I must make it abundantly clear here that I am in no way a qualified therapist/counsellor, merely someone who has suffered from (at times) severe anxiety which for me is in the form of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, accompanied (unfortunately) by OCD.
My GAD is kept under control with medication and I’ve had intensive therapy over the years.
However, I wanted to share with you some useful ways I combat anxiety. Yes, of course, the medication I have taken daily for a year (today in fact), has improved my mental health hugely but I have also tried to be as pro-active as possible when it comes to ensuring my anxiety is largely kept at bay.
If you’re suffering from anxiety, the most unhelpful piece of advice anyone could ever give you (especially if you have OCD too) is “just don’t think about it” or “think about something else“.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were that easy? If your thoughts were like a light switch, a quick flick of the button and all would be right with your mind again?
Alas, anxiety sadly doesn’t work that way.
Something I’ve taught myself to remember on a daily basis since I suffered a breakdown during New Year 2015 is Your Thoughts Are Not You.
What do I mean by this?
Well to put it simply, you cannot control your thoughts. You will have thousands, if not millions of thoughts every single day of your life. Some of them will be as random as a lucky dip lottery ticket. Others will be slightly more considered perhaps. What is important to remember is this, your thoughts are not indicative of the truth.
Just because you thought it, it doesn’t mean its fact.
Throughout 2014 and into early 2015 I was stuck in a rather appropriately self titled A-Hole. An Anxiety Hole I call it, where my thoughts were mostly negative and would remunerate constantly. As try as I might to climb out of the A-Hole I found myself in, I couldn’t seem to switch off the ever circling spiral of terribly negative thoughts.
Why am I thinking this? Is this terrible event I’m imagining actually going to happen? Have I said something terrible? Am I going to become seriously ill?
Because I thought it, it will end up happening. This is where I was, I’d given so much weight to my thoughts.
Before I knew it, I could focus on little else other than my thoughts, my thoughts were making my palms sweat, my head hurt, my stomach flip over like I was on the most nausea inducing rollercoaster.
Why am I thinking these things? Am I slowly going mad (whatever mad is)?
I felt so alone, aside from the company of my thoughts, I felt like I was the only person in the world who was suffering from this terrible A-Hole. But I wasn’t.
Learning to not be afraid of my thoughts took a huge deal of effort and believing in what my therapist was telling me. Treating my (negative) thoughts with the contempt they deserve, letting them come and then letting them go, not analysing and fearing them is when I slowly began to realise that I don’t need to be so afraid.
Mindfulness is a tool that has received one hell of a lot of media coverage in recent years, it has many celebrity followers and advocates and something that given time, really can be effective in dealing with anxiety.
It teaches you to step away from your thoughts. To focus on the here and the now. What can you see? What can you smell? What are you doing? What is actually happening to you, as a person at this present time? It helps you to focus on what is happening, physically as it were, as opposed to what is circling around in your head.
You might have a thought in your head that back in 2014 you said such and such to someone and they may have been offended? (This is something that used to cause me a lot of anxiety). That’s just a thought, what you have in your hands is real, what you can smell is real, what you are reading is real. Worrying that you annoyed an acquaintance 2 years ago is a thought that doesn’t necessarily bear truth.
It can be a hard concept to get your head around, and I’ll be honest, it took me a while.
Catastrophising was at the very heart of my anxiety.
A thought that was so irrational in its origin but would be so strong and so all encompassing that it would literally convince me that I was about to come to harm or that I was to fall out with everyone I know.
Taking a step back from my thoughts and focussing on my here and now would give me the ability to help make that thought seem less and less frightening. The thought would come and go. The person sat behind me on the bus isn’t about to cause me harm, it’s my irrational and somewhat intrusive thoughts and at the moment I am safe.
Therapy and indeed CBT is something I will champion forever. You don’t need me to tell you the brain is an incredibly complex and intelligent organ, however, with the right tools, practice and potentially support, you can learn to not be afraid of your thoughts and fear your own mind.
I was so afraid of the terrible A-Hole I’d found myself in that a year ago today, I couldn’t get out of bed, I was at my very rock bottom, exhausted by my thought patterns and my overwhelming fears and worries. Living in the past and terrified of the future.
With the right support and following what I have learnt as mentioned above, it has helped me more than I could ever possibly articulate to you.
Taking it each minute at a time really is a great way to focus, because, let’s face it; you can’t change the past and you don’t really 100% know what’s to come in the future. So, concentrating on your here and now will help alleviate your worries and hopefully mean you won’t find yourself where I have done before, right in the middle of an A-Hole.
Some useful resources, should you need them.
I regularly ‘blog’ about the subject of mental health, a topic that is very important to me. You can find more mental health articles here.