Anxiety: New Little Coping Strategies

 

I can’t lie, recently I’ve been feeling a bit up and then a bit down. It’s been quite tough. But I keep thinking to myself: but I’m not depressed? I’m just an anxious person. (The latter statement I was once challenged upon, it was rephrased to me that ‘you’re not an anxious person, you’re just a person who experiences anxiety’. Which actually really helped, as it seemed much less deterministic. It felt that the fears I live with now, will not always stay with me; they are not ingrained within my genes. They are not permanent. Nothing is permanent.) So okay, I’m just a person who experiences anxiety.

And when I’m feeling good – sometimes weeks can pass and I feel no fear – I forget what it’s like, and what I can sometimes feel. And then it returns, those sickly feelings in my stomach, the dry mouth, the inability to think about one topic, the excessive crying, the rumination and catastrophising, and the inability to see if what is bothering me is rational or irrational. Tip: I have found with this last issue, that confiding in someone you feel secure and safe with, with whom you can be yourself around, and asking them if they think you’re being rational or irrational helps. Like just having someone say it straight to me, like ‘yep you’re being a bit irrational, you can go easy on yourself’, or ‘I get it but I think you’re overthinking it, or ‘no I get where you’re coming from’, or even just the gentle reassurance ‘nope you’re not going mad to think those things’ can help. To re-centre and gain some perspective.

Perspective. Now there’s a key idea.
I get it when I travel. But I can’t lie, I can’t always just take off and travel. Sometimes you have to deal with your current surroundings, but still get perspective. Sometimes I look at the stars, and I think a lot about how small and insignificant I am. And then I ask myself will what I am worrying about matter in 1 week/1 month/1 year? If no, then I try and breathe deep and try to distract from the feeling. If yes then I think, how can I solve it. If I can’t solve it (which often I can’t, as the fun thing about my anxiety is that it is often about uncontrollable/hypothetical/irrational elements of my life – that might not even happen…), then again, I breathe deep and try to distract. Or, if it’s daytime and the stars aren’t out, and I’m not going on holiday, and I’m feeling the anxious pangs, then I have found asking someone else about themselves gains perspective. It reminds me that I am not the only person with feelings, problems, and complex, detailed lives. It reminds me to love and care for other people – when sometimes, anxiety can have the capacity to swallow me up and make me quite inward facing. Focusing and engaging with others also sometimes gives me new ideas, new directions for thought and distraction.

Distractions.
It is a well known fact that to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia, you have to keep your brain active. They don’t often tell you this, but it’s the same with anxiety. I don’t mean having a busy schedule and rushing around all over the place, (especially not when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable) but I mean keeping the mind active with learning, reading, knowledge, new thoughts, new ideas. Other things to focus on. Other ways to insight change into your life. I have a list of things to do which calm me down, and help me when I feel the need to physically hunch over because my stomach is full of bats on ecstasy clawing to get out (that’s a metaphor by the way), but it never hurts to discover something new. Even if it’s just a new Netflix series. A new hobby (I started reading again, properly, as in always having a book on the go). Or a new school of thought – I’ve tried Vegan lifestyle. I’m now looking into a Minimalist lifestyle. And learning and assimilating more makes me feel good, and provides me with new ideas of how to live (some of which have helped me through bouts of anxiety).

Plus, at this time of year, I need it. Winter doesn’t help. I can’t wait for the light and the spring and the green – which I know a lot of people feel, and for someone prone to mental health issues, the winter can be a particularly affecting period.

For now, anxiety travels with me, sometimes following me around constantly, sometimes disappearing for a while before making a show-stopping return (you can’t miss the show stops, they’re quite terrific…in the true sense of the word). But I understand now that it does not control me (although I have to admit sometimes it does, and it certainly has in the past); or at least, I have some ways of coping that help to ease the more difficult periods. There are many other means of coping (being grateful to others, meditation and mindfulness, loving others and showing kindness, writing and journaling, exercise, listening to particular music, being in nature and outside etc.) that I haven’t even touched upon…it would take a whole book (in fact there are plenty of books – I would really recommend Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive) to cover anxiety and how to cope. So these are just little things that I personally have found, that often aren’t in the guide books – ones I learned as I travel through my own life story.

As with the seasons, my feelings, the difficult days: everything is transient. This will pass. As the good times are come to an end, so will the hard times, it’s just about learning how to live and cope with them when they arise.

 

I’m still figuring it all out. For professional support and information visit: Mind Charity or the NHS website

 

Sx

 

Advertisements

India Dreaming

Hello my lovely readers.

I am back to writing after far too long, for which I am sorry – I have missed writing and sharing with you.

I went travelling India, specifically Rajasthan, for 10 days in early November, and have since felt compelled to write about it. I also wanted to write a little bit about travelling with anxiety and ways to cope.

To provide some context, my parents had booked to do a circuit of Rajasthan. I ummed and arrred for ages about going: on the one hand I was so keen to leave Europe and return to India (as it had been 12 years since I last went, at the little age of 10). I have missed adventuring and being in a completely different culture, missed being the only tourist in a whole town, I was a little bit bored of the sameness of life in England and nearby European countries. On the other hand I was extremely nervous about going (I suffer from separation anxiety) and for quite a while decided against going. I was worried about being worried when I was there and just not enjoying my time away, as well ruining my parent’s long awaited holiday. (You see the viscous cycle of worrying about worrying?!)

However,  I had a long chat with a very good friend, who told me straight up, ‘Sasha, it’s your life, you should just do it.’ And she was right.

So I booked, and five months later I was on my way to Rajasthan. My first international flight alone landed in Mumbai, and then I took a connecting flight to Jodhpur. I arrived with a commingling of excitement, enchantment with this completely different country and exhaustion. I was fast asleep by the time my parents arrived at the hotel a few hours later.

I won’t bore you with the details of the trip, just a short precis. We travelled through Rajasthan, from Jodhpur to Rohetgarh, Narlai to Udaipur, and then I travelled home whilst my parents continued on.

We went on a jeep safari around the desert, on a train ride on an old railway built in the ’30s during the British rule, visited an old fort built hundreds of years ago, saw some amazing marble Jain temples, boated on the beautiful lake of Udaipur, cycled around some crazy city streets. I can’t quite describe it, but the amount of life there is different from anything I’ve experienced in the West. It’s chaotic, with thousands of people on motorbikes and scooters, swerving to avoid the sacred cows that roam free (literally everywhere) and the stray dogs and their pups. It became evident to me what is meant by a young population – with every adult there were at least two children. Babies and little kids everywhere – flying kites in the hills and begging for ‘one pen’ whenever we tourists visited their town, or wanting their picture taken with the token white person – all of which provided a stark contrast to the ageing population of Britain.

I loved the friendliness and inquisitive nature of the people; it was so welcoming. I loved the dusty streets in the desert (Rajasthan is part desert), the old forts built hundreds of years ago, the colourful saris, the monkeys that jumped onto our train as passengers fed them roti and biscuits, the paneer which I ate pretty much every evening and the sweet lassi I had in the morning as the sun rose, bathing us in wonderful heat. (Note if you’re travelling to Northern India I would definitely recommend going in November – it’s warm and dry, but not too hot! About 25-28 degrees each day, which was perfect for exploring, and not too many mosquitoes as it’s far enough away from the monsoon season. Did have to wear a shawl some evenings but really cannot complain – it was wonderful!).

For me, I often find that my anxiety is more manageable when I’m seeing new things – there’s so much to focus on, to learn and absorb, that I find my mind has less time to wander and worry, and instead I am more able to stay present and enjoy the moment. I also found travelling with my parents was really helpful; we get on really well, and I’m able to be open with them, so if I was anxious I was able to share it with them. Talking always helps (trust me). I also have the apps ‘Calm’ and ‘Headspace’ on my phone (I personally use Calm much more – it depends if you want more meditation or mindfulness), which I use if I am feeling worried. Just having some breathing exercises and someone talk you through it can be really helpful, and some sessions can last as little as two minutes, so it’s not as though you’re taking up much time whilst you’re travelling to just spend some time re-centering and calming yourself. Luckily I didn’t really need to use them.

I had a couple of wobbles, but I also found just being in India gave me some rationality and perspective – which was a huge perk, as anxiety is notorious for being irrational. I found meeting people there, seeing the way of life, the whole scope and size of India, as well as its history, spirituality and rich culture, made me see much wider than myself. Made me realise that I don’t have to be locked in my head the whole time; there’s so much going on out there, which helped me to see that my fears were actually, comparatively, rather small, and that whilst I was spending time worrying about them, in the process  I was potentially missing life as it happened around me.

Travel is good for mental health, given the right conditions and company. It provides distraction and perspective. And India? If you get the chance, go. It’ll provide a new view of life and help you re-evaluate your own.

Sx

 

‘I’m going on an ADVENTURE!!’

I sit here writing this post as one of (I must admit) my favourite films, ‘The Hobbit’ plays in the background. Bilbo decides he’ll go on the adventure after all, diving out of his comfort zone and embarking on an adventure with a band of dwarves and a wizard.

I sometimes wish I was just like Bilbo; he goes on a quest, he has clear purpose, he comes home rewarded, contented and happy. But, as many people experience, knowing what to do and where to go, what goals you’re meant to be achieving and where you will find fulfilment is not as explicitly laid out. In fact, where we are going is quite an enigma.

For myself, having always linked purpose and fulfilment with achievement and an end goal, now that I am in my early twenties, it was with a bitter realisation that such fulfilment is not available to me at present. Why? Because I have no idea what I want to do, or what I want to achieve. I’m still trying to discover it, which can be frustrating and can feel helpless.

There is the option to sit with feelings of being lost and as though you’ve failed in some way. To get to so far and still have no direction? It’s a horrible feeling. Cue existential crisis about life’s futility and what is the purpose at all…

IMG_2789[2825].JPG
Journaling has helped with my positivity and staying in the moment.
But, over the past month, since quitting my previous job, I have worked on re-establishing what I deem as ‘success’ and ‘fulfilment’. I’m realising that it is no longer about pushing myself, or accumulating impressive sounding achievements for my CV. Instead, I’m realising that for the moment, in this period of recovery from anxiety and depression, that all I want is to be happy. Actually, scrap that – just to feel content.

I’m learning to sit with the idea that I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing, and that I don’t have an end goal to focus on. However, this lack of end focus has enabled me to enjoy the present. I have gotten better at accepting that the future will come clear, ideas will evolve, plans will hatch if I let them come naturally, am open minded, try new things. I am the most comfortable I’ve ever been with answering the question, ‘So what do you want to do?’ with ‘I don’t know’.

There is comfort in the knowledge that I no longer have to push myself, that it’s okay to take time out and treat myself. I’m learning that if I want to do something because it makes me happy, then that is good enough reason to do it. I know I haven’t got it perfectly; there are some nights where I feel restless and unsure of the future, but the more I speak to other people in similar situations, I know that this is normal. It’s human. We aren’t supposed to know the future, and that, is where the adventure and excitement lies.

This shift in my thinking – with help from talking, therapy, medication, rest and recuperation, doing a load of positive, nice things, and completely taking the pressure of myself has meant that, for the time being, I have found a sort of peace amidst the uncertainty. And I’m just learning to love the now, appreciate the wonderful people in my life, and use the free time I have (in between my casual, stress free shift work) to do the things I love.  The adventures will come along the way if I allow them, and for me that is enough.

Sx

Fulfilment

I think having an existential crisis in your early twenties is pretty normal. It’s the time when ideas broaden and develop, when we open ourselves to new ways of thinking and new experiences. It is the time when our beliefs and behaviours start to become ingrained. It’s an age when we define who we actually are, and what we stand for.

It’s also the start of a new, exciting and terrifying chapter: for the Western world education finishes, and society expects you to get your act together and embrace the adult world.

But how? And where? Where am I going? What is my purpose? What actually is the point of it all? What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

These are the questions we all face – it’s in our nature to ask these of ourselves at some point. And when speaking to friends also in their early twenties, I know many of them are thinking the same. There’s comfort in not being alone in these sometimes isolating thoughts.

So how to cope with these thoughts when we don’t have the answers? And also how to face the reality of where on earth am I going (take this as literally as you wish!)?

I think the answer, is to find what most fulfills you, and what makes you happiest, and strive to do that. If you keep making the right steps, and doing things that you enjoy, the ultimately you will end up where you want to be.

I still have no idea where I’m heading, but each day I know I’m learning more about myself and more about what I do and don’t want. Strangely, I’m more eager to learn that I’ve ever been – without the restrictions of curriculum and even university, I’ve found myself being able to pick and learn exactly what I want, as well as develop skills and try new things (now I no longer have studies or deadlines, and also have some income!).

I remember talking it over with a good friend, saying how I don’t feel fulfilled and that I feel I am wasting time doing things I don’t want to do, when I should be carefree, travelling, experiencing, exploring. This is, after all, the youngest I’ll ever be. But she made a valid point that I’m using the time now to work things out for my future self. I’m helping out my older self, so she can be more fulfilled. And another close friend reminded me that the world is one of the few things that isn’t going anywhere – it will wait for me until I’m ready to explore it.

 As cliché as it sounds I do believe it’s a constant journey throughout life to reach fulfillment, as your needs and motivations will change as you change. But we need to enjoy the present – if we constantly seek fulfillment around the corner, then how can we ever be content?

So, at present, how can you be as fulfilled as possible in your current circumstances?

1. Surround yourself with people you love, and people who are positive. I find that when I’m unhappy in my day to day tasks, negativity ends up seeping into my everyday outlook. It’s not a good thing. So surrounding myself with positive people I love jolts me out of it, as I tune into their vibrancy and remember to gain perspective on whatever it is that is troubling me.

2. Keep learning. Keep your mind active, thinking of new possibilities.

3. I’m not very good with routine and structures – it works for some people, and having a degree of it in my life is really useful for being productive (I like to have a plan!), but if it’s too rigid I feel suffocated and constrained, as though I’m working to another person’s time which isn’t my own (this was a key reason why I struggled with school). Find what suits you and work towards achieving that.

4.  For me, I know now more than ever, that I need to be creative in some way. What do you need to keep doing to feel that you’re fulfilling your skills and achieving some sort of purpose?

5. Make your space nice. No matter what the days throw at you, it’s always good to come home to somewhere that is comforting and provides a little retreat from it all. I used to underestimate this, but now it’s one of the key things I value and no longer take for granted.

6. Think about what you want to do in this life. Not because someone else wants you to, but what you want. And then work out how you’re going to do it. Sometimes you need to be selfish; it’s not a bad thing.

7. Keep changing, growing, adapting, trying new things. If you don’t try new things, how will you ever know what you like and what you want? As I said in my last post, change is good.

8. Keep talking to people – you never know what ideas might spark or what will come of an open conversation.

And the point of it all? I don’t know. For me, it’s to be happy – and if at times I can’t be happy, then it’s to survive, cope through everything, until the next happy moment. And then to remind yourself how well you’re doing and how far you’ve come.

Sx

Change is good.

So one of my recent Instagram posts was that of me moving out of my flat, which was a temporary five month rent, into a new flat, which I will be in for the foreseeable future. It felt like London living, being independent, having my first job, supporting myself – everything just got REAL. Whilst all this was still the case in my first flat, there was a sense of my life in London and being an adult being a temporary five month trial, just so I could see how it was.

But now, I’m in my new place and I realised I call it home. This my true base, it’s where I’ll be for a while at least until the next adventure!

It made me think about change.

Change can be useful to us, even if at times it can be a little daunting. Trust me, I’m the sort of person who can become daunted by the tiniest things (it comes with the anxious territory, but I also reckon is just part of my make-up) and yet, once the ball was in motion, moving was relatively easy.

How?

I made a mental list of why I was excited to move:

  • A bigger room, with two nice mirrors and a full sized double bed, a pine and glass chest of draws, with clean carpet and fresh walls…you get the picture.
  • A nicer flat – lovely bathroom, open plan kitchen and sitting room with views out over London.
  • New housemates who I didn’t know before, meaning a new social group, new perspectives, new conversations and new things to learn (hello new friends and, with it, broader horizons!).
  • A place to call home, and with it an excuse to look at colour schemes, buy new bedding, throw out old things, buy some incense – although you shouldn’t need an excuse to do any of these things, but sometimes a change can help reignite your motivation.
  • I started getting excited about inviting people over for weekends and meals at mine because suddenly I am HOUSE PROUD and am on a CLEANING SPREE. Being in a clean, comfy, HYGGE (embrace the Danish way of life!) space, I have found, definitely improves my mental Well Bein (when my boyfriend helped me move in the final bits, I was literally leaping with joy at the prospect of showing him my new place).
  • Exploring a new area of London (albeit not too far away from my previous place).

This mental list has been great.

I have found that my general happiness levels have been UP. I like the new space and look forward to coming back to it after work. I like making it homely and getting to know new people.

So, what I am realising, and what I have discovered previously, is that change is good.

Sometimes trying new things, or altering your life in a big or small way, can give you a focus outside of yourself. It can renew hope within you, making you enjoy the present and look forward to the future. Plus time moves slower when you’re trying new things, as your brain takes longer to process them, so it feels like you’re living and experiencing for longer – and makes periods of life more memorable. All of which is positive.

Keep making changes to enhance your happiness. Keep developing and learning. thumbnail_img_0071

So my challenge for you, my wonderful reader, is to try something new or make a change once every two weeks. I’ve been trying to do this for a while, and found myself rock climbing, creating this blog, going to a gin making evening, going to the cinema on my own (a new experience, but actually really good – no compromises, just pure viewing pleasure seeing a film I wanted to see), trialing the vegan lifestyle and then realising I wanted to do it permanently…

Here’s to changing your outlook, trying new
things, and taking care of your Well Bein.

Let me know how you get on!

Sx

Hand love out by the bucket load

We give and experience love in different ways. Some ways resonate more with different individuals. It doesn’t matter which ways of loving you prefer, or which ones you need at certain times. Everyone needs different kinds of love at different times. Just give love generously.

I sincerely believe that love (both given and received) is one of the greatest tonics to get you through the difficult times and contribute to your Well Bein.

So here is my little compilation list; it is by no way conclusive, so please feel free to chip in below…

  • Physical contact. Hugs, kisses, snuggles, hair ruffles, chucks under the chin, raspberries, tickling, footsie under the table, holding hands, linking arms.
  • Thoughtful little things. It’s always the little things. Cooking someone a meal. Writing them a little good luck card. Sending them a little care package.Helping someone pack for their big trip away.

Love regards

  • Being thankful and appreciative. Thank yous galore! Thank you cards (can add in a hug too depending on the recipient). Telling someone you appreciate their help.
  • Confiding in someone. It’s quite a humbling experience knowing that someone trusts you that much to open up to you. This builds a whole layer of trust and closeness in a relationship.
  • Dropping in and reminding someone you’re thinking of them. Just a little text. Or note. Or quick phone call.
  • Always leave on a positive note. Even if you’ve had a blazing row, try to leave each other on a positive. This leaves you open for reconciliation, and also means you know in yourself, you did everything you could to salvage a relationship and tell the other person you care about them.
  • Being there and supporting someone when they need you (I owe a lot to the beautiful people in my life who have been there for me when I really needed them. I can’t thank them enough). And tied in with this – loving others despite their flaws.
  • Give praise. If you’re proud of them, tell them. If you’re excited for them, tell them. If you think they’re doing so well – even if it’s just doing well at surviving the everyday, then tell them.
  • Say you love them. Perhaps the most obvious of all? But often not said. Even if you know they know you love them, there is something beautiful in telling a person. Say it to your best friend. Your sister. Your dad. Your partner. See their face light up.

The list goes on…

Spread the love, hand it out by the bucket load, and I truly believe you will create a happier, more positive and more supported life for those you love around you, and for yourself.

Love Love Love is all you need…

With Valentine’s Day having just passed, I thought the theme of love seemed somewhat appropriate. Now don’t worry all you anti-Valentines/Galentines/anti-establishment readers, I’m not here to harp on about how much I love romance and my thoughts on whether PDA is acceptable. So all cynics, please don’t be put off and keep reading…

I’m talking about different kinds of love, and how these can help with healthy Well Bein.

Part I: Self-Love

Self-love can be quite difficult – we are brought up in a society that encourages selfless acts, giving back to others, caring, (which are all really important and wonderful things!) but can often mean personal neglect.

Society can often perceives confidence or pride as arrogance and cockiness – I love the humble, self-depreciating characteristics present in so many people, but everyone needs self-belief, confidence in their abilities, self-care and self-worth. This is essentially what we term self-esteem. It begs the question, if we don’t value and believe in ourselves…then who will?

After all, of everyone on this earth, the person you’re going to be spending the most time with, and the person you can rely on the most, is you.

So we have to learn to love and respect ourselves.

But HOW?

Now I’m no master, but here are some ideas I had (any more, please comment below!)…

Treat yourself. Take the time to do something you really want to do everyday. Even if you can only fit in 10 minutes, do it. Take a bath. Meditate. Read. Go to the gym. Do your make-up. Moisturise. Make a nice meal for yourself. Watch an episode of your favourite program. Buy a little treat for yourself. Phone a friend. Walk the dog.

Don’t let others put you down – be assertive. Easier said than done, granted. But defending yourself, or saying what you need and want, or actually ignoring other people’s criticisms can help. We can’t control what other people say or do, but we can control how we react to them and how they affect us. Don’t let others undermine the good work you’re doing – as cliche as it sounds, if someone’s putting you down think, well why are they doing that, when they have no need to? It’s actually not a reflection on me, it’s on them. (And on that note, surround yourself with wonderful people, who make you feel good, who you thrive with, who you love. The more love and positivity you are given by others, the easier it is to love yourself.)

Have a positive dialogue with yourself. As a sufferer of anxiety, my self-talk is often drowned out by my worries. But sometimes, I can hear her little voice coming through saying helpful things. Different things will work at different times and other phrases may resonate better with you, but if I’m having a wobble I try to tell myself, ‘you’re okay’, ‘this will pass’, ‘look how far you’ve come’, ‘you’re doing so well’, ‘I’ve got your back’.And finally, this last phrase ‘I’ve got your back’ links to how we should treat ourselves.

Treat yourself as you would your own best friend. If your best friend was struggling, say for example he’d made a mistake and felt really guilty about it, you wouldn’t say, ‘yeah, you’ve f*cked up big time. How can you cope with the guilt? Wouldn’t wanna be in your shoes’ – and yet, we often find ourselves saying these sorts of things to ourselves. Be your own best friend. Life can be tough, it can suddenly cast you into a snow storm when you just wanted a little snowy walk (are you liking my imagery?) so give yourself credit for surviving through everything. You’re doing really well. Keep remembering that.

Sx