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Guest Post – Overcoming Anxiety.

By Ayla Wilkinson

As you guys know I’ve started to accept guest posts, the post can be about anything you like. This post was written by Ayla, who wanted to share her experiences on overcoming anxiety, let’s begin.

Out of the vast array of all the different mental illnesses that exist, anxiety is probably one of the cruelest. She’s a hell of a bitch. I make myself feel alone and isolated, albeit unintentionally, but there is nothing I can do to stop it other than calm myself down and fight this imaginary monster that forces all my senses into overdrive.

When I have an anxiety attack, it’s my brain telling my body that there’s something wrong, there’s an imaginary threat and in that moment, I am incapable of thinking straight or even breathing properly. The sense of helplessness is awful. But over the years I’ve learned how to calm myself down and if Im lucky, prevent a full scale attack!

My anxiety can be set off by anything from someone chewing too loudly, being part of a large group of people, or even the slightest change in someone’s manner towards me, for example – if my Mum puts one less kiss on a text, I instantly think that I’ve done /said something wrong or there’s some sort of problem between us when in fact, she just forgot the extra ‘x’! It can be as insignificant as that or as major as group projects at school and having to present to the whole class.

The more stressed out I am with family issues, work, school work and social pressures, the more chronic and frequent my anxiety attacks are.

The attacks come in stages. At first, I start to become agitated and irritable. My foot taps and I guess that’s a reflex now but that’s when those close to me can sense I’m retreating into my shell and feeling nervous.
To help this, I’ve found that tapping my fingers out to the beat of my favourite song works. So for me, Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’, which is simple and steady really helps me starts to focus on calming myself down and preparing to engage in the next few stages of my attack.

After the uncharacteristic anger and irritation comes the breathing difficulty and hyperventilation. My breathing gets louder and more shallow. This is the worst part for me, personally. People around you instinctively want to help and they’ll pat your shoulder and tell you “Its okay, just breathe” and it winds me up because I want to shout and scream at them and tell them that telling me to simply “breathe” is completely useless because that’s what I am unable to do in those few exhausting minutes.
Focus on your breathing pattern, try the 7-11 technique. Inhale for seven seconds and exhale for eleven. And repeat. It takes me usually three times to even get that right, so don’t worry if this exercise doesn’t help. My favourite technique for this is just counting to 10 (or whichever number you like) in different languages. Its a great way to focus on your breathing and also the next stage, the increase in your heartbeat. (bonus: learning a new language is pretty fun and useful too!)

As I said, the next part of a full blown anxiety attack isn’t very fun. Because of the adrenaline rush and heightened senses, your heartbeat gets really, really fast. For me, I can hear it clearly, as if its in surround sound at the cinema. I’m drowning and each thump is louder than the next until it is the only thing I can hear. It drowns out everything until I’m calmer.
If you go to CBT sessions (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy -a talking therapy on how to cope with anxiety and other manic disorders) you may learn ‘grounding’ techniques, where they’ll teach you to push against the floor with your feet so you’re in control and wiggle your toes, but everyone’s attacks are different so try grounding exercises by all means if it helps!!
The only way I can handle this is by tapping. It’s inside me so there’s no physical way I can decrease my heart rate. The only advice I can give you is tap it out, hum it out, or massage your right hand with your left thumb and vice versa. Its relaxing, de-stressing and gives you something else to focus on.

Finally, once I’ve exhausted my emotions and have started to calm down, I just break down. And if you want to cry, cry. Its normal and expected. Cry alone or with someone. Go get a mug of coffee and a hug because trust me, you’ll need them.

Also, don’t worry about what other people are going to think if you have an anxiety attack. Firstly, its none of their concern and you cant help it. Secondly, don’t worry because its only going to add to the anxiety your already feeling. So if you have an anxiety attack around people, don’t stress yourself our any further by thinking “what if they don’t like me?”, “what if this weirds them out?”, “do they know what’s happening?” Because this is only going to make things worse for you. It sounds harsh and selfish, but you have to focus on yourself for the next 3 minutes or the next forty because why should you give a damn what anyone thinks anyway?! I’ve learnt that anxiety is less of a burden and more of a defence mechanism for myself. Yeah, its a giant pain in the ass when you’re having a great day and all of a sudden you just shut down and become sad for no reason, but its just another way your body and brain tells you that they’re working properly, just slightly differently to other peoples.

It gets easier.