The following article is a guest post from a past client. – Dr Nick.
For a long time, I didn’t really realise what anxiety actually was. Like many people, I would get nervous about public speaking or if I had a big event coming up, and I thought that was it. When I heard others speak of anxiety I assumed that they were simply referring to the basic nerves that are a common part of our day-to-day lives. I had no idea that they could be referring to something more chronic.
Anxiety can come and go in various different forms, depending on the person and their lived experiences. As with anything, anxiety will affect different people in different ways. We will also all have our own way of managing it. This is my experience.
The Turning Point
The turning point for me was when, midway through a strategy meeting at work, I had a panic attack. I had lost my mother just a few weeks prior. To cope, I had been burying myself in projects at the office in an attempt to hide from what was actually happening in my life. This was the first crack, the first sign that I was not as okay as I wanted to imagine.
The next day I stopped by my doctors to get an assessment and find out what had happened. Up until this point, I had no idea that what I had experienced was actually a panic attack. I was surprised to see their concern, and they swiftly referred me to a psychotherapist. It seemed that, at long last, it was time for me to recognise that I was struggling.
During this experience, I came to realise that the sleepless nights, the pounding heart and the aching in my chest that had come to be a normal part of my life were, in fact, not so ‘normal’. I learnt that this wasn’t something that I should have to live with. There were actually ways to manage it. There is a point when standard anxiety starts to affect your whole life, and it dawned on me that this was the anxiety I had heard so much about, showing up in its own form just for me.
I had gotten to the stage where feelings of discomfort had become a typical part of my day. If I had an argument with my partner, I would instantly panic that I was going to lose him forever, just as I had lost my mother. I was spending my whole life on the edge, living in fear of something catching me by surprise again. I was dreading my world being turned upside down again. And so I felt as though I should always be ready, by looking for the problem before it even arose.
Finding A Cause
It was during an early conversation with my counsellor that I was asked what brought me joy in life, what did I like to do for fun? I listed off some of my favourite hobbies, from baking to trying out new coffee shops, walking and practising my photography. And then I realised that I couldn’t actually remember the last time I had done any of them. I was so focused on surviving each day that I hadn’t left any space for the simple things that brought me so much happiness. This became my motivation. I wanted to get back to a point where I had room in my life for fun again.
With my psychotherapist by my side, we worked on getting to the root cause of my difficulty and figuring out what was creating so much anxiety in my life. Naturally, this is one of those things that is easier said than done. However, after much work, we determined that it was low self-esteem and lack of confidence that was creating my fear. I had so little belief in my worth and my abilities at home, at work and in my relationships. I was convincing myself that everyone was going to up and leave me.
Now that I knew the root cause of my anxiety, I wanted to put some strategies into place to help me manage it. After working with my counsellor, and then later on with my life coach, I came to realise what a significant impact physical exercise had on my mental wellbeing. I’ve always been someone who keeps physically fit. However, the trauma of losing my mother so suddenly meant that I had done far more than simply fall off the wagon. The wagon had upped and left.
So I started setting myself some small achievable goals. First, I aimed to complete a yoga video on YouTube just once a week. Then, I added a walk into the mix. And so on and so on, until I built a more steady routine. Some weeks went well and others slightly less so. But the key was that I never gave up. I knew how essential physical movement was for my wellbeing, This was just the reminder that I needed to put my workout clothes and get out the door, even if only for a walk around the block.
I also added some practical breathing exercises into the mix. They might not work for everyone, but merely controlling your in and out breaths when experiencing a wave of panic can be the perfect tool. It can help you stop, pause and take stock of what’s going on. It gives you something to focus on. At the same time, it slows you down, which helps you assess the situation. I find that it’s a helpful nudge for me to consider what’s really giving me cause to feel anxious.
Finally, the last couple of years have delivered tremendous lessons in self-acceptance. Slowly I am learning to accept myself for where I am now, as opposed to where I want to be. I think we can be our own worst critics. Always striving for bigger and better, when actually it’s totally fine just to slow down and be where you are right now. Even if it’s not quite as you’d imagined. We are all a constant work in progress, I know I certainly am, and that’s 100% okay.
Looking to learn more about anxiety? Try our free anxiety test.