In 2011, I had my first panic attack. It was awful.
I laid on the floor of my boyfriend’s bedroom, unable to catch my breath, petrified that I was having a heart attack and wondering how long it would take for me to croak it. There and then, I was convinced I was dying.
What followed was months and months of attacks. On buses, on the loo, in the middle of the night. I became scared of my own shadow but even more scared of my own brain.
I got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and there and then I thought I’d gone mad. There was no way out. And I was all on my own.
The last 6 years have been a smattering of anxiety that makes me fearful to even pick up the phone, depression that makes getting out of bed feel like running a marathon, acceptance, therapy. The lot.
But throughout all of the turbulence, there have always been some key things that have really helped me when things get really bad. And help me through the crazy maze that is living with an anxious mind.
Anything, from just a YouTube yoga lesson in my bedroom to a 5km run, I try to do some form of exercise 3 times a week. Even if it’s just a brisk walk from the station rather than getting the bus, I try to make sure I dedicate a small amount of time every week to training.
And not because it makes squeezing into my skinny jeans easier, but because it gives my brain a breather.
Because all the while I’m thumping the pavements, perfecting my child’s pose or counting my reps in the gym, the only thing I’m thinking about is the exercise. Not the rest of the traffic jam of worry that’s going through my brain, just the exercise.
And the buzz you get afterwards? However brief, it always serves as a reminder than even on the worst days – happy is possible.
2. AVOID THE BOOZE
I’m not saying that the answer to anxiety is become tea total, I enjoy a glass of wine with the rest of them, but when my anxiety is at it’s height, it’s the first thing to take a back seat. And why?
A big night out always leads to a day from hell afterwards. Not only do you have a hangover to deal with, but my anxiety goes through the roof. Did I say anything to make myself look stupid? How much money did I spend? Did I dance like an idiot? Why did I eat so much junk food on the way home?
Booze also makes me sleep terribly. And exhaustion + a pre-exisiting anxiety disorder is a recipe for a panic attack in my book. Best avoided where possible.
3. ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE
It’s boring, I know. But as much as I can, I keep to a routine.
It means I get enough sleep, it means I get enough time to do the exercise that helps me so much, it means I have the time to eat well and spend enough time chilling out and sorting out the tangled web my brain can get in sometimes. If that’s by writing, or mindfulness, or just having enough time to get into bed an hour early and try and escape from the day’s anxiety by reading a good book.
Not to say there’s no space for fun, no space for spontaneity. Anxiety’s not a sentence for a boring life.
But where I can stick to a routine, I do. And I always feel way calmer for it.
4. LITTLE BIT OF SELF CARE
For those that don’t suffer with their mental health, small tasks seem just that – small.
But for me, when things are bad, simple things like getting up in enough time to straighten my hair before work, or changing my bed sheets, or lighting a scented candle before I try and get off to sleep all make me feel more prepared and more calm. They may seem small, but they all help me feel like I’ve got things in order.
It may sound silly, but achieving the little things that always seem like such hard work make you feel like you’ve made lots of really small wins.
And small wins, when you feel like you’re fighting daily battles in your mind, are actually really helpful in making you feel that much stronger to deal with what’s going on in your mind.
5. TALK ABOUT IT
If 2017 has taught me one thing, it’s that talking about what’s going on upstairs can really help.
Not only does voicing your anxious thoughts sometimes make you realise how small the worry is in comparison to everything else that’s going on, it also opens up a whole other world to you.
When I started talking about my mental health, I realised how many more people were suffering like I was. And the lonely place I’d got myself into, thinking it was only me that felt like this, started to dissipate.
And not feeling like you’re going it alone is one of the best feelings ever!