Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. In some cases, feelings of anxiety can be useful, such as getting you out of dangerous situations or making sure you prepare for an important event. But for those who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, it can be crippling to their day to day lives.
As well as the dread of feeling anxious, sometimes my anxiety can lead to additional physical responses, such as panic attacks or crippling migraines. Often when we suffer with mental health, we can be told it’s “all in your head”, but we should never underestimate the power our mind has over our body. For me, if my anxiety starts to have physical symptoms, I’ve learnt it is my body’s way of making me take time to reset and look after myself.
My anxiety was probably most heightened when I was at school. I personally didn’t cope well with the type of language used around examinations, and the pressure from the idea that GCSE and A Level results could make or break your entire future. This meant I got increasingly anxious in the run up to my exams, culminating in a migraine during one of my A Level exams when I was 17 that counted for 12% of my final grade. Not ideal!
During my university days and throughout much of my working life, the ability to control my own workload has actually helped my anxiety. However, there have still been times where it has gotten the better of me, resulting in panic attacks and regularly waking up in the middle of the night, my mind racing with anxious thoughts.
However, I’ve been lucky enough to develop coping mechanisms that can help to manage my anxious feelings. They don’t always work, but just in case they might help you too, I’m going to go through each one, and why I find each approach helpful.
Verbalising Anxious Thoughts
We’ve all been there; sometimes anxious feelings can grow beyond what is useful and make it difficult to cope. I’ve found that verbalising my anxious thoughts and feelings with someone I trust can be really helpful.
Discussing anxious thoughts with someone else can in many cases help the thoughts to recede a little to more manageable levels. Plus, talking to someone else can help to flag up options for dealing with whatever issue I have that has led to my feelings of anxiety.
The main thing for me is that I find someone I trust who won’t ever trivialise my feelings of anxiety, but instead respect them and understand that sometimes all they need to do is listen.
Writing Things Down
I often wake in the middle of the nights with anxious thoughts racing through my head and struggle to get back to sleep. In this situation, writing down the key points I need to remember can help trick my brain into thinking I’m on top of things so I can get back to sleep.
Equally, if I have a big task to do or a lot of competing work, I find making lists really helpful. It allows me to create a plan and helps to feel more in control of everything. This level of control can help to keep my anxiety levels down.
Just Getting Started
When I have lots of things I need to do and I get overwhelmed, I stop, take a breath, and then just get started on something. This is really helpful when I have lots of life admin or numerous projects at work.
When I get my head down and start working through my to-do list, I often find I can get more done than I think (when my head is full of anxious thoughts) and actually everything works out fine!
Sunshine and fresh air are really important to helping me get out of my head. Even just a 5-minute stroll in the park can help to quiet my anxious thoughts and give me the head space to think about other things.
The flip side of anxiety is that it makes me want to avoid going outside, so sometimes I have to force myself to get out and walk as I know it will help (even if it doesn’t feel like it). It’s also part of the reason that I walk to work. It means I get a 30-minute walk to and from work, giving me time to decompress from the working day and separation between the anxieties of work and home!
The last thing that really helps me is having hobbies that give my brain other things to concentrate on. From crafting, which keeps both my mind and hands active, to singing which helps give me an emotional outlet, I find my hobbies to be an escape from anxious thoughts.
I also have found that I can sometimes trick my mind into a different emotion through the use of music. I have playlists of ‘happy’ tracks for example, which I use to buoy myself up if I am struggling with anxiety. Really concentrating on the music, lyrics and emotions helps me to reset my mind.
If you need help with anxiety, then it’s worth checking out some of the resources below to understand Generalised Anxiety Disorder and where you might be able to get support: