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 we need failure tolerance.

Nobody likes to fail. There is some sort of stigma that we attach to failure and even just saying the word can bring some people out in a cold sweat. Failure makes us uncomfortable. Failure hurts.

Many of us have come to despise failure so much that when it does happen to us, it can completely derail us. We can feel shame, disappointed in ourselves, guilt and a lot of embarrassment worrying what people will think of us.

I remember when I had my first experience of failure with a business, I was so sad and ashamed when it failed, I withdrew into myself. I thought people would make fun of me and I would never be able to do anything else. Of course, that was nowhere near true. Yes, some people were not very nice but these people on reflection were not real friends and I did not need them in my life. I found that the people that truly loved me, my family and true friends did not care about the fact that I had failed. I was still the same person as far as they were concerned. Yes, they were sad for me because I was sad about the way things ended but nonetheless they still stuck around and were there for me. More importantly, i learnt a lot about myself and my own tenacity.

There may be situations where our failures causes us to lose friends or family, e.g. in a marriage breakup or a falling out with friends, even then we have to hold on to that fundamental truth that failure is okay and we will survive it. Yes, it is helpful to have support from others but this is not always going to be the case, there will be times when we need to stand strong on our own and be our own cheerleader.

This may also be the case in situations where we may have to go out on a limb by ourselves and the people around us may not be particularly supportive, When we fail in such instances, it can be a lot harder to pick ourselves up especially if we are concerned about what people will say or think. Reminding ourselves that failure is part of everyday life and that everyone fails at one point or another will be immensely helpful.

We all need to remember that failure is an inevitable part of life and I would argue that failure is a necessary experience for us as human beings. Failure is something that happens to everyone at some point. Even the most successful people in the world have failed at some time in their lives. If we are going to try new things and take chances, then it is most likely that some of our attempts at doing something different are not going to work out. That is totally okay and if we cultivate a mindset that accepts that failure is a possibility then it is much easier for us to be courageous in the way we live our lives.

It is understandable that failure has a negative vibe for most of us after all, we have all been conditioned to see success as the ultimate goal. We are constantly bombarded with images and stories of successful people and their lives. Interestingly, we only find out about successful people when they become a success. Social media is also really good at marketing success. No one posts about their failures on social media. All we see are what people have achieved, what they are good at, be it financial or material success.

However, we have to remember that everyone no matter how powerful, rich or successful they may seem, will have faced setbacks and challenges. It is in fact the challenges that help shape our future self more than our successes. Being failure tolerant means that we are able to accept that we will face a certain amount of failure at one time or the other.

I have had many failures in my life, and when I look back at each one, I realise, each of those failures came to teach me something very valuable about life and about myself. I have become emotionally intelligent, more resilient and self assured from each one of these experiences and I would not be the person I am today without all of my failures.

I am not going to pretend that failure does not hurt, it can be painful, humiliating and devastating depending on the level of the failure but it is up to us how much time we spend agonising over the failure. Once we acknowledge our failure, it is useful to take some time to process it and decide what lessons we can learn from it. This also gives us time to grieve any losses that we may have had as a result of the failure.

Once we have done that, we must accept that it is now in the past and we must avoid the temptation to fret or spend too much time worrying about it. If we stay too long in that space of worry and rumination, we will find ourselves trapped in a prison of self doubt and fear. This is a bad place to be as it leads to us procrastinating and unable to take our next steps into a different experience.

It is important to reflect on our failures but it is just as important to have realistic thoughts about a particular failure. We should be willing to take responsibility for our part in the failure and be willing to adapt and change so we are not constantly making the same mistakes over and over again but at the same time we should not let the fear of failure keep us from trying again.

This is the case regardless of what area of our lives we have failed in, be it in our career or business, weight loss goals, relationships or family. Let us learn not to see failure as the be all and end all, instead let us face up to our failures with courage and humility recognising that this is part of life, this is living and this is how we grow.

We cannot sidestep the pain that comes with failure but that is actually part of the process of growing from our failures, Failure makes us so much more resilient and empathetic. It teaches us what does not work and points us in the direction of what might work. Dealing with the pain and allowing that to be, is important but once that is done, you can move on knowing that you are stronger for the experience.

When you fail and you are able to survive the failure, you realise your own strength and that in itself can be so liberating. It reminds you that you can get through difficult things and life will keep moving on regardless. No one really cares about your failures as much as you care about your failure and if you can stop seeing failure as a big deal then you will not be afraid to try again.

No matter what you’ve failed at, be reassured that it happens to everyone and you can get through it. Your failures do not define you and when you do become successful, it will be all the more sweeter because of those failures.

Tayo xoxo

Applying grounding techniques for anxiety.

The mind of an anxious person can be very complex. When we begin to experience anxiety about something, it can be very difficult for us to see or hear anything else. We get into our own heads and a loop of “what ifs” which can take us down a path of negative thinking and catastrophising (the act of constantly imagining or expecting the worst case scenario).

With anxiety, the brain becomes used to a negative pattern of thinking and rumination and breaking this habit can be very difficult. When you are anxious or worried, you immediately imagine the worst case scenario and it can be difficult to believe that what you are thinking is not going to become a reality. This unfortunately, can be reinforced when something you dreaded does actually happen. Instead of chalking it down to life, you convince yourself that you were right all along and the world is truly a bad place and worse still you fear the reason this happened to you was because you spent too much time thinking about it and you determine to stop thinking about it but unfortunately for us, the minute we tell our brain not to think about something, the more it holds on to this thought. Rest assured, its not your thoughts that create events, if that was the case, I would long ago have won the lottery!.

However our thoughts have a powerful role to play in how we feel and what we think and ultimately in the way we behave so it is important that we learn a variety of techniques to help us cope with repetitive anxious thoughts.

There are several techniques that you can use for breaking this cycle and the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, which is used by psychotherapists, counsellors and coaches has been found to be particularly useful. There are many different types of grounding techniques and they all work as coping strategies to reconnect you to the present moment and disconnect you from your negative and repetitive thoughts.

When we get stuck into our negative and anxious thinking, we are in effect not living in the moment as we are thinking either about something in the past that is making us afraid and therefore increasing our anxiety or we are worried about something in the future that hasn’t yet happened but in our heads, we are already imagining all the things that can go wrong. Using a grounding technique brings us back to the present time and can disconnect us from the anxious thoughts long enough for us to get out of our own heads and try to change our thoughts.

Before you begin a grounding exercise, think about how you are breathing, Our breath plays such an important part in how we feel. Try to slow down your breathing by taking slow deep breaths. Inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds up to 10 times should help calm you down and then you can start the grounding exercise.

5-4-3-2-1 are the steps you go through in each stage as explained here;

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a picture, toys, curtains , a stain on the wall, anything in your surroundings.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your jewelry, a cushion, or the ground under your feet. 

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. If you are at home, you may be able to smell something that was cooked earlier or perhaps the scent of your perfume. If you need to move around to get a smell then do so.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like— your lunch, the soft drink you had or toothpaste from brushing your teeth?

By the time you have got to 1, you will find that whatever thoughts were making you anxious have been replaced by having to do this exercise.

This is one of many techniques that you can use to defuse anxiety. I also suggest writing things down in a journal especially when you get these anxious thoughts or panic attacks. If you write down things you were previously worried about and whether or not they actually happened, this can remind you that most of what we worry about actually never happens.

Of course, this is not to say sometimes bad things will not happen to you, the reality is that life is not always smooth sailing and there are going to be good days and bad days. However, remembering that most of the negative scenarios in your head actually do not come to pass can give you some measure of comfort.

In addition, it is also useful to combat your negative “what ifs” with positive ones. So, for example, say you are preparing for a job interview and you have anxious thoughts and are having thoughts such as “what if I do badly, what if I mess up, what if I do not get the job” and so on. You can change this narrative to “what if I do really well, what if I do not mess this up, what if I get the job”? The more often you do this, the easier it will becomes to not default to a negative thought pattern. As with all the techniques mentioned here, the more often you do this, the easier it becomes.

If your anxiety is something that you struggle with and it is affecting your quality of life, please speak to someone about it or contact your GP about getting support.

Are you a pleasure junkie?

Since the beginning of time, human beings have been in search for happiness or the closest to happiness that they are able to find. There have been countless studies, loads of research and continuing investigations into what happiness truly is and how we can achieve it. What all of these have so far discovered and are in agreement with is that Happiness is a state of mind. There are many different definitions and descriptions for happiness and perhaps that may be because we sometimes find it hard to put into words what it means to be happy.

In my book “Screaming helps” I describe happiness as an experience of joy and positive well being and of course there are other descriptions. In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

We know that happiness is widely coveted but yet is actually very difficult to achieve and it is even more difficult to pinpoint how to get to a state of happiness. What has become more apparent is that the pursuit of happiness is one that requires some emotional and mental work, we are learning now that to be happy we need to be more mindful of how we think, the things we focus on, the people we are around and the type of experiences we immerse ourselves in.

Happiness we learn is not something that we can buy or achieve by gaining external things such as money, cars, houses, clothes and so on. In fact, what makes happiness so elusive is that to be truly happy we must learn how to be happy even with the simple things and this means cultivating happiness that comes from within. This is a challenge for many who in the belief that happiness can be purchased spend their lives on acquiring. Whether it is the pursuit of sex, drugs, drinks, a high flying career, possessions and so on or risk taking and taking part in daring activities such as sky diving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing etc., humans are constantly looking for happiness but what they end up with when they do all of the above is a short burst of pleasure which fades as quickly as it came.

This can lead us to confuse pleasure and happiness as being one and the same thing, but they are definitely not. Pleasure in and of itself can be a good thing and in fact pleasure in the right form is a beautiful thing. You can get pleasure from the smallest of things, like a cold drink on a hot day, a kiss with a loved one, an unexpected compliment, reading a good book etc. However, pleasure is extremely short lived and by its very nature doesn’t satisfy for long. So what happens with a lot of us is that we replace the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure gives us a quick hit of joy, we feel good for a short while but it soon dissipates and we find that we need to find more of the same things to get that pleasure or find something new to give us more pleasure.

This is where, if we are not careful we start to chase the quick thrill of pleasure and we can then end up as pleasure junkies. We start to thrive from the thrill we get from a repeated behaviour or activity and when it wears off we need something else to replace it. It is how we get addicted to certain behaviours like buying things we don’t need, overeating, drinking or drugs. We have a bit, it makes us feel good, we have a bit more, it makes us feel better but after a while we will need to take twice as much to feel as good as we did in the beginning. It is this process that kickstarts the vicious process of us a constant need for a pleasure hit which has the danger in some cases of leading to extremely destructive and in some cases life threatening behaviour.

The problem with pleasure is that it can never satisfy us in the long run and all it does is make us more likely to become pain avoiders. We become so desperate to feel good, we will go to any lengths to avoid the lows as that is where the pain is. So we are constantly on the look out for more ways to find pleasure but the catch with pleasure seeking is that the goal post is always moving so we find that we are never happy. Unfortunately, the growth is in the pain and by avoiding this, we avoid becoming a better version of ourselves. The moment you change this narrative and start to look inside of yourself and instead of trying to be happy, learn how to be authentic, how to be mindful and grateful, how to choose good people to surround yourself with, how to be content, how to give to others and learning to love yourself, that is where you start to experience happiness in a different way.

Being a pleasure junkie usually means that you are incapable of committing to any actions that may cause you discomfort. For this reason, most pleasure addicts find it difficult to achieve things like weight loss, exercise or fitness goals, career change goals and even behaviour change. You will find that as a pleasure addict you lack the drive or motivation to make changes to your life even when you realise you are in a situation you don’t want to be in because making that change will usually will be accompanied by some discomfort or pain. Pleasure addicts tend to be less resilient and unemotionally intelligent. This is because they fail to see the connection between their thoughts and their feelings.

Being a pleasure junkie is not all bad news and there is a midway point between a pleasure junkie and a pain avoider that is ideal for most of us to be. Of course, sometimes we may veer more to one side than the other but as with everything else in life this is a continuous process of learning and reflection for us to find out where we meet our true equilibrium. Pleasure junkies are already good at knowing what pleases them, they just need to learn not to overdo it and to keep the pleasure seeking to experiences that are meaningful, mindful and ultimately useful for their long term growth.

Anxiety and the pandemic

Anxiety and worry can be extremely draining and debilitating and the worldwide pandemic hasn’t helped matters. A recent survey by the WHO (World Health Organisation) shows that Covid 19 has severely impacted the demand for mental health services.

If you are feeling anxious then here are 5 tips that may help you.

1. Remember; your thoughts = your feelings = your actions and behaviour. If you feel yourself getting anxious, then try to identify what thoughts you are or were having before you started to get anxious. Capturing those thoughts and stopping them can act as a pause button for your anxiety. If you can stop or change the direction of the thoughts then you can impact the way you are feeling which can then affect how you behave.

2. Once you are aware of your thoughts, remind yourself that your anxiety in and of itself is not useful and will not change the outcome of what you are worrying or anxious about. Anxiety at a particular time about a particular thing is usually quite narrowly focused but if we can try to look at the bigger picture, we’ll see that the eventual outcome of what we are worried about is not going to be changed by our anxiety.

3. Take action – Anxiety can be useful if it prompts us to take action or make a plan where this is possible. Ask yourself is there anything I can do to help this situation? If there is, sit down and write down a plan of what you can do and how you think you can do it. If need be, discuss with friends and family who can support you. However, sometimes, we are anxious about things we cannot control e.g. the pandemic or being in lockdown. In this case, we need to accept that this is outside of our control, our worrying or anxiety will not change anything but just make us feel unwell and instead we can try to change the narrative in our head by identifying a positive or an alternative to worry that may make us feel better. So with lockdown, accepting we are limited in what we can do but we could look at a new hobby, read more, go walking, take up yoga, painting, spend more time with loved ones, learn a new language etc.

4. Journaling can be a powerful tool in helping us to get rid of unwanted emotions. Writing down how we feel and what makes us anxious allows us to express with more clarity how we are feeling. Looking back on past writings can remind you how past anxiety on certain issues did not help which can stop you from ruminating on the same things again. Writing down how you feel can be a way of expressing difficult emotions such as anger and rage without the risk of conflict

5. It’s good to talk. Bottling up your emotions will only make you feel worse. Find someone that you can talk to about how you are feeling. It is normal for us to worry about being vulnerable and telling people how we feel but it is only through being vulnerable and honest that we can truly live an authentic life.

Finally, remember you are more than your anxiety, Anxiety is how you feel not who you are. #MentalWellnessSupport #mentalhealthblogger