Anxiety: Four Areas of Perspective

I’ve not written a blog for a long old time. I’ve written posts and kept them safe and sound in the drafts folder; I’ve jotted down poems and penned notes in early morning delirium, but nothing has quite come together to form one coherent post. So this time I commit to writing this with a clear head and a calm heart, and posting it without hesitation.

I was recently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which to me was simply the official term for something I have been experiencing since childhood. As an incredibly introverted Anxiety Sufferer, my mind serves as both a sanctuary and a carnival hall of mirrors. Through a life of ups and downs, doctors visits, deep conversations, painful bodily sensations and the occasional mind earthquake, I like to think I have learned a fair amount myself. The most important lesson I have learned throughout this time, however, is that many of the steps I have taken to help  stem from the power of perspective. Perspective is perhaps an umbrella term, covering a multitude of things such as mindfulness, awareness, reflection, hope and gratitude. Perspective is not only what shapes the way I see the world, but it is also what allows me to observe myself in a deeper way. Last summer I went through a health scare which brought on a myriad of triggers for my anxiety. During this time I was forced to commit to taking care of myself. I wrote this, wrapped tightly in a blanket and sitting on the sofa, right in the grip of anxiety:

“When going through a hard time there are few things more helpful than Nina Simone, Otis Redding, home made chocolate cake, white tulips, lush bath bombs, Yankee candles and funny YouTube videos. I just watched the most ‘so bad it’s good’ film on Netflix called Monte Carlo, and it made me feel a little better.”

It was almost as if I was in safe mode. Have you ever had your computer crash? Usually when you do, it comes up with the option to boot up in safe mode; everything is simpler, less confusing, safe. I had to turn down the volume, and that’s exactly what I did. In this particular post, I want to share with you a list of the four main aspects of perspective, which helped me through that time, and continue to guide me through the twists and turns that Anxiety can cause. I like to think of them as ways to better my peace of mind, live reflectively, learn, grow and improve my inner strength and awareness. Anxiety is a struggle, it is difficult and it is different for every single person who experiences it. This list is simply my personal treasure chest, into which I often delve in times of intense strain and struggle, but also in times of joy and peace. Whether or not these things help you, please know and trust that you are deeply loved and that you are never alone in your journey; we all walk with you.

1. Observe

Observing your own thoughts and physical sensations is one of the most tried and tested methods of relaxation, this is also more commonly referred to as mindfulness and/or meditation. Mindfulness is a huge part of observing, and one of the best things I ever did for myself was download the Calm App:

Calm.png

This app is a wonderful tool. You can listen to guided meditation, soothing music and wonderful sleep stories, which are a particular favourite of mine and can help with the insomnia that Anxiety can often induce. The app can be used on your phone, tablet or even computer and is available here: https://www.calm.com/

The other aspect of observation is looking outside of ourselves at the world around us. Through times of stress, I believe that quietly observing nature can be extremely helpful. I like to observe anything from wide sprawling landscapes to small intricate details:

The first of these images is aptly taken from a lake hide. It is a place to observe the nature around you without being seen, a place to simply look and listen, I believe this is a wonderful symbol. The second is a picture of a large red damsel fly, which flew onto my knee and just sat contently for about 5 minutes. This was one very special and calming experience. In both cases, I was actively observing what was happening around me and to me, and simply taking in the beauty of the situation, as well as a whole lot of fresh air!

For me, the countryside is a particularly calming place, but everyone has their own preference. Perhaps you enjoy people watching, or looking at the city lights at dusk. Whatever it is you enjoy watching, do it. Consider the details, the stories and the origins of what you are looking at. Try to listen to and accept the noises, the smells and the atmosphere around you. I find that this is a useful strategy for staying calm during times where you are unable to look within yourself for comfort. As someone who lives in a big city, I am well aware of the stress that can be brought on by commuting around the city and the unrelenting hustle and bustle. In these times, I try to accept what is around me, and look for the positive sights. It could be as simple as a cat strolling down the street, or a brightly coloured front door.

2. Do

Another useful Perspective I have frequently called upon is the use of ‘Doing’. This could be anything from physically doing things to being creatively and intellectually engaged.

The two physical activities I personally find the most helpful for soothing of Anxiety are walking and practising Yoga. I am not an athlete, I still have flashbacks of the middle school bleep test (if you’ve not heard of this save yourself and don’t look it up, it’s the stuff of nightmares). However, I really enjoy practising yoga. Finding an exercise you enjoy can be a really important tool for combating anxiety as it allows you to actively observe your body in an incredibly healthy way. I believe Yoga is the perfect exercise for Anxiety sufferers, not only because it has strong ties to meditation and mindful practise, but also because it is an exercise you can do in your own home. I practise yoga right from my living room by watching this wonderful woman:

Her practise relies heavily on self belief, free breathing and being kind to yourself, and she has several videos related to combating stress, anxiety and nerves specifically.

The other aspect of ‘Doing’ relates to the stimulation of the mind. This aspect of Perspective is something that helped me tremendously. The main outlets I began to use were cooking and baking, writing, and colouring:

These are a few of my little creations. I found that actually making things with my bare hands was a welcome channel for my mind, and allowed me to focus on something physical that I enjoy and is aesthetically pleasing. With each creation I felt like I had accomplished something, however small. With cooking, especially, I found that making a meal for myself and my boyfriend was really rewarding and therapeutic. Admittedly, for many people cooking is more of a source for stress than it is therapy, but there are a countless other pleasurable ways to stimulate the mind and the imagination in a constructive way, things like writing stories, doodling, gardening, pottery, carpentry, learning to knit or make origami animals, or even something as simple as buying some freshly cut flowers and trimming them before putting them on display. It’s about finding what makes you feel calm, but stimulated.

3. Rest

This is very much the most self-care centred aspect of Perspective. Rest is primarily about giving yourself the space to deal with the physical and mental sensations that your Anxiety is causing. It is about allowing yourself the opportunity to do things you enjoy; perceiving the things in your life which make you happy; and seeking out the time to do them. These should be activities that make you content and calm; things that allow your perspective to shift into a calm state in which you are simply resting and allowing yourself to heal. Rest is the balm that anxiety so desperately needs. It is the breath of fresh air and the calm after the storm. An important aspect of rest is also literal sleep, and this is often something which can shape our perspective of the next morning. When I was having trouble sleeping through a particularly stressful bout of anxiety and worry, I decided to purchase a body lotion from Lush called ‘Sleepy’. I’m sure a lot of you will already of heard of this product, and I want to assure you that is simply amazing. I use it for migraines, getting to sleep, and general times of stress in which I need a soothing and calming smell:

We all relax and rest in different ways. I like to eat tiramisu, take long baths, see my family, watch Steven Universe and listen to audio books. For you it might be a different list. I truly believe this aspect of perspective is one that everyone should observe. Taking time for yourself, even in the smallest ways, is always important. As you grow and change the list will get longer, and perhaps at certain times the amount of time you are able to give to yourself may change too, but please look after yourself, please rest.

4. Reflect

Reflection is perhaps one of the most important Perspectives. Reflection is about considering and in some cases documenting the way you feel. At times this will be about documenting how your anxiety is affecting you, what physical sensations you feel, what made you feel better, why you feel this way. At other times, and hopefully more frequently, your reflections on life will be filled with wonderful memories and times in which you felt good, calm, relaxed, brave, proud, happy or all of the above! It is important not to dwell on reflection, but to use when you need or want to, and when it will serve you well. Reflection can be harnessed through writing and journaling, speaking to loved ones or trained professionals, and also artistic outlets like photography and art.

I have personally used all of these methods to observe the way in which I am feeling and the sensations I am experiencing. As well as being a useful outlet for inner thoughts and feelings, it is also helpful and insightful to look back at these musings and see how far you have come since those moments. For me personally, reflection allows me to feel a great deal of gratitude, which is a precious thing indeed. Reflection is an important tool that has helped me grow and develop not only as someone with Anxiety but also as a human being.

I hope that this post has been of some use to those who have come upon it. Whether you have Anxiety or just want to feel a little more at peace with the world and yourself, I hope this list will help you to become aware, observant, reflective and content with the world around you.

It’s all about perspective.

 

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To Live would be an Awfully Big Adventure

Two years ago I went through an episode of serious hypochondria. The gut squeezing, head pounding fear set in after I noticed a tiny rash on my skin. I googled and trawled through the internet , finding obscure forums and even more obscure doctors until I had turned a rash into a death sentence. It wasn’t one of those comical over reactions to Dr Google, no hyperbole here, I had genuinely convinced myself that I was going to die. I look back on it all now and cringe and laugh and wince at myself, but at the time, it was reality for me. Nobody could talk me out of it. I was suddenly in raw and passionate despair considering all I was going to lose.

The thing about hypochondria is that it is essentially ridiculous. Look at Aunt Josephine, a character from Lemony Snicket’s third book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Her reputation is that of a ‘formidable woman’, a human without fear, but when she is introduced to us in the story, we learn that the death of her husband has caused her to become a shadow of her former self; a worried, paranoid, death conscious shadow. In the book and certainly in the new TV series she is portrayed as comically danger-aware. She doesn’t use her oven in case it burns the house down, and subsequently eats only cold soup, and she is deathly afraid of estate agents (If you live in London you might share the same fear). Her character is not put out there as being tragic and we aren’t particularly encouraged to feel a deep sense of sadness when considering her story, because her fears are obscure and irrational. But however ridiculous these fears seem, they were real for her, just as my fears were real for me. Whilst I was watching the new Netflix TV series and observing Aunt Josephine, I was reminded of a quote that my Dad gave me, which to this day helps me to manage anxiety and fear:

“Thoughts are not facts.”

I promise that if, like me, you suffer from anxiety or panic disorder, this is the most important thing for you to hear. Make it your mantra, say it to yourself, out loud if you can, whenever you hear that little voice in your head niggling at your insecurities and your fears. Often those who have intrusive thoughts aren’t helped by the fact they are incredibly imaginative. Thinking you might be in danger everyday is bad enough, but when you’re the kind of person who can imagine every tiny detail of that danger, from start to finish and with flourishes in between, that’s where the real unbearable fear comes from. The truth is that anxiety only gets worse when you let it, and you don’t have to. 

The presence of fear will not change your fate. If you spend your entire life locked inside a house on a clifftop, there’s no stopping a hurricane from blowing it away. Life is a mess, really, but living it is the only option. It is in the high tides that we find our strength to climb higher still. Being alive is utterly magnificent, and even though we may be frightened, we must not let fear steer our story.

Being brave

When I was 19 I used the London Underground on my own for the very first time. I’d started singing lessons in Pimlico and asked literally anyone I could think of asking to come with me because I was afraid of several things, namely:

  • Getting killed by commuters for walking too slow or generally being a weak country impostor with NO OYSTER CARD
  • Falling onto the tube tracks
  • Falling down the escalator
  • Falling up the escalator
  • Getting so lost that I ended up in a dystopian version of Narnia
  • Being kidnapped by the buskers who walk up and down the tube for not giving them spare change despite their unsettling, borderline aggressive enthusiasm; particularly the mariachi band that I’d seen that one time…
  • Other human beings
  • Eye contact with said human beings

I was socially anxious and cripplingly aware of it. I was a Level 97 introvert. But I wanted those damn lessons. I remember my brother teaching me exactly how to get to Pimlico station… straight from Euston to Pimlico… Victoria line… that’s blue… which blue?!… light blue… okay… I freaked out a little, but I managed it. I bought my ticket, I got on the train, then I got onto the tube, I made it there and back and I made zero enemies and was kidnapped zero times, I didn’t die and I didn’t end up in Brixton.

Recently I’ve been thinking about whether I could define myself as ‘brave’ in that moment, and it’s taken me a while to realise that bravery means different things to different people. For someone who wasn’t 19 year old me, travelling to London solo might have been the easiest thing in the world, talking to strangers without writing an entire script in their head first would have been natural, easy. But for people who suffer quiet battles and are scared to do or say things that other people think are trivial, for people who are like I was at that age, it’s hard.

I guess you could say we each have our own boggarts. If you’ve not read or seen Harry Potter, a boggart is a spirit which transforms itself into the worst fear of the person looking at it. We all have fears, some of us have plenty more than others and some have just one or two, but we are all afraid of something. I think that people forget that for some people the trivial things in life can be really terrifying. We need to realise that bravery comes when you fight your fears, no matter what they are or how small they may be. Being brave is being terrified and doing it anyway, because what you need to accomplish is more important.

Interestingly enough, I now live in London. I’ve gotten my bag stuck in the tube doors twice, met a one legged man with an eye patch on a late night tube journey home, been yelled at for trying to give a homeless man directions because he thought I was deliberately sending him wrong way AND walked up a down escalator. I’m not scared of the tube anymore.