs to prevent you from doing exciting things and experiencing things. It’s okay to be anxious and you are not the only one suffering from it. Find what works for you and if you need to get help then actively go and get it. You are important and deserve to be able to live your life to the fullest!