20 June 2016

Right. Time to get all personal again. This time it's about me, and something that I've been struggling with for a long time. 

At first glance, I maintain a pretty good facade of looking like a woman who has her sh*t together. But beneath my Charlotte Tilbury foundation and stripey tops lies an anxious mess of a lady who hasn’t slept properly since I was a teenager. Most nights are the same: I lie awake staring at the ceiling as my thoughts race and I struggle to calm my breathing, and if I don’t have anything that's making me panic, I find myself searching for something and getting myself into such a tizz. 

Mental health can still be deemed a bit of a taboo subject to talk about, and up until fairly recently I couldn't talk about my experience with anxiety to anybody. Now, I'll talk to anyone that will listen which is how this post has come about. 

Don't get me wrong, the subject is definitely talked about more openly than it was back in the day. It's something that people recognise can affect anyone no matter their age, sex and race. One of my favourite characters on TV is Hannah Horvath in Girls, and when I first started watching it I could definitely see a little bit of me in her behaviour – massive high fives to Lena Dunham for writing such powerful, emotive scenes for her character Hannah, and not glamourising it in any way. 

Before I go any further, I just want to point out that I am no expert in this. All of the content in this post has been written off the back of my own experience with anxiety, so if I give any advice, it’s from what has helped me.

As anyone out there who has suffered from anxiety will know, the condition can often feel like there’s no escape - simply telling yourself (or other people telling you) not to think negative thoughts or to "focus on the positive" won't work. Our bodies response can be increased heart and breathing rates, tense muscles, a diverted blood flow from our abdominal organs to our brains, and often nausea and a very upset stomach as our body goes into full alert. I’ll put my hand up and say – when it’s all of the above, my anxiety can triple.

Here comes the science bit
  • Anxiety is a spectrum disorder that includes panic disorders, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, and OCD. These have unique symptoms, but many commonalities. Anxiety is also one of the UK’s most common mental conditions. 
  • At the last comprehensive survey of mental health issues in England and Wales, over 20 per cent of adults were suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder. 
  • Women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and mental health experts say that they’re also more likely to open up about it.
Image via the ever so amazing, Gemma Correll

How can you help
We’ve all felt anxious at some point in our lives. It’s a natural, human response to stress. If you have a friend or loved one that’s struggling with anxiety, it can be difficult to fully get how they’re feeling. One of my closest friends who I have to say has been an absolute gem when I’m at my worst described it as “turning up to a very important exam and being completely unprepared for it”

Try and remember a time when you’ve felt anxious – this can help you understand how your friend is feeling. BUT don’t assume that you 100% get exactly how they feel – it’s different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all category for this. I’ve found that talking to a friend or family member about how I’m feeling, with them fully listening and not judging really helps.

What helps me
Stretching - I'm no yogi, but I do find that if I'm feeling extremely anxious, or even having a panic attack staying still is no good. So I will relax my muscles as much as I can and if I'm in a place where I can stretch out (as in home or my office) I will.

As well as stretching, I also find that doing something can really help - honestly, it could be cleaning my bedroom, going for a slow walk to the beach (my happy place) or calling someone close to me. I also find that turning my focus on to something helps - whether it's an upcoming holiday, or a book I'm excited about reading this process can be really useful.

One thing I seem to turn to a lot is an app on my phone (hello 21st Century technology) called 'relaxing' it's basically various sounds that you can listen to. I find that listen to the sound of rain can really calm me down, and I often use it to help me fall asleep at night.

If I'm travelling, and I start feeling anxious, I have a few podcasts I listen to. These are a really good distraction as you have to concentrate on what is being said. My absolute fav is Emma Gannon's Ctrl, alt, delete podcast. If you haven't already, give her a listen here. On a recent train journey at 6am in the morning, I had a horrid bout of anxiety, and I have to say it really helped listening to her.

Useful Resources
If you're struggling with anxiety remember you're not alone. Or you may be supporting someone who is struggling, so I've put together a list of sites that may be useful:
Anxiety UK
NHS Choices
The Mental Health Foundation

Finally, I just want to say - if there's anyone out there struggling, please talk to someone. You'll find it helps. Heck, you can even drop me an email and talk to me about how you feel and I promise, I'll come back to you!

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