Archive for mental health

Coping with anxiety.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, coping strategies, mental health, mental illness, panic attacks, pets with tags , , , , on June 1, 2013 by Trace

Moving away from personal anecdotes, I wanted to talk a little bit about coping strategies for anxiety that I have found to be helpful. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do I expect it to work on everyone. I also want to say that, as a blanket statement, you should try your best to find some sort of medical support if you have an anxiety issue you find really messes with your life – therapy can be expensive, but some states offer things like support groups. There are also online forums that you may find to be useful – I actually link to two on my sidebar. Basically, look around – you’d be surprised what you find.

 

With that said, on to some coping ideas and suggestions:

 

1. Rationalizing your symptoms – I was tempted to literally put sparkles around this one, you guys are welcome for not blinding you, ha. But seriously, I cannot stress how important this one is, especially when anxiety attacks strike. Anxiety in general tends to be irrational by its’ very nature in many different ways. We feel the chest tightness, we feel the sudden inability to breath, we shake and maybe cry and maybe feel nauseous and dizzy – all of these sensations are very scary in the moment, but that’s all they are – scary. And the longer you allow yourself to think something along the lines of you’re dying, or ‘I know I have had panic symptoms just like this but this time it’s real!’, the longer the panic attacks will last.

I realize it’s not easy when it feels like your heart is going 120 miles a second to tell yourself you’re not dying. When I first started really trying to accept these moments as a full blown panic attack, I would spend time writing down every symptom with a shaky hand. I would try to slow down, distract myself, remind myself I’d been through this before fine. After a few times, I had pages of how I felt at the time of my anxiety attacks, and noticed the patterns emerging. They were never exactly the same, but there was always something similar. This helped me back up myself to my own head that this is just an anxiety attack. Eventually, I learned to do this without writing things down. You’ll find the quicker you start removing your panic’s power over your thoughts, the shorter your anxiety attacks will hang around. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having any power at all like that is a good feeling.

 

2. Find a hobby – Distraction is key. While hobbies might not help with anxiety attacks outside your home, they’re great when you’re dealing with one, for example, at night when you have no one you can really turn to. The hobby needs to be something that you can keep your focus on. Reading, writing, knitting, playing video games, watching movies and TV shows – all of these can really pull you in and make you stop thinking about how bad you’re feeling. I find things that you can interact with, like video games and knitting, to be the most effective for me, but your mileage may vary.

 

images3. Get a pet – This one, I know, depends on a lot of factors. I’m going to go into more detail about how much my cat has helped me through the last handful of years in another post, but for now I’ll say this – pets are great. If you have the means of getting one, if you think you can take care of one properly and pay for the cost, they can be one of the best friends you can ever ask for. Even better, an animal like a dog can help you feel safe when you go outside, and can be a reason to give yourself to take a walk and get some fresh air.

 

4. Go outside – Even if it’s just a walk, or a drive around the block, go out as much as possible. Exposure is a big thing with anxiety, and while it might be uncomfortable, it’s important not to let yourself talk yourself out of being part of the world around you because you’re scared something might happen. The longer you stay inside, the worst it will get. If going outside makes you nervous, try to find a friend or family member to go with you. If you don’t have that support system, take it slow, building on each step every day.

 

5. Check your diet – No, I’m not going to say a bad diet will cause you to have anxiety, because that’s wrong. What I do know, however, is that some food allergies can cause symptoms to crop up that seem to come out of nowhere, which can be horrible for people, especially health anxiety sufferers (like me!). Limit your caffeine intake and see if that helps any. If you drink soda, try to cut that out of your diet or limit it – the amount of sugar in it is STAGGERING and it can really put you on edge.

 

images (1)6. Talk to people – I am so bad at this, too. Anxiety about having attacks around people can honestly cause attacks themselves. While you’re potentially opening yourself up to people who don’t want to bother to understand, you also have just as much a chance to open up to people who either want to try to get it or just do, period. Either way, it’s better to know what you are dealing with, and in the long run, it will make you feel safer when you hang out with people. Am I saying you should tell everyone the second you talk to them? No, of course not. But there are times where opening up is the obvious choice and you should choose to do so and fuck anyone who thinks badly of you for it. I would not wish suffering in silence on anyone.

 

7. Push yourself – This sort of goes hand in hand with going outside. There is going to be a lot of times when you are so anxious you could puke before doing something. I hate to say it, but the only way to get over this is to, frankly, just do it anyway. Maybe you’ll have an anxiety attack. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have to leave early, maybe you’ll have to find a bathroom to calm down in, maybe things will go great. No matter what happens, you need to push against it, even if you can only push just a little bit.

 

8. Be kind to yourself – Frustration is such a huge thing with anxiety. Recovery takes a long time to begin with, then you can feel great for months and suddenly have a lapse and it all feels like your progress is tumbling on you. I’ll give you a tip – your progress is not negated by one bad experience, or a handful of bad experiences. You can still pick yourself up and keep going, and things can get back to being good. I think the turning point for me was realizing that my own anxiety issues are definitely a chronic disorder, and it has ebbs and flows like any illness of that nature. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go like you hope – just tell yourself it’ll be okay in the end, because it will be. I promise.

 

There’s lots more, I’m sure, but those are some off the top of my head. I’d love to hear your own suggestions, if you have them!

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On haircuts and anxiety.

Posted in anxiety, anxiety disorder, coping, mental health with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by Trace

Getting my hair cut has always been a harrowing experience for me, especially post-anxiety.

regular-haircut-1aReading that sentence, I realize someone without anxiety would question what that even means. For most people, the worst part about haircuts are worrying your hairdresser/barber might mess up the cut? For me, it’s a litany of what if scenarios. There’s a sensation of being trapped, of not being able to get away without looking like you’re crazy in front of your hairdresser. I have an extra layer of fear because of an unpredictable nervous stomach – one that just loves reacting to any tiny bit of stress with cramps and general non-great feelings.

Add in not being great at small talk and you have a miserable hour or so to contend with. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my hairdresser. She’s a nice Polish woman, probably around the age of my older sister, with two kids and a husband she clearly adores. She asks polite questions of me, and I try my best to interact well even when I’m nervous, but I always feel like I come off as a little stand-offish. In all likelihood, she probably doesn’t think that at all – I’m sure she has customers who completely ignore her, whereas I try to engage in conversation to the best of my ability. The worry is always there, though, and it made me think a bit today about how people view me as a person and how I view my own worth.

I hide my anxiety well. Around people I’m comfortable with, I’m a little better at being open about how I’m feeling, but around strangers – well, let’s just say bathroom breaks were common when I was at my worst. About a year ago I met up with an old friend from college for coffee, and she was stunned when I mentioned I was going through a lot with my anxiety.

‘I never would’ve guessed,’ she admitted, and she actually looked like she felt bad. ‘You always seemed so chill.’

In that moment, I honestly felt bad for not trusting people with the information. I certainly never plan to shout it from the rooftops – not because I’m ashamed, but because I don’t want anxiety to define me as a person – but I do realize now that there were a lot of times I should’ve said something but didn’t. That I don’t give people credit because I assume the worse. That I didn’t think people would find me worth hanging out with if they knew I could potentially have an anxiety attack that might halt the entire night. It’s because of all those doubts I closed myself off from situations and people instead of giving them a chance to understand. Instead of showing them my ‘weakness’, I hid away like I was some sort of deformed beast that no one would want to hang out with anyway because I was such a mess. Even in the situation with the hairdresser, my worst case scenarios were so silly – what if my stomach acted up? What if I had an anxiety attack? Surely my hairdresser would not care if I got up to go to the bathroom for a minute or two, but for some reason, the very idea was mortifying to me.

They say people make mountains out of molehills. I make the tallest kinds of mountains in my mind. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, and I’ve put a lot of rationalization into work, but it still happens.

Everything went fine, by the way. I got my haircut, I had my eyebrows ripped off (the joys of being a girl!), and while it was the usual awkward hairdresser/client conversation, we got through it okay and there weren’t too many lulls of silence. All those things that nearly made me cancel my appointment up to the very last minute didn’t happen. My stomach ‘magically’ stopped being a pain in the butt and it hasn’t made a peep since, when it’d been a problem all morning. It’s just another reminder that I can let anxiety keep me away from people or accept it exists and not let the ‘what if’s stop me. And every time I don’t let anxiety keep me from my day, I’m almost always rewarded with something good. Today’s reward? Lookin’ pretty rockin’ in this new haircut. I mean, look at this:

Pretty rocking, right?

Aw yeah lookin’ good, amirite?