Anxiety: what it feels like and 6 ways to manage it

Anxiety – a constant source of frustration in my life, and this year, it seems to have been getting steadily worse.

I think I know why.

For the first time in 18 years I haven’t had my eating disorder to fall back on to manage difficult feelings and just life in general.

I’ve noticed that unwelcome thoughts have been popping up in my mind more often; memories of past events, dark visions of what the future might look like, twisted narratives of what’s happening now. They rear their ugly heads at the most inconvenient moments (typical!) as well as completely unexpectedly. Not knowing when an intense feeling, or terrifying thought, will appear out of nowhere means I’m constantly on edge, braced for the next attack.

I could be boarding a train to work, and whilst I’m perched on the edge of the window seat, or hanging from the hand-grips, reading a book, I’ll notice my whole body is tense.

My breathing becomes shallower and shakier; I can’t pull in enough air. I become lightheaded and floaty. Panic sets in – I can’t faint on the train, I just can’t! What if I faint because I’m not breathing properly? What is that shooting pain in my arm, my leg, my stomach? Am I having a heart attack? I start to tremble, my heart beating so fast it feels like it’s coming out my chest. Random pains seer through my body. I alternate between fear of fainting, being convinced I’m going to die of a heart attack and knowing that all of this is just anxiety and I’m totally fine.

My rational brain knows nothing is wrong. There’s no reason at all for feeling this way. Logic and rationalisation do nothing to quell emotions though.

Emotions aren’t logical and cannot be explained away.

I should know. I’ve tried to do it enough times. All that happens is you get stuck in a never-ending cycle of justifying thoughts.

I’ve come to realise that the only way is to feel the emotions, not push them away. Observe the thoughts and feelings, try and understand where they’ve come from and why, without judgement, and put them to bed.

Acknowledge, process, move on. Easy. Right?…

Practice, consistency and the healing power of time are all things I’m relying on to get through this tough patch. I trust that by practicing new coping techniques, being mindful and self-aware, in time, things will get better. This has just been a particularly enduring period of intense anxiety. Doesn’t mean that next month, or next year, I’ll act and feel the same way.

Two years ago, when I made the decision to go back into therapy, I knew that this time, the outcome would have to be different. I was running out of time. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow was not good enough. If I wanted to get better, I would have to act now. If I didn’t, I ran the real risk of waking up 20 years from now, a brittle and aged 50-year-old, riddled with osteoporosis and a plethora of other health issues. If I was still alive that is. I would look back and wonder where all the years had gone; filled with regret at all the opportunities for recovery I had not taken advantage of.

This time, things have gone differently because I’ve made a much more sustained and consistent effort. But also, because ‘I should get better’ became ‘I must get better’. I no longer had a choice. It was do or die. Literally. It’s been hard, and will continue to be, but nothing worth having comes easy. I know I’m doing much better, that I’m in a healthier place, both mentally and physically, than I have been for years and years.

So why the anxiety, the sudden low ebbs, the tiredness? Why do I feel like I’m not doing enough?

Unfortunately, I think its all just part of the process. Over time, things will get better as I put into practice the new coping mechanisms, I know work for me. But in the meantime, patience young padawan :P

So here are 6 things I’ve been doing which help manage my anxiety.

You may not have anxiety, and these things might not work for you – everyone is different after all. But they’re all based around taking time out to focus on the self, which everyone can benefit from in this hectic and chaotic world.

So:

  1. Go for walk. I particularly like going for solo nature walks – forests are my especial favourite. I just love the smell of damp soil underfoot and the sound of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. You might prefer a leisurely walk in the park with friends or a run before work in the crisp morning air.
  2. Listen to music. Maybe some angry, thumping techno will get anger and frustration out of your system. Or if you’re feeling edgy, some jazz and classical might do you better.
  3. I used to think meditation was about sitting cross-legged in total silence and telling the brain to shut up. I’ve realised I couldn’t have been more wrong. Meditation is about observing the mind, seeing the thoughts that form in there, realising how so many of them are unconscious and repetitive – serve no purpose. In creating that detachment, you create a space where you’re able to get some clarity and understanding, about all sorts of things. Meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting in silence. You could be cleaning the house, walking, dancing, and meditating the whole time. If your mind goes quiet, then you’re meditating!
  4. Read a book. There’s nothing quite like reading a good book to take your mind off things. To caveat, it should be a book with a positive and uplifting story. A story about serial killers will probably just increase anxiety :P
  5. Keep learning. Knowledge is power right! This year, I’ve been reading loads more non -fiction books. Who knew how fiction-like much of ‘real life’ is?! Broadening and deepening your knowledge around a wide variety of subjects is so empowering, as well as being super interesting. I’ve read books on biology, psychology, spirituality; watched documentaries about the environment, different cultures around the world and current affairs; found educational channels on YouTube to teach myself new skills, like basic statistics and SEO. I want to learn about myself, the world, the people in it. For me, expanding my knowledge is giving me a better understanding of my place on this planet. I’ve realised just how little I know, how many assumptions I’ve been making, and continue to make, about all sorts of things. It’s given me a sense of wonder, that there’s so much more for me to know – more than I could ever learn in fifty lifetimes, let alone my meagre one.
  6. Spend time with friends or family. When you’re feeling anxious or down, spending time with other people might be the last thing you feel like doing. I know when I’ve been feeling low, my first reaction has been to isolate myself – I just don’t have the energy to deal with other people. I also get paranoid that I’ll infect them with my bad mood and over time no one will want to spend time with me. But pretty much 99% of the time (sometimes being alone is the only solution), the opposite has been true. Surrounding yourself with upbeat and positive people will only make you feel better. They won’t make your problems disappear, but they could give you some ideas, support and motivation. Or maybe just a welcome break from things!

That’s it for this week.

Til next time! xxx

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