mental health

Taming the beast that is anxiety

It’s a tale as old as time. But how can you tame the beast that is anxiety? 

I’m going to start this blog with a short story. There’s a point to it, so stay with me. One fairly uneventful Saturday afternoon, Natasha went to the shops to get some milk. Natasha looked across the street and saw her two friends, Rochelle and Gemma, getting a coffee together. But hang on a sec – they told her they were too busy to hang out today. Natasha crossed the road, and upon closer inspection realised that: 1. These weren’t Natasha’s pals, but two hairy arse builders and 2. Maybe she should have bought that Groupon voucher for laser eye surgery.

After the initial relief passed, Natasha thought to herself: “But why are Rochelle and Gemma too busy to hang out today?” Natasha then remembered last weekend when she went out with Rochelle, and got so drunk that she kissed that bartender then fell down the stairs. Rochelle probably told Gemma, and now they both hate her for being such a vodka-soaked hobag. And while they may not be two hairy arse builders, Rochelle and Gemma are most definitely hanging out today.  In fact, they are having a “We hate Natasha” party with their other mutual friends who have also witnessed drunk Nathalie, I mean, Natasha, in full force. Natasha concludes that none of her friends actually like her, and why would they? She’s a mess.

Ok guys, get ready for the shock twist. Natasha is me. I am Natasha.

tim and eric mind blown GIF
This story is based loosely on the kind of situation that has tied me up in anxious knots in the past. I think anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety will relate to this classic example of how a fairly neutral event can trigger one worry, then two worries, then an avalanche of worries. The worst thing is, until they melt away, the worries seem like facts. Facts which forewarn of a bleak, horrible future. Aaaaand then comes the depression. Great, nice one brain.

Anxiety is a volatile beast. It can kick off at any time and it can defeat you if you let it. But it’s not a case of wrestling the beast to stop it from taking you down. Trust me, I used to lose hours, days, weeks even, fighting this battle. It’s more a case of spotting the beast early on and doing what you can to tame it. So here are some tips on how to sedate that evil motherf*cker:

Step 1: Notice that the beast is hanging around

This is the trickiest part. Because the beast that is our anxiety disguises itself as real-life facts, not thoughts. This makes them feel very real, and very hard to identify as worries.

What you can do, however, is notice the physical symptoms that seem to accompany the worries. Your heart may beat faster, you might start to grind your teeth, maybe you get a tension headache – and if you’re really lucky, all three. Whatever your physical symptoms are, take these as signs that you are about to go down that rabbit-hole, and maybe it’s time to just take a few deep breaths and be mindful that you are having these thoughts. Breathe in for five seconds, out for six, and repeat until you start to feel mildly calmer.

Step 2: What you resist persists

Whilst you may feel slightly less panicky at this point, the worries are probably still playing on a loop in your mind – and that’s ok. What’s important here is that you do not try to fight these thoughts. It’s like being in quicksand, the more you struggle, the quicker you sink.

You might search high and low for evidence which proves your worries to be fact or fiction. Or maybe you ask for reassurance from anyone who will listen, even though these people don’t have the answers and could quite easily say the wrong thing. In doing this, you end up playing detective in an unsolvable case and it is exhausting.

Instead, practise visual imagery. I was sceptical about this working at first, and it takes work but it really does help. Picture shrinking your worry and putting it on a shelf in the corner of your mind. Nobody is saying you can’t go back to the worry later, but does it really need your attention right now? Will anything change between now and say, tomorrow when you can revisit the thoughts if you want? Postponing the thoughts will take some of the urgency and intensity out of them, and make them feel less real.

Another useful tactic is seeing your worries as thoughts in an ever-moving stream (I personally picture a Facebook feed!) The point is – the thoughts are transient and just part of what’s passing you by at that moment in time. They are not a physical, static entity in front of you and they are not something you need to engage with right this minute.

Ultimately, you want to build your tolerance to the discomfort of the worry. And the more you sit with the discomfort, the stronger you get.

Step 3: You are so much stronger than you think

Let’s have a look at your past battles with the beast and your survival rate. You have championed through every. single. one.

And how many of your worries came true? If they did, did they end your life? Or did you bounce back up like you always do?

Your track record for dealing with shituations is pretty solid. Remind yourself of that, and keep reminding yourself until you really believe it. Don’t be scared of the beast, you’ve got this. And once you power through this episode like you most definitely will, maybe try and understand your anxiety a bit better, which takes me to my final point.

Step 4: What is the nature of the beast?

If you can understand the nature of the beast, you will find it easier to tame it.  I’m not asking for a pity party with what I’m about to share,  I just want you to understand how important it is to dig deeper into the root of your anxieties.

I’ve come to recognise that my anxiety is related to a time when I was very young, and my view of the world was still taking shape. Something traumatic happened and I learned about loss in the worst way possible. My view of life and relationships became very distorted, and I felt like bad things were always just around the corner. I believed that you should always be prepared for the worst, and somehow worrying excessively seemed like the best form of preparation.

But then a few years ago, my anxiety started costing me my physical health, my relationships, and my quality of life. So I invested in my mental health. I read self-help books, I listened to podcasts and I started having therapy. I’m still a work in progress, but at least now I understand the nature of the beast and I feel better equipped to tame it.

I know that you can’t always predict the things that trigger your anxiety. They will catch you off-guard, and they might throw you, and that’s fine. I still have these moments and I am by no means cured. But I am happy most of the time, and that’s largely thanks to following the above steps and never giving up on myself. If this blog has resonated with you in any way, then you owe it to yourself to do the same.

If this blog has helped you, or there’s something else you would like me to write about please let me know. ❤️

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