AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMy brain sometimes
I couldn’t tell you how many times I would be going about my own day, minding my own business before I hear this feint sound. When I stop to focus on the noise, it gets gradually louder and louder until it’s near deafening. But when I look around, no one seems to be batting an eyelid to the sound. It’s sounds a bit like…
That, my friend, would be anxiety, one of the devil’s most devious torture strategies. It’s an internal noise no one else can hear, it can come with absolutely no warning or reason, and when it wants to it will distract you from the most basic human functions, like a normal breathing pattern.
Anxiety in a lot of ways is like training a dog. At first it’s really tough to navigate and sometimes the little shit bites us. But with practice, we teach it to sit, we build confidence with our furry companion and before you know it, it’s second nature to you.
When I first started experiencing noticeable periods of anxiety, I found it to be a very confusing and very overwhelming experience. I would get a lump in my throat, my stomach would feel like it had been rotated 40 times inside of me and squeezed in a vice, and I would be hyperventilating to the point where I felt light-headed. It was awful, 0/10 would not recommend, and I daresay 4 out of 5 dentists would also not endorse it.
I’m 100% in agreement with you, anxiety is an absolute prick to experience, but let me tell you right now that it is possible to tame it. In my experience, it came down to three important factors; getting in tune with myself, and being present in the moment and (yes, I know it’s cliché) breathing. This may not be the same for you, so by all means, I recall someone (me) mentioning somewhere (in a number of blog posts) that speaking with a trained professional is both completely normal and extremely beneficial for these kinds of things.
Nonetheless, here is a breakdown of the things that help me when I breakdown;
- Breathing – yes, yes I know, the last thing you want someone to tell you when you’re FREAKING OUT is to breathe. BUT hear me out. I’m no scientist, but faster breathing = faster heart-rate = faster blood-flow = INCREASED PANIC. One of the hardest things to teach ourselves when the whole world is spinning around is to take a moment, even if we only find a fraction of a second to do it, to make a conscious effort to slowwww it alllll down. It took me quite a few goes to get the hang of it, but once you master the art of controlling your breathing, things suddenly become 90% easier to manage. You’ve been breathing all your life, you’ll get the hang of it with time. It’s like riding a bike pals.
- Being present or “grounding” – breathing becomes a little easier to control when we start working on this part and the next part. During an anxiety attack, it’s so easy to completely lose yourself (in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go (OH)) in the panicked thought processes and the flooding mental images of just about every worst case scenario your brain can cook up. But the biggest tool my wonderful therapist taught me was what we call “Grounding”, which is the process of being present in your body and current environment. We do this by distracting ourselves with what’s around us. For me, it was about saying “Okay, let’s list 5 things I can see, then 4 things I can hear, then 3 things I can touch, then 2 things I can smell (if I can’t smell more than one thing, farting helps to create a new scent and also induce laughter because, at 26, farts are still hilarious)”. When you commit to grounding, you can surprise yourself at how your body subconsciously slows everything down, breathing included
- Being in tune with yourself – As I got the hang of the first two, I started to recognise the early signs of a potential stint of ye ol’ anxiety, and began to doomsday prep for it. What made the process easy for me was reflecting on what I like to do in my down time when I relax. Maybe I’ll pop my favourite TV show on, or play the PlayStation, or read a book. Whatever it may be, if I start feeling anxious, I’d put myself in one of those comforting environments when I could. It’s not always possible, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll start to recognise external environments that’ll provide that comfort in those trying times. Music is a great one for that, when I get a bit aaahhhHHHH I’ll pop my headphones in and take 5 to slow it all down to the smooth jams of Chumbawamba.
Anxiety is about training the black dog, it doesn’t have to be a big scary event that we dread and fear. Once we learn to become wise old masters with great long beards, we begin to dictate proceedings on our own terms. “No, anxiety, you shut your mouth” and all that jazz.
Much like the building of a house that you actually want to keep upright for longer than 5 minutes, it’s important that we establish a strong foundation and that we give ourselves time to develop our skills and awareness when it comes to anxiety. So be sure to cut yourself some slack. As overwhelming as these experiences can be, never forget that you’re not alone!
Happy Mental Health Monday pals xx
The greatest lesson that I learned in all of this is that you have to start. Start now, start here, start small and keep it simpleJack Dorsey