I’ve written quite a lot previously about depression, but this month(!) I want to focus on anxiety. The two are often linked together and feed on each other, anxiety increases depression and they lead each other into a vicious spiral.
Unlike depression, anxiety has rather obvious physical effects – at least in my case. Depression, or just feel low, might make us feel tired, unable to get out of bed and lethargic, but anxiety makes us feel ill. Perhaps you just get really hot or you get really dizzy, maybe your stomach cramps up and you begin to feel sick.
I remember the first time I realised I had a problem with anxiety. I was stood in the middle of Lush in Wakefield and I had to get out. I got all hot, sweaty and I felt like I would faint.
There was nothing in the environment to cause it and physically there was nothing wrong with it. My mind was making me feel like this and all because a shop assistant had come up to me and asked if I needed any help. I mumbled something and exited the shop as fast as I could.
Thankfully I was undergoing CBT at the time, otherwise I might not have realised that I had a problem or been able to do anything about it. I’ve written previouslyabout identifying your values and using these to motivate yourself to get better. My anxiety wasn’t just getting in the way of shopping, but spending time with friends, family and leading any sort of social life.
It came to me recently that your fears are the enemy of your values, and you could consider them as a set of scales. When you let your anxiety take over your fears outweigh your values and you struggle to function as a ‘normal’ person.
The biggest problem is that we don’t explicitly identify our values in day-to-day life, and without doing that it’s difficult to find the motivation to face your fears and fight the anxiety. I realised that I wanted to be a more sociable creature. I wanted to be a friend to my friends. I wanted to be reliable and trustworthy.
I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye. – Josh Lyman, The West Wing
So it starts with small steps. It started with me making a list on my phone whenever I felt anxiety. In the shops, talking to the postman, somebody knocking at the door, talking on the phone and so on. Then I needed a plan of action to deal with them, basically get on with it. Overcome them. Of course life isn’t that easy – and so it the situations need breaking down into chunks, but sometimes you can deal with multiple situations at once. I asked a friend to come over so I knew I’d be expecting a knock a door. We went to town together, and had a cup of coffee. Once I knew I could conquer that fear, we went shopping together.
The fear doesn’t disappear. I still stand in the middle of a busy shop and I feel my brow sweat up, I get hot and my heart starts racing. Once you know you can survive that feeling, you can remind yourself that the feeling disappears, you can continue shopping and you’ll feel better. Next time you’ll not notice the symptoms so easily, and eventually they’ll be a tiny voice in the back of your head that is easier to ignore.