Anxiety - friend or foe?
It may be surprising to know that, as a qualified counsellor, when I was in my thirties, I was diagnosed with anxiety. I am OK now and lead a happy, healthy life. In this article I want to share how 'understanding anxiety' helped me through and how you can do this too! My own personal journey encouraged me to help others overcome anxiety, or at the very least find ways to cope with it.
I would like this article to be encouraging and to help you believe that with support and guidance, you will not always feel this way. Remember we are all different, for me, alongside therapy, I visited the library and read everything I could on ‘anxiety’ and ‘panic.’ One of the articles which really helped me was by 'Shirley Weekes,' which suggested, "Jelly legs will get you there!".
This is a phrase I always keep in mind; for me, it is an effective way to visualise that I need to see something through. A key part of challenging the anxiety cycle is to know that avoidance is not helpful.
For you, a light bulb moment could be something else, something which makes you realise you can let go and it will not hurt you. The challenge here is to strongly believe you are OK because unless there is a tiger in the room, you really are!
Anxiety cannot hurt you, the chemicals released when you feel anxious, whether real or perceived, last only about 10 minutes. Yes, it is extremely uncomfortable but try to just go with it, accept it is happening tell yourself ‘I am okay, this is just a few chemicals getting confused’ and I am not going to challenge this, ‘relax,’ ‘breathe’ and let it pass.
So, what is happening?
Anxiety in simple terms is a primitive response to danger. The mind and body send and receive signals of 'fight or flight' and flood the bloodstream with adrenalin and cortisol. All this would make sense if you were about to tackle a wild animal, you would appreciate the feelings and be confident they will pass when the danger is gone.
Imagine that feeling of being okay because even though there is a danger, you also know the danger will pass, you relax, and everything returns to normal. It is the same for a perceived threat, the mind and body think there is a danger and kickstart the same reactions. The difference is the danger is not real for you. You wonder what on earth is going on. Your heart is racing, you cannot think, and you fear something is very wrong.
Guess what, you cannot control this reaction because the chemicals released will do their job, you will feel a raised heartbeat, a desire to run, and a slightly foggy brain, but you just need to allow it to do its job and know it will pass. You can break the cycle if you stay with it, distract yourself from the moment, feel calm in knowing it will be over soon, and be really proud when it passes.
Remember anxiety and panic attacks are not designed to hurt you, you can do this, and it gets better and better the more you try.
You helping you!
Imagine you start to feel ‘wobbly’… this is how one of my clients describes the rising anxiety feeling. You are in the supermarket queue, all your inner signals are saying run away, you start to think, 'I can't do this,' and you look around for a quick exit. I know it can be difficult, I know the pain of feeling out of control, imagining all sorts of dreadful things may happen, but trust me you can do this. It is not easy; there is no wrong outcome, it is about trying to stay with the fear and believing there is nothing you need to do, just let it be, and let it pass.
Try not to be angry with you, because you are your biggest ally. Anxiety will decrease when you start to believe in yourself, trust yourself to tolerate an attack and not listen to the inner critic.
Allow the negative thoughts, try not to fight them, and welcome them in. Practise breathing in through your nose, breathe in the strength, breathe out the fear. Give yourself permission to relax, you can practice doing this by saying to yourself, ‘This will pass,’ or ‘I’m allowing this today,’ just think about a feeling of calm even within the storm.
Try imagining you are your own friend, visualise yourself calming ‘you’, being kind to ‘you’, let yourself breathe and the wobbliness will ease.
Self-belief will help you become stronger – practice positive affirmations even when not in the middle of panic. Think about re-routing negative thoughts and replacing them. ‘I’m not going to panic,’ would be better framed as, ‘I am feeling calm, I am okay.’ The words are different the message is the same. In the first sentence, the mind may ignore the word ‘not’ and just latch on to ‘panic’ whereas the second sentence is full of positive actions which will make you feel better.
Will I always feel anxious?
Everyone feels anxious - It is a healthy, natural response to danger. If we had no anxiety, we would take unnecessary risks with our lives, we would ignore dangerous situations and compromise our safety. Everyone is different, however, in most cases, excessive anxiety can be eased or normalised over time. If you seek help you will find there are many support routes to help you find a way out of the anxiety cycle.
How counselling can help
For me, counselling is something I will always promote.
My personal experience was challenging, emotional and beneficial, I loved it. It helped me in so many ways and improved my sense of ‘me’ and how I relate to life. Counselling will help you to be open, to talk freely and to feel ‘listened to.’
Friends and family are great, but often we can feel we are burdening them with our troubles, or they become distracted by other things. Counselling is different because your counsellor is there for you. You will feel encouraged to explore your emotions and reflect on how this is affecting your thoughts and behaviours. Counselling can be the beginning of change.
The reason for the title of this article is to challenge how you think of anxiety. Is it 'friend or foe' creates an image of two sides, yet anxiety is just one reaction, you are fighting yourself. Imagine anxiety as your inner protective friend. When it becomes excessive it is ‘overprotective’ and just as you would with a friend, ‘take it to one side’ and work it through by using positive reframing, trust, and self-belief.
Understanding what is happening; the thoughts you can control and the reactions you cannot. In ‘knowing’ I hope you have a new perspective on how you to succeed and move out of the cycle.
Counselling and talking things through will really support you, equally through ‘self-help’ and ‘self-belief’ you may find ways to stay calm in the storm.
It is also particularly important to think about your own approach to anxiety, looking at ‘were there signposts’ before it became excessive. Look out for stress, always take time out for you, and take steps to improve your own personal boundaries.
You are not alone! There is help and guidance out there and more importantly, there is help within, trust yourself.
If you relate to this article and are looking for support with your anxiety, you can learn more about me on my profile. I work both online and face-to-face from my offices in Great Dunmow. Get in touch to arrange an introductory call.