If you are trying to work out how to overcome anxiety in your life, this blog discusses some of the key lessons learnt from my own experience.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a common feeling that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. It can range from mild unease to severe worry or fear. And while it is normal to feel anxious in certain situations, such as before an exam or during a difficult time, anxiety becomes a problem when it takes over daily life.
When anxiety prevents individuals from doing the things that they would normally be able to do, such as meeting up with friends or facing the morning commute, the anxiety needs addressing.
For anyone that has experienced anxiety, you’ll know it can be completely debilitating, especially if you're an over-thinker or a natural worrier. Anxiety is the root cause of several conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. In fact, lots of phobias relate back to some form of anxiety. At the more severe end of the scale, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, known as GAD, is a long-term condition. GAD causes anxiety across a wide range of situations rather than one specific event.
Trauma is known to be a big trigger of anxious feelings. Something may happen and that causes us to feel anxious. Problems arise when the trauma ends, but the feelings of anxiety remain. Without the right support, we can subconsciously hold onto that trauma. The anxiety it creates then transfers to other areas of our life.
Your Wellbeing Wing Woman – My Experiences With Anxiety
As a workplace well-being expert, I wanted to share some of the lessons that I've learned from working through my own anxiety and from working with my clients.
I have qualifications in mental health awareness and mindfulness, and I've worked with hundreds of clients on wellbeing, stress management, and mental health. So, when I went through a period of severe anxiety in my 30s, it came as a real shock to me. I was very self-aware, I had a good job, and I was very happy in my work. I lived in a lovely flat and I was surrounded by family and friends.
The trigger for me was my Dad having a stroke. I felt anxious and overwhelmed which was totally understandable and relevant to the situation at the time. But then that anxiety and overwhelm stayed with me. Thankfully, my dad recovered, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of anxiety and fear that I was experiencing.
I was constantly worried. I was teary, everything made me feel panicked. I overthought everything and I couldn't sleep.
The tipping point was the realisation that I just couldn't put up with the feelings I was experiencing any longer. I would struggle to get out of bed to go to work. I didn't want to feel like that anymore.
I opened up and sought the support I needed from my GP, and things improved.
I’m writing this blog to share five things I learned during that time that helped me through the experience of severe anxiety. In fact, these things continue to help me today, both in my personal life and the work I do with my clients.
How To Get Through Periods of Anxiety
Recognise That Daily Worries Are Different To Anxiety.
I have a tendency to be a worrier. I overthink things all the time, but it is important to see the difference between worry and feeling anxious. Daily worries tend to pass and diminish with the passage of time but anxiety doesn’t. In fact, it can often get worse. With racing thoughts and triggers all over, anxiety can start to prevent you from living your life normally and so recognising this allows you to see what needs to be dealt with differently.
Don’t struggle alone, don’t feel guilty and embarrassed. It’s not a failing to feel like you can’t cope. We’re not really taught how to be openly vulnerable and words like ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘ought’ put so much pressure on us to be a certain way.
When I opened up to friends and family about how I was feeling, it was a big step forward in getting myself well. But it was making the leap and going to see my GP that made the life-changing difference to how I was feeling.
Being able to open up to a professional and get the support I needed changed everything.
I was offered counselling alongside medication. The two together are powerful. Medication alone just puts a plaster over the problem. And just going through counselling while in a bad place means that you’re often not able to think clearly enough to talk through the issues.
After I started both the medication and the counselling, I started to talk more openly to others about what I was going through. I was amazed at how many people had felt this way and how many people had also tried medication but were too ashamed to talk about it.
Medication Isn't A Dirty Word.
So many of us are resistant to using medication to manage how we are feeling. There’s so much stigma around it. But you might find that after accepting that you need help, and if that’s in the form of medication, then so be it. For me, everything changed for the better.
The medication calmed the part of my brain that was ‘always on’ and had become overprotective. I found I could actually be present and in the moment. I wasn't worrying about things around me.
It’s important to recognise that medication for mental ill health is okay. It's the same as taking medication for diabetes, or medication for your blood pressure. It's helping a part of your body function better.
Alongside the medication, I attended counselling sessions. It was a mixture of CBT and talking therapy, which gave me the tools and techniques I needed to support my mental health. It really helped me sort through my thoughts and experiences. It was like having a big pile of jigsaw pieces on the table and being able to sort through them to create a clear picture.
Having a calm, clear mind (thanks to the medication) gave me the space to confront some of my thought patterns. I learnt that I could move past the feelings, I didn't have to live with them. I could feel better after having lived with anxiety for so long.
Sharing Helps Others As Well As Yourself.
Whilst sharing my anxieties with my counsellor was hugely beneficial and sharing my experiences with others helped me feel less alone, that openness and honesty about my own struggles helped other people realise that it’s okay to talk about mental health, especially in the workplace.
Daily Support Strategies Help.
Everyone has different ways of dealing with anxiety and how long you need to take the medication varies from person to person, but daily coping strategies really can support your mental health. In the 20 years since I stopped taking medication, I discovered mindfulness and it became a natural form of medication for me.
Mindfulness helps me to feel that same ‘now-moment’ awareness, without taking medication. That’s why I teach mindfulness as part of my workplace coaching.
Wrapping Up My Thoughts On How To Overcome Anxiety.
If anxiety is something that you have experienced, or if you're experiencing it now, think about the one activity that you do where you can get so lost in it that everything else just melts away. That’s your flow state. That's the thing you should be turning to when you feel anxious. It could be reading or walking. It could be running or cuddling your pet. Do whatever it is that brings you into the present moment. It’ll help you step away from your busy mind and break the cycle of intrusive thoughts.
So, I'm going to leave you with that question now. What gets you into your flow state?
Seeking help is important when learning how to overcome anxiety. It is crucial to recognise that when daily worries start impacting your life, you’ve probably crossed the line into anxiety. Opening up to trusted individuals and seeking professional support, whether through counselling or medication, can make a significant difference. And remember, you are never alone in your struggles.
If any of this has resonated with you, my inbox is always open.