WELLBEING | My 10 Tips For Living With & Coping With Anxiety
Living with and coping with anxiety can feel like, and mean something different to everyone, rearing its head at different moments in life – often feeling like a full force body swerve to the mind that you’re not expecting. It arrives often with no warning, without invite, and certainly isn’t a one that anyone chooses to have hanging around like a purple cloud of smog just slightly out of reach that you can’t quite put your finger on.
If you could reach it, you’d whip it out the air as quickly as it arrived. You’d wrestle it to the ground. You’d kick it in the proverbial nuts and snuff it out completely.
It’s often hard to explain and hard to express how you feel, and even harder to get to the root of why you’re feeling the way you are. That’s why it’s so encouraging today that so many people are now openly talking about anxiety and the effects it can have on your mental health.
It’s important and is slowly becoming less taboo and viewed less as ‘attention seeking’ to speak out about those ‘Debbie-downer’ feels of anxiety that so many of us experience.
Thanks to celebrities like Nadiya Hussain and Perri Edwards who have recently spoken publicly about how they feel, they’re reaching audiences across the many mediums they have access to.
There’s more to anxiety though…
We need to keep talking about it to normalise the conversation. I’ve caught myself a few times stopping myself from responding ‘I’m not drinking caffeine at the moment as it really affects my anxiety’ when someone at work has asked me why I’ve stopped drinking coffee all of a sudden. Why don’t I feel comfortable to respond openly to a colleague who I’ve just sat and given a full overview of my thoughts on last night’s Love Island? They’ve seen photos of my home life, ogled at the baby photos and indulged me as I show off my dog. But this somehow feels like a no-go zone.
Anxiety started for me in the form of postnatal anxiety
I’ve always been a fairly confident person throughout my adult life and, beyond the ‘normal’ doubting myself pre a big interview or first date or before a presentation, I had never experienced a complete loss of confidence due to anxiety before. I wasn’t prepared and I slipped into the depths of someone I didn’t know without realising I was on my way there.
It hit me like a tonne of bricks roughly two weeks postnatally after having my first baby, Lewis.
The visitors had quietened down, it was early January, and everyone was back at work or hiding, heads down trying to get their groove back after an indulgent festive period. I was at home Monday to Friday, it was cold, and the typical Glasgow winter weather kept me indoors most days. At the time I felt incredibly under pressure to be glowing with happiness and in the ‘baby bubble’ that many described, and I didn’t feel like I could open up and admit that to anyone around me.
Postnatal anxiety affects many women in the period following having a baby and can affect new mothers in many ways with up to 1 in 5 women suffer with mental health issues postnatally.
Not only do our bodies go through significant changes, but hormonally there are significant fluctuations that can cause the mood to change. For me, I worried about feeding and I struggled to cope with the many opinions that I had thrown at me in the early days of Lewis being in the world. I doubted my every decision, I took advice from too many sources which only served to confuse my judgement and fell into the depths of worry.
What followed was a long and painful journey of mastitis, breast abscesses which had to be regularly drained, heartbreak from not being able to breastfeed and anxiety about bottle feeding in public.
I was so greatful for the counselling I recieved
FYI Nobody gives a shit whether you bottle of breastfeed – you are feeding your baby which is the only important factor here. I was so low with the feelings of not being good enough for my baby that it finally led me to getting help via counselling, which I’m immensely grateful for. I only needed a few sessions in a safe environment to speak freely about my feelings and I was on the road to recovery. I’d encourage anyone suffering from worrying thoughts to seek help, it’s okay to reach out and there are resources there to help if you need them. Never, ever feel bad about asking for help. By getting help it also made me feel confident to speak to my family and friends about my true feelings and they could support me better in the day to day.
Since having Lewis I’ve suffered with bouts of anxiety that now rear their head when I find myself stressed, under pressure or sleep deprived – which now having a toddler and working full time can be more often than I’d like, for sure! Along the way I’ve found a few things that really help me to gain back a little bit of control which are almost like my little tool kit.
I brainstormed with my friends, who all have had their own periods of anxiety and we shared coping mechanisms with each other.
My Ten Tips for Anxiety
Whether you are dealing with anxious thoughts over money, where you are in your career or life stage, or have pre or postnatal anxiety, perhaps some of these tips could work for you too.
- Meditation: I’ve dabbled in meditating for a few years when I started yoga. I found the escapism enchanting and loved learning some small techniques in class. I’ve since discovered the Headspace app and, particularly when I’m feeling anxious, I try to schedule in some time to meditate. If I can’t find the time during the day then they have some lovely sleep aid meditations that help to relax the mind before sleep.
- Deep breathing: When I was pregnant with Lewis I attended an amazing pregnancy yoga class with Alice Blazy-Winning who taught me the most valuable tool that I had in my locker when in labour. She taught the art of deep breathing which particularly helped me to manage the gas and air effectively. I use the techniques Alice taught me when I find myself under pressure, and this can even be during a meeting at work! Even just a simple deep breath in, filling your stomach fully and breathing out through the mouth or nose are perfect to still the mind and give you a moment of pause to reflect.
- Exercise: It took me a long time to get back into exercise after having Lewis and I wasn’t in a hurry to do anything high impact at all. I walked for miles with the pram and took Lewis to one of Alice’s mum-and-baby classes (which are also amazing, do check them out!) which got me moving – but when I started work again and I was back in the high-pressure business environment I knew I needed something harder hitting to free my brain. When Lewis was 14 months, I finally made the decision to get my fitness back and have been working with a PT since. I do at least one workout per week, with the aim of doing 3, but I try not to beat myself up too much if I don’t manage as life is… well… crazy. Yes, I’d like to lose some weight through working out but the main goal for me was clearing my head and gaining more control with how my body and mind felt. I’ve been working with the team at DMC Fitness who I can’t recommend enough. They helped me to set goals for my body and mind at the start of my training with them which included a session all about my mental health and wellbeing. If training with a PT isn’t an option for you, or just not your thing, then any movement will be beneficial for your body and mind.
- Caffeine Cut: Caffeine is a stimulant and there’s a very valid reason why we all love a hot cuppa coffee in the morning to kick start the day and give you all the wakey wakey feels. For me, when I’m feeling anxious, it’s a stimulant to send my mind deeper into overdrive and I can even get to the point where I don’t want to open my mouth for a fear of saying something wrong – so I stay awkwardly quiet letting everything eat me alive! If you’re feeling like your mind is in overdrive and you can’t stop your thoughts from going a zillion miles per hour, try cutting down or cutting caffeine out completely for a period and see if it helps calm the mind a little. I now go through periods of not drinking it at all or, if I am, then limiting it through the week and keeping it for a weekend treat. One of my favourite things to do at the weekend is go out for a cup of coffee in one of my many favourite haunts… blog post to follow on that one!
- Self-Care Evening: A favourite of one of my best friends, scheduling in a self-care evening is an excellent way to tell your body “STOP”, I need to slow down here for a second and calm the mind. Find your perfect chill out combination, whether it’s scented candles, a bath, face mask and doing your nails, or maybe it’s putting some music on and spending the evening in the kitchen cooking some wholesome food. Do the thing that makes you feel like you, calms the soul and the mind and schedule some much needed you time.
- Social Media Cull: This one is simple, but very effective. The moment someone or an account on social media starts to make you feel bad or compare yourself negatively, unfollow them immediately. If you find yourself scrolling through your feed and you feel any less worthy than anyone on there, it’s time to have a cull and remove all the bad vibes. This one gives me an instant boost. You might even feel like seeking out some more positive accounts which could be around body positivity, happy quotes or charities which you might be able to help support.
- Digital detox: Having too much screen time can really affect your productivity and it’s easy to pick up your phone to escape the mess of your house or to unwind and numbingly scroll to pass some time. Set some new rules in the house such as putting your phone away somewhere out of reach but where you can hear if a call comes through, or perhaps muting some group chats for a while to stop you checking in continuously. Better yet, logging out of Facebook and Instagram for a period of time can really have a positive affect if you need to take some more drastic measures!
- Fresh Air: Another of my friend’s favourites is getting outdoors and going for a long walk with the dog. Fresh air can work wonders for the mind and clear away the cobwebs, plus seeing your pooch super happy to be out with you will never get old. Many people say that dogs are incredible for improving mental health too, and I’m not suggesting you should go and buy a dog if you don’t have one, but if you’re interested then you could always try out Borrow My Doggy!
- Learn to say NO: I personally love this suggestion from one of the girls, and one I don’t think me and my husband do well at all. It’s okay to cancel plans and if you don’t feel like doing something, stop putting other people’s feelings before yours. Be selfish, especially where your mental health is concerned. If it makes you feel anxious or worried, or you know deep down you just need to schedule in that self-care evening, then listen to your body. And say no.
- Lastly, but most importantly, be kind to yourself. Question your thoughts, accept that your mind could be controlling the way that you are rationally seeing situations and think about taking steps to talk about how you feel. Whether it’s opening up to someone close to you or you feel like you’d benefit from some professional help, I hope you will feel strong enough to reach out and put yourself first.
Together we can support each other through the toughest of situations.
*Please note, I’m not medically qualified to give professional advice – do always seek help if you feel like you’d benefit from professional advice from a doctor.
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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