My dog gets anxious from time to time. Usually about stupid things, like when we stop petting him for 5 seconds and he panics about where his next head pat is coming from. Or when he loses sight of his tennis ball and digs into the ground in terror. He worries when the door gets knocked and he doesn’t expect it. I look at him and shake my head and think ‘what a loveable idiot’.
I get anxious from time to time. Usually about stupid things, like when I post a selfie to Instagram and no one responds, and I panic about where my next ‘like’ is coming from. Or when I lose sight of my phone and rummage in my handbag in a cold sweat. I worry when the phone rings and I’m not expecting it. I look at myself and shake my head and think ‘what an idiot’.
So why am I so laid-back about my dog’s anxiety and so hard on myself about my own?
Well for one, my dog is adorable. I consider myself less so, if only by a small margin. Although we share many similarities; the anxious nature, the wet nose, the fur, the as yet un-removed balls; we are also very different creatures (quite literally). His anxiety is instantly resolvable, he just needs a quick head bop or munch on a dog chew and he’s already forgotten he was ever distressed in any way, (or that he’s lost his 15th ball in a river this week alone). It takes quite a bit more for me, and many of my fellow humans to shake off our anxiety.
My anxiety usually stems from doubts in my own capabilities; in work, in social situations, in comparing myself to others. The latter I’ve struggled with more recently, as I forge ahead with attempting a writing career. I find myself, against my better judgement, constantly comparing my words, achievements, success to that of my peers, or those who have been in this world much longer than myself. I constantly put myself down, doubt my having any talent, worry about whether I’ll ever be able to make a living from this, worry I’m not advocating well enough for my fellow patients. Sometimes I worry about all of this to such a degree that I am overcome with anxious thoughts. These manifest themselves in overthinking, panicking about the most seemingly insignificant things, feeling incredibly low for long or short periods.
Having an illness is also an incredibly anxiety inducing situation to be in. So, any outside stresses alongside coping with a chronic condition can be exhausting both mentally and physically. What then, can we do to help ease the anxious burden? Here are some suggestions which can be helpful in day to day situations or the longer term. You’re welcome I love you xo
1. Talk to someone you trust – seems to good to be true yes? But confiding in a trusted good listener can be a massive relief for those of us who regularly find ourselves trapped inside our own heads. If you don’t have that person on hand, or would rather talk to an outsider then the Samaritans and Anxiety UK are great places to start.
2. Look after your physical health – there are a few small steps you can take to make strides in improving your physical health. I know, ‘steps’ and ‘strides’ all sound exhausting and nausea inducing but don’t worry I’m not asking for much from you, get back under the covers. Start by trying to get enough sleep, this helps increase your energy making it that little bit easier to face the day. Consider your diet; eating regular meals and keeping your blood sugar stable make a big different to your mood and energy levels. Some small and regular exercise can also be helpful for your mental wellbeing. Don’t panic I’m not asking you to take up hand-gliding I don’t even really understand what hand-gliding is if I’m honest, just go for a walk or something, GOD.
3. Try breathing exercises – this is a great one that a therapist once suggested to me, that naturally I instantly scoffed at like she was some sort of daft hippy while I urgently scanned the room for her qualifications. But it turns out she was qualified and these exercises actually help. (Kudos to you Carol!) The idea of breathing and remembering to breathe (and in most practices of mindfulness) is simply to ensure we are giving full attention to the present moment. This isn’t for everyone and doesn’t help in necessarily every anxious situation, but its certainly something to consider.
4. Keep a diary – I’m a huge diary fan. Dairy is great too, mmm butter, but we’re here to talk about diaries, stop trying to distract me with butter. A phrase I’ve said more than you may expect in my short life. Anyway, keeping a diary of sorts can be helpful when you get anxious or have a panic attack. It can help spot patterns in what triggers these experiences, or allow you to notice early warning signs they may be about to happen. Also keep a note of what’s going well. Anxiety doesn’t allow much room for anything but worry, so noticing the good things is also a great way to be a little kinder to yourself.
5. Try to manage your worries – this can be a seemingly insurmountable task when you have anxiety. Try to start slowly by setting aside a specific time to focus on what’s worrying you; that way you reassure yourself you aren’t ignoring them but are not allowing them to cloud your entire day. Try to accept that although these moments can feel awful while you are in them that they will pass, accepting that simple fact can make it much easier to get through whatever treacle-like slog you have to wade through.
(If what you are worrying about is treacle, then your own cos that stuff is vile.)