I have suffered from anxiety for most of my life. My earliest memory was being 8 years old, in school and telling my teacher I couldn’t breathe.
I didn’t know at the time what was happening, and I was afraid.
23 years ago, teachers didn’t know much about anxiety either and so I was sat on the windowsill of the classroom, window open and gasping for air. I realise now that was a panic attack.
continued to manifest itself in this way for many years. I was given jobs to “take my mind off it” in the classroom and it was mostly ignored by the adults around me and myself. Mainly due to lack of knowledge and education. But one thing I know for sure was that it never went away.
Another thing I know definitively is that it doesn’t go away. There are ways to manage it and keep it at bay, but it never really leaves us. Instinctively, anxiety is a good thing, through the animal instinct part of our brain it is what has kept us alive as human beings. It is our flight or fight mode.
A fawn facing a lion in the wilderness doesn’t quite have the luxury to stop and think “should I run from this?”. It is that spike in cortisol, that flight mode, that makes the fawn run and keeps it alive.
It is the same with us. But when we identify our anxiety and figure out what exactly is causing it, we can start to feel free of that constant cloud of anxiety hanging over our every thought.
More than “normal” worries.
Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal emotion. For example, you may feel nervous or anxious when going to an interview or with starting a new job, before taking an exam or before making an important decision.
Excessive anxiety or anxiety disorders are different, though. They are a group of mental illnesses, and the distress they cause can keep you from carrying on with your life normally.
For people who have an anxiety disorder, worry
and fear are constant and overwhelming and can be disabling. But with treatment, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life.
Types of Disorders
Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term that includes different conditions:
Panic disorder. You feel terror that strikes at random. During a panic attack, you may also sweat, have chest pains and feel palpitations (unusually strong or irregular heartbeats). Sometimes you may feel like you’re choking or having a heart attack.
Social Anxiety disorder. This is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. You fixate about others judging you or on being embarrassed or ridiculed.
Generalised anxiety disorder. You feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.
All anxiety disorders share some general symptoms:
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Not being able to stay calm and still
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Trouble sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Tense muscles
- Dry Mouth
Researchers don’t know exactly what brings on anxiety disorders. Like other forms of mental illness, they stem from a combination of things, including changes in your brain and environmental stress and even your genes. The disorders can run in families and could be linked to faulty circuits in the brain that controls fear and other emotions.
If you feel you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks or depression your first call should be to your GP. There are lots of ways your GP can help to get the ball rolling in treating you. Along with GP care there are lots of ways to manage your symptoms yourself. Small changes can make a huge difference.
These tips may help you control or lessen your symptoms:
- Cut down on foods and drinks that have caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine is a mood-altering drug, and it may make symptoms of anxiety disorders worse.
- Eat right, exercise, and get better sleep. Brisk aerobic exercises like jogging and biking help release brain chemicals that cut stress and improve your mood.
- Sleep problems and anxiety disorder often go hand in hand. Make getting good rest a priority. Follow a relaxing bedtime routine. Talk to your doctor if you still have trouble sleeping.
One thing I’ve learned through dealing with anxiety is that accepting you may have a disorder, identifying what you need to do to manage it and not let it affect your day to day life is essential.
When you find what works for you, stick with it. Do it every single day, and don’t miss a day. Missing a day will slowly have you slip back. Even on the good days, remember to look after yourself and keep doing the work.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, you can contact Aware, the Samaritans or your GP for help and support.
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.