Mental health is trendy
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, as it’s a subject that touches me personally. For the past 2-3 years I’ve seen an increasing number of articles on the topic, and whilst it’s been reassuring to see it become more commonly talked about, it’s also been a bit irritating as most articles only scratch the surface. And they focus predominantly on social anxiety.
I’m still glad that mental health is being discussed a lot more openly than it used to. It’s encouraging to see people coming forward with their stories, making it more acceptable to admit that you may be suffering, and asking for help. In light of this recent “trend”, I decided that I too wanted to share my story about living with anxiety.
Without going into tons of detail, there are several forms of anxiety, social anxiety being only one of them. OCD and PTSD are other types, as well as general anxiety disorder. The British charity Mind has an overview here, as does the Anxiety and Depression society of America if you want to find more.
My anxiety experience
At my most anxious point, I didn’t know I suffered from anxiety, neither did I know that it was a mental health problem. I was just tired (I suffered from bad insomnia), on edge, insecure, run down… I was in bad shape. I didn’t realise that the heart pounding feeling I got was anxiety; that the fact I couldn’t sleep properly was related to it… Nor that my ongoing stream of thoughts and questioning anything and everything was actually part of a bigger problem.
It was only once I started to feel better that I realised I was suffering from a mental health problem that had a name, an explanation, that others suffered from and that was manageable. The first step was recognizing what I had: anxiety, the second step was accepting it. The third step, was learning how to manage it.
In recognizing it, I learnt to recognize the signs: the increased heart rate, shortened breathing, becoming more tense, but most of all, the worrying thoughts. Worry after worry, all getting gradually worse. The worse it got, the more anxious I would become. Recognizing the thought pattern, knowing it was due to the anxiety and that it wasn’t rational, allowed me to distance myself from it. It allowed me to stop it from taking over.
Living hand in hand
After recognizing the signs, it made it easier for me to accept the facts. Once I accepted I had anxiety, I felt so much better about all the things I had experienced such as low self esteem, insomnia, paranoia, self-doubt… It made lots more sense. In a way it gave me confidence to know that I wasn’t totally broken, that I didn’t have to feel like that forever, that I could take back control.
I read a lot and researched things I could do to help manage my anxiety. Being aware of it was a huge step, because it allowed me to interrupt the thought process, or at the very least when it started, know what was happening to me. After that I discovered a variety of different things that work for me:
- Alcohol is bad for anxiety. If I’m feeling really anxious I try not to drink because it just heightens it and makes me feel terrible
- Sport/exercise helps keep it at bay. The built up adrenaline and “fear” I experience can be evacuated as I exercise. After that my thoughts usually feel clearer and I calm down
- Yoga soothes. Since I’m bad at meditation I prefer yoga because it requires movement. Because it works with your breathing, I find it provides a calming or soothing effect.
- Keep on doing what you do! When I feel anxious I start to feel anti social. I just want to stay in curled up in a ball and freak out by myself. In those moments I need to force myself to go out, see people, and keep on with my social activities. Usually it makes me feel better to interact and take my mind off things.
- The worrying thoughts are irrational. I need to tell myself that, slow down, take a deep breath and start over.
Thanks to all of these things, I now manage my anxiety a lot better. I don’t consider myself “cured”, I still suffer from it. But it’s a lot more manageable than it used to be. It rarely consumes me, takes over, or turns me into a paler version of myself (this was a permanent state during 18 months). Of course when it strikes it’s difficult, it’s never a pleasant moment. But being aware of it and knowing I can control has made me a lot less afraid of it.
Undoubtedly, knowing that other people suffer from anxiety has helped too. That’s why I wanted to be brave enough to tell my story. Hopefully more people will feel bold enough to come forward with their stories, helping those who are wondering what’s up or what to do. And in time, mental health disorders like anxiety won’t carry such a stigma.
What’s your experience with mental health?