What anxiety has taught me.

I remember the first time I realised that I had anxiety. I was driving to pick my son up from school after a sports fixture, I was on the M1 and it was the middle of winter, the roads were dark and I started to realise I was feeling very anxious and stressed for no obvious reason. I had a feeling of dread and fear, it was almost impossible to breathe. I started to sweat profusely and could feel my heart racing at what felt like an unsustainable rate. It didn’t help when I came off the motorway onto my exit which was even darker and a lot more frightening. I prayed, I trembled but my anxiety seemed to be getting worse.

I made the decision to call a friend (on handsfree) and thankfully she picked up. My plan had been to tell her what was happening to me but luckily for me, we moved quickly into an intense conversation regarding something else and I got completely distracted and was able to complete the drive safely. That was one of the first lessons I later came to learn about my anxiety. It can be eased if I find a way to truly distract myself. This lesson did not come in useful till much later, when I understood my anxiety better.

After that episode, I started to have more similar episodes and eventually I realised my anxiety had been triggered by a series of traumatic events but the anxiety around motorways and driving in the car was as a result of a very traumatic event I had suffered while visiting family in Nigeria.

My then husband and I were returning back home after a night out with friends when we were robbed at gunpoint. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I had a man with a gun resting on my temple on my side of the car, hitting me repeatedly on the head while they demanded everything we had. This had happened on what resembled a motorway, it was very dark with very little lighting on the roads and as a result we did not see the robbers until it was too late.

After we were let go, I was so relieved to be alive that I immediately tried to dismiss this event in my mind as not being that bad, I was just grateful to God that neither of us were killed or sustained any serious injuries and all we had lost was property, I pushed everything else to the back of my mind. The truth I learnt, was that I had never dealt with the trauma of what happened that night and sure enough as trauma does, it showed up in a different way in my behaviour, a form of post traumatic stress.

Fast forward a couple of years later, my mum was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and sadly died a few years later, soon after that I discovered my husband had been unfaithful and that precipitated the disintegration of my marriage.,

So in a few short years, I had suffered a series of serious life events. I later learned that anxiety can also be triggered by (amongst many things) a big traumatic event or a series of smaller stressful life events.

Prior to all of these experiences, I had suffered periods of post natal depression and generally feeling low off and on for years but again never really gave it a name, I now realise like so many other people that end up being diagnosed with depression and or anxiety, I was probably more likely to have these disorders. Research has shown that in addition to biological and environmental factors, there are other factors that can make some people more prone to depression such as a person’s personality, experiences of stress and conflict, genetics, chronic illnesses, etc. to name a few

I suppose my body just could not deal with any more trauma/stress and I suddenly found that myself struggling with high levels of anxiety and depression. My anxiety initially revolved around driving at night, on dark roads, motorways and any thing reminiscent of my first traumatic experience but it gradually extended to other parts of my life and I started to suffer from social anxiety, health anxiety, flying anxiety, intrusive thoughts and many more, of course this also meant I was constantly depressed, struggling to cope with everyday life and to make matters worse started suffering with insomnia, something that is also very common with sufferers of depression and anxiety.

When I finally sought help, I was initially referred for counselling. I would see a counsellor once a week. I found the whole experience very unpleasant, usually ended up leaving the counsellor in a worse state than when I went in. My personal experience with counselling was not a good one and I ended up deciding that counselling was not for me. ( More on this this in a separate blog; why counselling does not work for everyone)

My second referral was for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). This had some beneficial aspects for me, I was quite a logical thinker before anxiety and I liked the approach of examining what evidence there was of what I was afraid of but after completing my course of CBT, I was shocked to find out that I still was not cured like I had foolishly imagined I would be.

Fast forward, many years later, counselling skills course, hundreds of self help books, research and study later, I finally realised that my anxiety was not something I could be cured of.

I learnt that once you have anxiety, you will always to some extent be an anxious person but what you can do is to learn how to live with, manage and thrive even with anxiety.

In doing that, I have come to realise that anxiety is sort of, a friend. I do not classify it as an enemy because in some misguided way, it is trying to keep me safe from the things it believes will cause me pain or harm by constantly reminding me of the danger it foresees in me doing those things reminiscent of past traumas e.g. driving down a dark lonely road

Unfortunately, the downside to this is that if I listen to my anxiety, I may end up avoiding all of the the good stuff too. E.g. my social anxiety or fear of driving stops me from long distance driving, motorway driving and any type of driving really because my anxiety reminds me of how dangerous it can be (untrue) and convinces me not to do it. If I listen to my anxiety, I end up not going anywhere and missing out on the possibility of seeing friends, going to parties, meeting new people, broadening my horizons, all things that would actually make me happier in the long run. The other problem with listening to anxiety is that the more you let it win, the harder it becomes to shut out the fear and worry. One of the most important steps you can take in confronting your fears is accepting that life comes with risks and there are no guarantees. Flying is risking, driving is risky, falling in love is risky, having children is risky, in fact everyday is a gift and since there are no guarantees, you are better off accepting that to live life fully and happily, you may need to do some things that feel uncomfortable or scary.

Once you accept this, you can start to retrain your anxiety and speak to it in moments of panic or anxiety or when you are doing something that you would normally avoid. Let it know you are safe and there is nothing to worry about. When I started to do this, it became easier to do the things I was afraid of in spite of my fear. My anxiety is not cured by any means but I am constantly learning what helps and what doesn’t help. I am constantly challenging that anxiety each time it pops up and letting it know I am ok and I want to be more daring. It was doing this that allowed me to do more things and even though I still have anxiety around driving, flying and lots of other things, I am able to feel the fear and do it nonetheless.

Of course, it is useful to be more self aware and identify your triggers and work on your mindset. Being more conscious of your thoughts, the people you are around and the things you are exposed to will be extremely helpful in helping you manage anxiety

So what has my anxiety taught me?

Empathy in large doses, I have become a much more empathetic and sympathetic human as a result of having anxiety. I can relate more to people’s inner battle and I am generally kinder and a lot more tolerant towards other especially being aware that disorders like anxiety and depression can be totally invisible. You may see someone and think they are okay while they are battling depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.

I have also learnt to be kinder to myself and acknowledge that the same empathy that I am now able to show others is something I should also apply to myself. I used to have quite a lot of self dislike because I just did not understand why I kept being depressed or had intrusive thoughts or grappled with OCD but now I know the causes and the issues around my disorder, I am a lot kinder to myself.

Finally, one thing anxiety and depression has shown me is that I need to appreciate life a lot more. When we are not suffering from any of these disorders, we do not realise how beautiful life can be and all the opportunities we miss out on but having anxiety has really allowed me to appreciate the good days so much more and even though being on the edge and constantly being worried about something happening to me is not pleasant, it also encourages me to live life as fully and as completely as I possibly can.

if you are struggling with any of the issues that I have talked about in this blog, please ask for help. Talking with others has been one of the best things I have ever done but of course reaching out for help also means you will be able to learn strategies to manage and live fully inspite of your anxiety.

Charities such as MIND, The Samaritans, Mental Health UK, SANE all have help lines and have teams of people that you can chat to.

I am always happy to help too. Please message me via any of my socials or by email to tayokutiwrites@gmail.com for an informal chat. I offer 1:1 support and coaching with anxiety and mindset.

Tayo xoxo

Why you should start journaling

Remember when you were a child and you had a diary and would write down all your little secrets about what you and your best friend got up to? Well that little diary was a form of journaling and is something that has far more benefits for us as adults than many people realise.

In recent years, a lot more research has been done on the benefits of journaling and the findings are pretty amazing. Journaling is a superstar when it comes to helping us manage our emotions in a positive manner. In a study done in 2006, journaling was found to reduce symptoms of people with depression, anxiety and hostility

Journaling simply refers to the act of writing down or keeping a diary about your thoughts and the everyday events of your lives including what may be going wrong or right.

This simple act has been found to be extremely powerful for helping individuals deal with conflict, reduce stress and manage difficult emotions

In particular, when it comes to conditions such as depression and anxiety, journaling can work wonders.

I started journaling reluctantly in 2018 after a friend of mine suggested it to me during a very difficult and stressful time in my life. I did it reluctantly because I had this fear of someone finding my journal and reading all my innermost thoughts and the thought of that used to put me off. I eventually overcame that fear and started to write down my thoughts and feelings from day to day, my emotions around certain events, feelings of anger and hurt, basically I wrote down anything and everything that came to mind.

What I found from doing this is I had more clarity of mind, less emotional baggage and I started to feel much more at ease with myself. I also felt less encumbered, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had discovered the power of journaling.

I went from strength to strength at that point, writing down inspirational verses from books I was reading or the bible and my interpretation of what I read and how it impacted me. This became the beginnings of my foray into writing. Before I knew it, I was addicted to writing.

One day I sat and read through my journal and was startled to see how meaningful, helpful and uplifting it was and that moment of realisation, that day was the day I decided I was going to write a book loosely formed from the writings I had done in my journal.

My book “Screaming helps” was published in 2019 and the whole journey of writing it has been an amazing experience for me, so much so, I am in the process of writing a second book. Of course, after this experience, I am a complete convert to journaling and I believe it forms an essential part of a robust self care package.

If you’ve never journaled, a great way to sample this form of expression is to try using the Pandemic Project website. A resource created by Psychology researchers to help people explore their challenges, experiences and emotions around Covid-19 and the Pandemic.

Otherwise, you can easily buy a notebook or a custom designed journal and start your own journey of journaling.

If you want to know why you should journal, I share below some surprising benefits of journaling ;

  1. Writing things down gives you much more clarity about what may be bothering you and helps you to identify more clearly what your problems and challenges are
  2. Helps you to identify negative thought patterns and your triggers
  3. Acts as a tool for self reflection and self evaluation as you can look back over periods of time to see how you have changed
  4. Writing allows you to engage with difficult emotions or experiences
  5. The routine of writing regularly can help you build more structure into your life
  6. Writing can encourage you to take action on things that are bothering you. When we put our thoughts and worries down on paper, they become more real and with the added bonus of clarity we gain from seeing those thoughts, it can help us actually decide what type of action we need to take to improve things in our life.

These are just some of the many reasons that you should start writing your thoughts down. It can be a force for good, forcing you to confront difficult emotions and giving you the opportunity to see what you are grateful for and how you can improve. Although you can buy journals which already have prompts and question that form the basis for your writing, it is also possible for you to decide how and what you want to journal. You can buy a notebook and try your hand out at doing it freestyle and see how you do on a day to day basis. I favour both styles of journaling and I have a journal which I purchased that has prompts and suggestions which I like to use as a formal way of journaling but I also like journaling free style. It really depends on my mood.

I feel that if you are a beginner, it may be useful to have some guidance around what to write but this is of course totally up to you. However, some useful prompts and questions for what to write in your journal for your morning routine include;

  1. What you are grateful for at the start of the day
  2. One thing that you will try to do that day
  3. A positive affirmation
  4. How you will make that day a good one/ good deeds

At the end of the day, prompts can include

  1. What was the best thing about the day
  2. What didn’t go well and how you would improve
  3. What good deed you did that day
  4. What you are grateful for at the end of the day

I hope this article has inspired you to start your own journaling practice today. If you want some more tips and help to get started, feel free to email me at tayokutiwrites@gmail.com

Tayo xoxo

How to do what seems impossible.

Have you ever had a goal or vision for your life that seemed so huge that you had no idea how to even get started?I have definitely had that feeling before, you look at whatu want to achieve and you have no idea how or where to start.

This is one of the most common reasons why people fail to start working on their goals or fail to meet their goal. That feeling of overwhelm, being stuck and not knowing where to begin can be scary however, being scared does not have to stop you and I have my own formula for attacking big or little goals. Most people use or talk about the acronym “SMART” but I find it a bit overused and sometimes unhelpful so this is how I coach my clients. Examine your mindset. Do you believe in yourself? Are you willing to go all the way even if you think people may not get what you are doing? Will you keep going when it gets hard, when no one seems to care and nothing is happening? Preparing yourself to be in it for the long haul is the first step to success

Examine your motivators. Are they mainly extrinsic(external) or intrinsic (internal) factors. E.g. I want to lose weight so I can get a man or so people can like me is extrinsic. I want to lose weight so I can feel good about myself and have better long term health is intrinsic.  Having goals linked to extrinsic factors can work but inherently they are not linked to sustained and long term success. So you might lose weight in the short term but what happens when you lose weight and you don’t find a man? Finding intrinsic factors to power your goal may help you stay in for the long run

In the 3rd part of the process we put together some of the SMART criteria especially ensuring your goals are specific, measurable and achievable. Wanting to lose weight is not specific but wanting to lose 10 kg in 3 months is specific. Also we need to have realistic expectations when we set goals, expecting to lose 20 kg in a month is unrealistic, expecting to lose 4kg in a month is realistic and definitely possible

Once all of the above are in place, the next piece of the puzzle is to take baby steps. Fear of stepping out and failure can really stop us from doing anything but if we design our plan around taking really small steps that move us away from doing nothing and actually get us in the direction of our goals then we are off to a good start. So now you can set about moving towards your goal by having a plan

I talk about a way to do this in my reels from yesterday. (to see my reels, visit my Instagram page @avoda_wellness I had so much fun messing around with that yesterday and using the speeded up voice, it made me laugh! and that brings me to the final bit of my process…..

5. Have fun! Enjoy the process. 

https://www.instagram.com/avoda_wellness/

Taming the beast that is anxiety.

Anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety will understand why I refer to it as a beast, it’s presence in your life can feel large and looming and impossible to tame but I can assure you that having anxiety does not have to be a life sentence of misery, worry and fear. This article will share with you how to tame the symptoms of anxiety and ways to manage and overcome the effects of anxiety so you can get on with the simple act of living your life.

Anxiety is a simple word but the emotions and challenges that it presents when it is present in full blown range is extremely complex hence why I refer to it as a beast. Indeed, there are many that say you can never fully tame anxiety and perhaps that is true but I know you can certainly find a way to manage and live with it and actually having anxiety can have some advantages such as making you more resilient, more empathetic, more strategic in your thinking and planning.

Sometimes, people are unsure as to whether they have anxiety or are simply just overthinkers so here are some of the symptoms of anxiety. They can include but are not restricted to worrying obsessively, panic attacks, feeling nauseous and sweaty, feeling overwhelmed, procrastination, uncontrollable overthinking, depression, racing thoughts which may include feelings of dread, inability to concentrate, irritation, lack of appetite, inability to enjoy anything, feeling that something bad is about to happen all the time, feeling disconnected from or disassociation from yourself. These are just some common symptoms, there are many other symptoms which may point to anxiety. If unsure, please consult your doctor

One of the most common questions I get asked is where does anxiety come from or what causes it?. This can be a difficult question to answer as the causes are varied and it can also be caused by a multitude of factors. However, in general, anxiety is usually caused by some sort of trauma or negative experience that we are not able to get past.

Anxiety will usually be triggered by a big event such as a bereavement or a series of small events such as financial difficulties which get worse over time. It is important to recognise that what causes anxiety in one person may not cause anxiety in another as individuals have different levels of tolerance and resilience and also experience things in different ways. This is why it is very important to not compare your symptoms or the way you feel to someone else just because they have experienced a similar life event to yours. We all deal with trauma differently.

It is also worth noting that there are different types of anxiety e.g. social anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks and many more. I will be speaking in general within the context of this article about generalised anxiety disorder also known as GAD.

Feeling anxious, worried or scared is a normal feeling we get when we are facing something that we are worried about or is new to us such as going for a job interview, meeting new people, walking down a dark alley etc. When we are anxious, our bodies experience a physiological response commonly known as fight or flight. This response was very important for prehistoric man and for humans in general as it helps us to determine whether a situation requires us to flee or to fight and this is supported within the body by the production of a number of hormones primarily adrenaline and cortisol.

It is these hormones that are responsible for the physical symptoms of anxiety such as nausea, feeling faint, heartbeat getting faster, mood elevation, increased blood pressure and many other symptoms. This response is usually self-limiting and once the perceived threat is gone, the body adjusts itself. However, in a person with GAD or other forms of anxiety, their perception of what is dangerous may have become altered through a number of negative experiences and the body may interpret situations that are not dangerous or fearful as such therefore initiating the fight and fight response which will result in the physiological response and production of hormones. Continuous exposure to stress hormones (cortisol and adrenalin) damages the body and can cause a lot of illness, disease and malfunction.

In addition the fight and flight response in itself is only useful when there is a real threat, when there isn’t one you end up experiencing the quickened heartbeat, nausea, feeling faint and other physical symptoms which then make you feel unwell.

So what can you do to manage these symptoms?

Well the first and most important point to note is that if you notice that you start feeling unsafe in situations that are actually safe, it is because your brain has been rewired to think so (due to your experience of stress or trauma). Your first step is to work on changing how your brain reacts to situations and this comes from changing your thoughts.

Acknowledging you have anxiety is a good starting point, once you have done that, you may want to start writing down your experiences of your anxiety episodes and trying to identify the triggers and where possible avoid them. (E.g. watching news/consuming media can be a trigger, this can be easily avoided). In some cases, it will not be possible to avoid every trigger so you need to retrain your brain to see that the situation is safe by repeating safety mantras for example or reminding yourself of times when the said situation has occurred without any danger. (E.g. fear of driving in a car, remind yourself how often you have done this without any danger or the number of people who do this daily without danger, acknowledging that there are risks but they are minimal and more so, being trapped at home is not a way to live your life and you will find more happiness if you learn to overcome this and other fears is a line of thought that may be useful)

It is very important to remember that, your thoughts affects and creates your emotions and your emotions will determine what sort of behaviour you display. So if you can change the way you think then you can alter your emotions and hence your behaviour.

However, I know this in itself is not easy and can take time to master particularly if you have had anxiety for long periods, so here are some practical tips to help you manage your anxiety

  • Talk to someone. It is so important to speak to someone and express how you are feeling, this can make such a difference. If you don’t have close family or friends, speak to your GP or you can consider contacting any one of the hundreds of charities that support people with this. Alternatively, you may want to speak to a life coach or therapist.
  • Exercise has been shown from many studies to impact anxiety and depression positively, it will make you feel better about yourself and the feel good hormones that are produced when you exercise can negate your negative moods
  • Be careful what you eat and drink. Food is very powerful and what many people fail to realise is that the types of food you eat can harm you or heal you. Limit your intake of sugars, caffeine and alcohol as they can make your symptoms worse. At the other end, a Mediterranean diet which emphasises more healthy fats and comprises a good variety of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, wholegrain and legumes has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety
  • Spend time in nature, go for walks in the park or any green area or natural spaces.
  • Make time to do things that you love. Even if its for 30mins a day, always make time for yourself and choose to spend the time doing something that makes you happy
  • Try mindfulness meditation or yoga. Mindfulness is learning how to live in the moment, focusing on the moment and enjoying each moment as opposed to worrying about the future. Mindfulness practice has been very successful in treating anxiety
  • Try to improve your sleep as poor sleep has been linked to anxiety and depression. The body rests when you are sleeping and if you are not getting enough sleep this can lead to elevated levels of stress.
  • Practice Gratitude. Find things to be grateful for. When we practice gratitude, it can shift our perspective of things and give us a more positive mindset
  • Deep breathing can be important especially when you are feeling stressed, when we are anxious, we tend to have more shallow breaths which means oxygen is not distributed as well to the body and this can result in us feeling like we are out of breath or cannot breathe properly which causes more panic and elevated levels of anxiety. Deep and slow breathing, inhaling for 4 and exhaling for 4 can be helpful. Try to do this for a count of 10 times.
  • Finally, they say laughter is the best medicine. Find something or someone that makes you laugh. I usually turn to a comedy series that is guaranteed to make me laugh that I enjoy such as “friends”. It never fails to cheer me up. Find your own source of laughter.

I hope you find this helpful, feel free to add any tips that you find particularly useful in the comments as it may help someone else.

If you need someone to talk to, I am happy to chat, please contact me by email or direct message.

Tayo xoxo

Why does doing less make me tired?

I don’t know about you guys but I am struggling to be motivated. The less I do, the less I want to do. I find myself yawning mid-morning, struggling to sit up and watch a programme on TV to the end and just lacking in energy. Lockdown which initially seemed so cool, i.e. more time to chill and watch Netflix has become a complete drag.

I struggle to exercise and I have had to be especially strict with my routines to ensure that my home workouts don’t grind to a halt. It seems a bit of a mystery that now I am getting so much more rest, I seem more tired and I know I am not alone, many of my family and friends seem to also be struggling with this as are many people on social media. So what is going on?

Why are we more tired from doing less?

Well, the first thing is that with the current going-ons all over the world with the Covid Pandemic, many of us are mentally and emotionally exhausted. Mental and emotional exhaustion can cause us to feel drained and lacking in energy. Our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn affect our actions so if we are thinking about and focusing on all the negativity going on and let’s face it; it is very hard to avoid the negativity, then its not a surprise that our feelings are not going to be very positive which in turn means we feel demotivated, fed up and lethargic.

In addition, the less movement and motion we take, the more tired our bodies actually become. The science behind this is simply to do with blood flow. Our blood cells do the very important job of moving oxygen and other nutrients around all of the cells and tissues in our bodies. The less active we are, the more sluggish our blood circulation will be and inherently, it follows that we will not be getting delivery of oxygen and nutrients as fluidly as when we are more active. This is why when we spend all day sitting on the couch, it seems extremely difficult to get up to do even the smallest task. In addition, many of us are struggling to sleep with all the additional worries about jobs, finances and health and of course, less sleep means more tiredness.

All is not lost though, there are ways of combating this or at least of minimising the effect of the lockdown lethargy. The first and most obvious thing is to move more. Yes, we may not feel like doing it but if we can force ourselves to go for a walk, go outside for some fresh air, do some exercise be it gentle movements, some weight training or yoga then we will definitely feel better and if none of that appeals, put on your favourite song and dance around the room!. I definitely feel much more energised and more motivated once I have completed either my workout or my walk for the day.

To make this easier try to develop some sort of routine for your daily movement. I try to do a workout or a walk each day through the week and take Sunday off as a rest day. Once you’ve committed to a routine, its much easier to just get up and do it. If you can find a workout buddy to help you be more accountable then that will also help you to stay on track.

The final thing is to do some work around your thoughts. if you find yourself feeling tired and lethargic, as well as adding some movement into your day, spend some time analysing your thoughts. If you find you are mainly focusing on negative thoughts then try to change that narrative and remind yourself of things to be thankful for even in these difficult times. Replace what if negatives with what if positives e.g. If you have a thought such as “what if I cannot find another job” then replace it with “what if I find a better job than what I had before ” and try to ground yourself by reminding yourself that you are safe and you are okay currently as you are even if things are hard.

I hope this helps you. Do send me a message and let me know what helps you cope during these difficult times.

Tayo xoxo