IMG_4277I’m, going to share my top tip for those trying to address their anxiety. As you know, I LOVE a metaphor, so bear with me on this, it will make perfect sense in a moment.

My husband badly hurt his shins running a marathon. He couldn’t walk and had to temporarily re-locate to the creaky third-hand, musky scented sofa bed in our little London flat because it was ten yards closer to the bathroom.

 

He took medication. He saw physiotherapists. Nothing worked.

Soon after, we had a summer holiday booked with my parents and he still couldn’t walk unaided. We arrived at our stair-filled holiday home wondering how on crutches he was going to navigate the cobbles of the sweet Greek streets that surrounded us. My Mum happens to be a physiotherapist, and under her encouragement and guidance (and strict physio schedules…I mean he was gonna do what she said right? Mother in law and all!), he did certain exercises three times a day. It felt fruitless to begin with. These tiny little movements he had to make whilst gripping onto the crumbling wall of our apartment, over and over and over again as Dad and I watched on, sipping Sangria. Dull and relentless.

He carried his crutches home, walking totally independently.

It was the seeming relentlessness that did it. The tiny movements, over and over with tiring commitment. They seemed too small to be irrelevant, but over time, they changed muscle and sinew. Over time, the pain was replaced with strength. Over time, not overnight.

You know, you can try all the techniques and approaches for anxiety you like, you can dip your toe in the water of every single theory going…but what makes the difference is the seemingly relentless, daily application. THAT is what changes things, THAT is what will turn the anxiety from the raging bull into a small yappy dog that nips at your heels.

Let me use an example from my own life. My intrusive thoughts are anxiety driven, they pop into my head like a mini assault on my mind. Some days, I let them pass by, other days I turn the flash of fearful thought (usually someone I love dying) into a whole scenario, adding colour and words and feeling. Before I know it, I’m feeling a small stab of realistic grief as if the death of my child has actually happened, or I’m freaking out about how the hell I’d pay the mortgage if my husband died on the way home as I feared.

What works for me is noticing the thought and imagining it passing through my mind like a silk ribbon rather than a gripping, flesh-tearing fish-hook. It’s there, I’m not going to force myself to deny it, but it passes. I also use breathing to ground me and calm those physical anxious feelings (see this site). I try to practice it even when I’m feeling A-OKAY so that it’s a familiar tool on standby for when I need it. I have to use this imagery every single day. Sometimes a shed load of times. It’s my tool. It helps. I don’t ‘arrive’ at a point where I’m utterly anxiety free and go ‘WAHOOOOO. Seeya breathing techniques and imagery. Bye old friends’. No, I will be using techniques for many years to come, but the more I’ve used them, the easier they are to access at an earlier point (rather then when I’m down some anxiety hole where everyone I love has died and I’m the only one standing…oh I end up there sometimes, but less than I did)

Here are some tools that will be beneficial no matter what your circumstances are:

  • Learning to access the parasympathetic nervous system through breathing. This is undoubtedly a physiologically powerful tool that counteracts the stress and anxiety response in the body  – find out more here
  • Not waiting until you ‘feel’ worth it before you introduce acts of self-care. They can be as simple as making sure you’re drinking enough water and eating food that nourishes you. Self-care isn’t all about massages and  manicures. These acts directly oppose the critical and internal voice that often fuels anxiety.
  • Start small. Habits of a lifetime aren’t broken in a day. Small, continuous steps will get you there in a way that is more sustainable than short, sharp change.
  • Get used to asking yourself what you need. Within anxiety there is often a fear, a need and a feeling. Learning to identify them helps you in finding ways to meet them. The more you do this, the more sensitive to your needs and feelings you’ll become, and the easier it will be to acknowledge them. When my feelings are fuzzy and hard to determine, I ‘try on feelings for size’ by listing them until I feel like something clicks – ‘am I feeling, sad, lonely, angry, hurt, scared’
  • Be kind to you! Start challenging the inner critic/abuser/bully. If you’ve got a constant, cruel dialogue going on internally, it will be chipping away at your self worth and value. Start noticing how you talk to yourself in your mind and start thinking about how you’d respond to someone you love if they said those things. Start introducing a more compassionate internal voice. Read this
  • Speak to someone who might understand. Not everyone will, but someone you know to be kind and compassionate may be able to help you talk through some of you anxieties, introducing a kinder voice. Sometimes just verbalising what goes on in our minds
  • If you are finding that your anxiety is taking over to any extent, please seek an appointment with your GP, or a Counsellor/Psychotherapist to chat this through further.

I’m sure you might have a few to add to this list as it’s nowhere near exhaustive, but those are the ones I use the most.

But, my TOP tip for addressing anxiety is..

Start small. And keep going.

Even when it feels silly.

Even when it feels fruitless.

Even when it feels like nothing is ever going to change.

Even when you don’t truly believe it will help.

Keep going.

And if you forget? Or you have an anxiety filled day where things have taken over and not one coping mechanism has been accessed, be kind, DON’T beat yourself up. This is a process and it’s a tough one, and often a long one, but a wholly worthwhile one. Carry on. Carry on.

If you’re someone who likes imagery, find a metaphor that encourages you. I like to think of a motorway that has closed down! No cars are allowed, and they are forced to drive beside it on grass and mud. Wheels get stuck, flicking up mud and requiring pushing out. It’s slow and bumpy and downright annoying. Drivers glance at the empty motorway beside them, it’s so familiar, so easy, so smooth. BUT. Overtime, the wheels carve a new path. The ground impacts, the bumps are smoothed. The journey is getting easier. And as for the motorway? It’s has gradually run to ruin. The tarmac melted in parts by the summer sun and never addressed. Weeds poking through the lanes, tree roots tearing up what was once flat.

Whatever your battle is against and whatever your techniques are (as long as they are good, healthy ones), I want to encourage you to keep utilising them. Use them when you’re feeling okay, use them when you start to wobble. The deeper you are into the hole of anxiety, the more effort required to use the tools that pull you out.

Every time you speak back to that familiar, cruel voice that has you questioning life and future, pick up that tool. No matter how successful it was, pick it up again next time too. Yes, maybe sometimes introduce a new tool or an additional tool, especially as they slowly become second nature and less effort, but make sure you have SOMETHING to hand. I introduced breathing for anxiety, and then once it became almost second nature, I introduced a gratitude journal. And now that’s part of my daily life, I’m trying to drink enough water in order to tell my body it’s worth being hydrated no matter how many times I need to pee. See what I’m saying?

When I speak to coaching clients, I don’t make false statements. I don’t promise them that their worst fear won’t happen, I’m not God, I don’t have the insight. I’m not going to promise them that everything will be okay, because nobody can promise them that. But I DO promise them that if they pursue relentlessly, regardless of feelings, the tools we speak about, then the voice of anxiety WILL get quieter over time.

Sometimes change is about driving in the rain and suddenly realising that this would have made you panic a few months ago. Sometimes it’s about you having a nice long bath and suddenly realising that a few weeks ago, this would have felt like an utter, worthless waste of time because you weren’t of enough value to do something kind like this.

Find the tools that fit you, whether through therapy or apps, research or reading. Value your tools. Use them relentlessly and be kind to yourself when you forget, or they don’t seem to work. Keep keep going and change will come, slowly but surely.

Ax

 

IMG_2233Vicious cycles are just that, vicious.

You get used to the rhythms of your life and mental health. You know the things you do to make yourself feel better and give you a spring back into your step be it momentary, and you know the things that take you down or set you off into a spiral. Or maybe you don’t even know what they are, but you know that sometimes life just feels like an exhausting rollercoaster. Even if it does have the ups amidst the downs, you know that what you’d really like is a little more consistency and a little less stomach churning variety.

Yes, I’d quite like to get off now.

I have a couple of these cycles in my life. I’ve grown to know them, to predict them, to see the affect that they have on those I love around me. But that isn’t always enough to do the things required to enable me to hop off the bloody rollercoaster because those things often require energy and effort, whereas on the rollercoaster, you’re a little more passive I guess. I don’t mean to speak in riddles, but metaphors are the way my mind works.

Here are my cycles –

Drivenness and perfectionism….

Get inspired. Work. Get enjoyment from what I do. Work harder. Lose balance. Feel like I’m spread too thinly. Half heartedly try to find balance. Instilling logistics required for balance is time consuming. Carry on regardless. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly-strung heap. Get sick or run down because I’ve ignored the warnings to slow down. Be forced to stop. Take step back. Gain perspective. Rest…………Get inspired. Work…..(and thus the cycle begins again)

Self sufficiency…

Cope well. Feel like I have all the resources. Get tired. Feel like I should be coping. Feel like I should have the resources. Judge myself for not coping and not having all of the resources. Get tireder and worse at telling myself to reach out. Get a little rude and defensive to the voice that says I’m not made to do it alone. Continue to try to do it alone. Feel like a failure for not being able to. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly strung heap of supposed failure. Reach out for help. Tell people how I feel. Feel better and normalised. Wish I had spoken about it earlier……Cope well. Feel like have all the resources (and thus the cycle begins again).

I bet you have cycles too. Your own little rollercoasters that you know the ups and downs of, they are familiar and sometimes, even in a dysfunctional way, that’s what keeps us on them. We know what it feels like, the drop in the stomach, the same old same old internal battles. The world is an unfamiliar place, and even if the feelings are hard and we hate the predictability, that in itself can be a comforting certainty. They work for us whilst also working against us. I mean, I’m pretty damn great when I’m inspired and feeling like I have all the resources…but that’s not a sustainable feeling, and it’s not okay just to plough everything into what feels like your truth at that time. You’re not a machine. You’re a human being with needs and feelings and resources that run out – all of which need to be attended to with care! Not rinsed for their benefits and hung out to dry.

BUT……

We are worth more than these consistent cycles that keep you swimming in the same spot of stagnant water. Like being on a treadmill, you feel like you’re going somewhere when actually you’re not experiencing anything new, just the same old walls and windows. You’re really just getting knackered and going nowhere.

Yesterday I messaged a friend and said ‘I just feel like I should be feeling more content. I feel unbalanced and highly strung and I’m sick of it’. I mean, there are many problems with that phrase. Who ‘should’ be feeling anything in particular? We feel what we feel and as soon as we start to tell ourselves that it’s not acceptable, we cause problems. And as for contentment, that’s often something we feel in special snapshots rather than a continued state. But…what I was saying really, if I think about it, is that I’m tired. I’m tired of this rollercoaster. I’m tired of the familiar dysfunction. I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same damned result.

And then, a lightbulb moment. I wouldn’t say it was a rock bottom, but that one was perhaps in sight, and that I’d hit a few mini ones in quick succession. I guess I was at the end of both of my destructive cycles at exactly the same time – feeling a bit worthless and a lotta bit highly strung. I decided that I was just going to do something different. I suddenly experienced some wind in my sails as I lit a candle, dug out a journal, unrolled my yoga mat for the next morning and planned in some exercise.  I’m going to carve some new habits. All of these things work to increase seretonin (happy hormone) and re-anchor and re-engage. I’m going to do things that break these cycles rather than feed them. I’m going to dare to believe that i’m worth more than just treading the same old same old paths. Because I am. And you are too.

I’ve been resistant to the concept of new years resolutions. A little scathing about them perhaps. I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to make changes, I wanted to move away from all of the buzz, the forgoing and the fresh starts. It sounded like a lot of hard work and I didn’t have the energy to even consider it. But now I am up for it – because I have even less energy, but that’s the point. These things make us tired, and we don’t like change when we are tired. And on it goes, until one day you’re sick enough of it all to be too impatient to wait until you have energy to make changes. I’m a few days late, but it’s not really about the date. It’s really just a collective ‘hey, let’s make changes that stop the cycles that suck the life out of us. Let’s drink less, move more, be kinder to ourselves and others, do more of the things that re-invest, re-engage, re-ground’

So, what you going to do? Are you going to wait until you get to some messy sort of rock bottom, or until all your cycles come to their tricky end at some sort of incredibly uncomfortable but heaven-sent, change-inspiring moment? Or are you just going to take the risk in starting to act like you’re worth stepping off the treadmill, even if you don’t believe you are…yet. Because trust me, make some tweaks and some changes, and then, in time, you’ll believe that you’re worth all the positive, life affirming changes you can ever make.

This feels like a brain dump really. But I’m hoping that some of my words might resound for others. Here goes…

Ax

123.jpgI don’t care what you think.

Well, I do really, but I care a lot less about what people think than I used to and it’s been life changing. People-pleasing is like being on a hamster wheel and not being able to hop off when you’re knackered. No amount of ‘thank you’s, or compliments will ever satisfy an insatiable people-pleasing hunger, but provide only momentary relief.

It’s tricky because what will please one person may irritate another. What might be graciously received by one person, might be misunderstood by another.

We are hardwired, culturally, to seek to please others. I mean, it’s not all bad because it gives us a moral compass and encourages us to be aware of the impact of our actions and words.  But allowing yourself to consider what is pleasing to others, is different to being utterly ruled by it. How other people perceive us is so damn subjective that it’s like trying to accurately interpret someone else’s dream. In the process of attempting to please everyone, you swerve from, deny and twist your own wants, needs and opinions. You might please someone but in the process you’ve chipped away at your authenticity by saying and doing things that you know aren’t ‘you’. Respect for ourselves ebbs away a little at a time and we become less and less sensitive to the little nuances, dreams and needs that make us who we are.

I remember going shopping with friends as a young teen, expressing like at everything that they did – the clothes, music, makeup. I probably even spent pocket money on things I didn’t like in order to ‘fit in’ with what I thought was acceptable to them. I thought that the way to please others was to validate their own choices, but in the process I totally denied my own. This has continued into adulthood where I’d go to bed with that dropped-stomach fear that I’d annoyed or hurt someone, replaying scenarios over in my mind, wondering how I could have been different, been somehow less.

What’s the worse case scenario of doing something that is authentic to you but might not please someone? They might not like me. They might not ‘get’ me, I might irritate/hurt/annoy’. Yes, these feelings are uncomfortable, but the thing is, we’re going to do that anyway even if we bend ourselves into pretzel knots to fit our idea of what people want of us. Not everyone will like or understand me despite my best and continuous efforts.

It’s far better to input my energy into being kind and authentic without needing to deny my character and opinions. They might be different, but they still have value.

Difference is enriching. Debating, arguing and disagreeing doesn’t necessarily break a relationship, it adds dynamic and perspective. I might do something that doesn’t please my husband, but it doesn’t necessarily break us. I might unintentionally hurt a friend, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unforgivable, and that our friendship can’t be deepened by talking it through. I might have differing music tastes, fashion choices, opinions to someone else, but it doesn’t mean that the void of difference is too big for there to be any level of connection.

We see people through our own lenses of experience, history, assumption, and there is nothing we can do to change other people’s lenses. Characters clash, people make immovable snap judgements, they may be irritable and angry, but it’s less about you and more about them. You have a responsibility only to your behaviour and response towards others. Trying to win everyone over is a bloody knackering, relentless pursuit that will take you to your grave unsatisfied.

You are you. Be authentic to you. Care enough to be kind, but not enough to deny the beauty of your individuality and your uniqueness of character. Be giving within your resources, but without giving yourself totally away.

How the heck do we begin this? Especially for those of us who’s people pleasing boundaries are so far from where they should be that we can’t even see them anymore? This is how…Work on accepting yourself and loving yourself, because then the hunger for other people to affirm, love and accept you becomes softer, and you’re less likely to look to others to tell you what you’re worth. Loving yourself well helps you step off the rollercoaster of other people’s supposed value of who you are, and gives you the confidence that many love you, many like you, but not everyone does and not everyone will. And that’s okay!

Just because someone doesn’t like you doesn’t mean you’re unlikable.

Just because someone doesn’t understand you, doesn’t mean you’re entirely misunderstood.

Just because someone is annoyed by you, doesn’t mean you are annoying.

Just because someone doesn’t accept you, doesn’t mean you’re unacceptable,

Test it out. Take risks in expressing yourself in ways that you’ve held back on before. Start small. Play music that you like, speak out an opinion that differs from another, wear something you’ve been desperate but afraid to wear. Every time you do this, you’re disproving your theory that you are not acceptable in and of yourself. Every time you do something authentic, and people don’t run for the hills, you’re taking the power and life away from this people pleasing drive.

And the more the power ebbs away the easier it becomes. And the more you realise that not being liked by everyone, and not pleasing everyone isn’t as devastating as you might imagine, the more confidence you’ll develop. And the more confidence you have in yourself and who you are, the more authentic you’ll be.

And you know what’s funny?? Authenticity is such a gloriously, accidentally, magnetic characteristic! So often, by addressing our desperation to please people, we end up being more authentically ourselves. And your authentic self is often far more attractive to others than the you who bends and twists yourself away to suit them.

Don’t let a look, an utterance, a misunderstanding tell you what you’re worth to the world. You’re worth far more than that. I assure you.

How do you KNOW you’re loveable, acceptable, likeable?? Because you dare to love, accept and like yourself. Everyone else’s feelings are just an affirmation of that truth, not a dictator of it.

Ax

img_1668One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

The turning of autumn leaves, the burnt oranges and reds, always remind me of how nothing is permanent. No feeling is permanent. No depression, no mountain top high, no plodding along…nothing is permanent. It’s as if our life has seasons beyond the turning of the earth. I’ve had winters that have lasted days, months and years. Winters that have felt never-ending and hopeless. Dark clouds hanging, the air stagnant, thick and suffocating. I’ve had summers that have lasted minutes, hours, weeks. Where my heart has felt light and I’ve felt a swelling gratitude. Where I’ve felt carefree and excited.

So, are you in an Autumn? Where things are feeling stripped away and you just want to turn in and feel safe. Perhaps you’re in a Spring, a time of growth and change.

So if you’re in the midst of a winter, take stock. It will pass. It will. It simply can’t not. For nobody can stop the ticking of time that moves the seasons regardless off how still we stand. Or maybe, for you, the storm has passed, and it’s about standing and being grateful that you’re through it, and richer in experience and empathy than you ever could be had you not weathered that storm.