When I was 19 I went to hang out with my boyfriends friends, I was painfully shy and the whole encounter was pretty awkward. I didn’t say much and as the encounter continued I got more and more worked up about what they would think about me, would they think I was weird or just rude? Would they think I didn’t like them or maybe, even worse, they wouldn’t like me. During the car journey home I expressed my worries and my boyfriend kindly reassured me that they would realise I was just shy and that would have definitely liked me. Although his reassurance wasn’t enough, I could feel my heart start to beat fast, I suddenly grew extremely warm and I started to get a horrible sickly feeling in my stomach. When I arrived home I ran from the car into my house in search of my mum, unable to breathe or think rationally. I was having my first panic attack.
Since then, I have experienced anxiety is a number of different forms. From social anxiety which made me not want to leave the house or when I did, I kept my head down to avoid eye contact with anyone and would cling to my boyfriends hand for reassurance. To general feelings of unease that would sit in my chest and make me feel constantly uncomfortable and unable to enjoy so many experiences. However, panic attacks were the worst of all. The feeling of pure fear was so intense. It made me feel as though something catastrophic was about to happen and I was completely helpless. It became so bad that I actually feared and still do fear getting a panic attack again. I would feel guilty when I didn’t leave the house or go to university lectures or when I knew my family and friends were worried about it. Which, in turn, made me more anxious which lead to more panic attacks and so the spiral continued.
My first realisation as to how to control my anxious thoughts and feelings was that the fear that I felt wasn’t real, it was something that I created in my head. Just because I thought something was scary, didn’t mean it really was. For example, when you see people scream out in fear and panic when they see a spider. There is nothing really to be afraid of, a spider is completely harmless, they are not in danger. But they create the idea in their heads that they are, which is totally untrue. So when I did feel my anxiety bubbling up I would rationalise the situation and reassure myself, that really I was perfectly safe and that any feelings of fear or unease were created in my mind and were totally false.
Care for yourself.
Secondly, but probably most importantly, I realised that I must care for my mind and body. Constantly eating junk food, drinking excessive amount of caffeine and alcohol were not helping my anxiety symptoms. Hangovers were horrific because I would become so stressed about what I had did or said the night before that I would send myself into a horrible spiral which was even worse than the hangover itself. Fill your body with good nutritous food, drinks tons of water and do exercise; your body will thank you by making your mind feel less stressed. Also simply being kind to yourself can make such a difference. I used to beat myself up so much about how I looked, what I weighed and I would become so frustrated when I couldn’t beat my anxiety that I would punish myself by laying in bed all day focusing on how useless I was. You need to be a friend to yourself, you need to treat yourself and be proud of yourself. Try making a list of all the things you like about yourself, and decide that you are no longer going to be your own worst enemy. Think about what you have achieved and what you wish to achieve, make goals and be patient with yourself.
Over thinking is the worst thing for your anxiety. When anxious, it feels like our thoughts are spiralling out of control, but in actual fact we do have control and we just need to realise how to implement it. The best technique for me when I am feeling anxious is to distract myself. So for example if I’m out for dinner and I feel a panic attack come on I will turn to the person beside and ask them a question and really focus on what they’re saying or if I’m on my own I’ll maybe play a game on my phone or listen to music or watch tv. I try my best to focus on the task I’m doing and simply step away from any anxious thoughts. It may not work immediately but if you keep trying then you eventually will become distracted and those thoughts will drift away. You could also try putting a cold towel behind your neck, splashing your face with cold water or, as some people like to do, eat a cold apple very slowly focusing on each bite.
Focus on yourself.
I spent so much time trying to impress people who didn’t care about me. I’d listen to music I didn’t like, go to events that I didn’t want to go to and hung out with people that I didn’t really like because I didn’t want to be ‘weird’. Really, it just made me pretty miserable. I used to feel like I was a bad friend for not wanting to hang out with friends, but really they were toxic people who made me feel terrible about myself. Embrace who you are and find friends who love you for you, anyone else isn’t worth your time. Focus on the things that you love, the things that bring you joy and walk away from people and things that make you feel sad.
Anxiety might always be with me, but now I realise that it doesn’t have to control my life. I simply just notice it and then concentrate on the important aspects of my life.