As I type this out on the fly in my favourite coffee shop, I’m on day three of teetering on the edge of a cliff. Fall off that precarious ledge, ladies and gentlemen, and we plummet headfirst into that oh-so-annoying thing called an anxiety spiral.
This manifests differently in different people and it can be triggered by any combination of things; hormones, alcohol, changes in your life, being faced with decisions, public speaking, social interactions, the wrong word at the wrong time, something embarrassing you did five years ago, et cetera. The list is virtually never-ending, and the effects can be crippling to some, and plain inconvenient to others. I’ve experienced situations which had me feeling so helpless, I couldn’t leave my bed all day except to use the bathroom. It wasn’t great.
The anxiety spiral
Personally, the main thing that gets to me during one of these spirals is the obsessive part. If something sets me off, I get tunnel vision and can’t see anything or anyone else but that thing causing the anxiety. And to be quite honest, it can feel like my mind is unravelling at the time.
It’s the end of the world to me, even if to my friends or family it shouldn’t even a blip on the stress radar. I’m the worst person ever, how can anyone stand me let alone like me, I’m the most annoying thing ever to walk the earth, I’m probably too loud and talk too much, I’m not actually a good writer, I’m not really good at my job, I’m not a good person, I’ve probably offended someone today, I sound stupid, and that person who saw me drunk three years ago probably still laughs at me sometimes. This is just a snippet of the thoughts that swirl, quite mercilessly, around in my head when it’s happening; your reality is distorted, and even though what you want most in the world is someone to stroke your hair and say everything is fine, you know you also won’t believe a damn word of it. You’ll probably think they’re just saying that to make you feel better. I guess the best you can do in that situation is to trust your support system to be honest with you.
For people dealing with anxiety know that it generally comes with physical manifestations too – anything from a quickened heartbeat or nausea to a full-blown panic attack. Everyone has their own version of this personal hell, in varying degrees, and I can only tell you what it’s like for me. I’m lucky to have never dealt with a real panic attack, but having your mind obsess and your heart feel like it’s going to bust out of your chest is also deeply unpleasant. Logically, I know my ‘fight or flight’ is kicking in and the adrenaline is making my body feel panic, but that does little to help me at the time.
How I’m dealing with my anxiety
For a long, long time, I didn’t know that this thing that was happening to me had a name or that it was happening to countless others in the world. I was weird and panicky sometimes, that was it. It always passed – but it also always came back.
I got a little older and took time to really dig down into what it was I felt, what triggered those feelings and what made me feel better when it happened. Fast forward to this weekend, and I’ve actually written down, on two sticky notes, the things that aggravate my anxiety and the things that help me manage it. Almost like an ‘in case of emergency’ reminder. Here’s a snippet:
Things that make it worse
- PMS. Lord Jesus, PMS.
- Drinking more than two or three glasses of wine.
- Too much coffee.
- Being disorganised or messy.
- Falling behind on deadlines.
- Not taking the time to cook meals.
- The possibility that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings.
- And then overthinking this for hours on end.
- Not being active.
- Spending time on social media.
Things that (therefore) make it better
- Regular exercise – get those happy hormones a-flowin’.
- A clean bedroom and freshly laundered sheets.
- Five-minute meditations – I use an app called ‘Calm’.
- Cutting down on social media.
- I highly recommend switching off notifications as a trial if you’re uncomfortable with completely ridding your phone of the usual suspects.
- Reading for leisure.
- Making lists (evidently).
- Staying on top of my work.
- Doing things to make other people happy.
- Sketching, writing, or playing videogames.
- Spending time by the sea.
- Puppies. Lots of puppies.
- Drinking less coffee, and avoiding it after 5pm.
- Evening Primrose oil. That shit is legit.
- Getting out of bed and having a shower even when it seems like the hardest thing ever.
- Talking about it with someone I trust.
Of course, I’m not against the use of medication to help with anxiety and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Pharmaceuticals should absolutely not be demonized or viewed as some sort of necessary evil; I have loads of friends who tell me how their lives have been massively improved by anti-anxiety meds, and I’m happy for them. I’m just trying my own thing first, and that’s okay too.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share what I’m doing to keep a handle on things and stay balanced when anxiety makes that difficult. Sharing this kind of stuff helps others who might be struggling with it, so I’m all over that.
I’d love to hear what you do when this demon scratches at your door, so feel free to share your tips in the comments!