As I said in my first post, I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. What this basically means is that I was constantly living in fear of what was going to happen to me in the future. Constantly.
Most of my thoughts were negative. There was no way I was good enough to keep the job I enjoy, there was no way I was lucky enough to have the partner I now have. People definitely thought badly of me, and I was always a disappointment. There was certainly no way that I was lucky enough to be happy; something bad was definitely about to happen, and I wasn’t prepared for it. So obviously the most logical thing to do was to lie awake all night, every night, planning for what I would do should something terrible happen in six months time.
I was exhausted. Cue winter months, dark mornings and dark nights – it was a recipe for disaster. Everything was going wrong.
After a bout of panic attacks, usually associated with travel, illness or self doubt, I finally found the courage to talk about it. I went to the doctor; a tired, matted mess; and told him exactly what I was feeling, snot and all. It was the scariest and most liberating thing I’ve ever done. I was signed off work, given some medication to try (on my request), and referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I went home and slept.
I started CBT in January and was incredibly anxious about it (obviously). My goals set at the beginning of my sessions were centred around worry, and how to control it. I was skeptical. Surely this was just what I was like? Wrong!
The fears I hold are connected to a thinking or belief process which I have adopted after certain events in my life. I can easily pin point them with a little prodding, and it’s getting to the bottom of these which is the key to overcoming the disorder. That, and a complete change in my outlook on life.
Below are some of the methods which I found most useful at the beginning of therapy:
Defusing involves seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).
STOP, STEP BACK and OBSERVE the thoughts and feelings:
- Notice what’s happening – your thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, images, memories.
- Notice the way you’re interpreting what they mean, and how that’s affecting you.
- Notice the unhelpful thoughts. What am I reacting to? Perhaps say the thoughts very slowly, or very quickly, or write them down. I started a journal at the beginning of CBT, and found it incredibly useful to get the thoughts out onto paper or into my phone which made them easier to deal with and label.
Identify the emotion you’re feeling, and label the unhelpful thoughts. In my case, unhelpful thinking habits are the majority of reasons I become anxious: mind-reading (believing we know what others are thinking) and catastrophising (imagining the worst) are my constant barriers.
Check these out for some really good tips on unhelpful thinking habits.
Use metaphors to see your mind and thoughts differently.
The Playground Bully (our thoughts can be our own internal bully):
- Victim 1 – believes the bully, distressed, reacts automatically (bully carries on)
- Victim 2 – challenges the bully (bully eventually gives up)
- Victim 3 – acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention.
My biggest achievement was practicing mindfulness every morning when I got up. It helps me to identify when I am in the present moment, or if I am living anxiously in the future. Eventually, you will find living in the present a much happier place to be! If you are just starting out, try Headspace for 10 minute daily guided sessions, or log into www.freemindfulness.org.
The “Me” List:
Make a list of things you enjoy doing for yourself. Things that make you happy, things that nourish you and make you feel like you again. When you have a bad day, pick one thing on the list and do it! I found a mix of small and big activities worked best, that way I could do something no matter what time of day it was. I doodled mine for an extra mindful activity:
These are just some ideas to begin with, and I will look deeper into some other methods which have worked for me throughout my therapy. I’d like to thank the NHS Living Life service and www.getselfhelp.co.uk for providing me with these fantastic new techniques. Some further information on CBT can be found here. If you would like to ask me about my experience with CBT, I’d be happy to talk about it.
Spending a day thinking about what could, should, might have been (past) or what may, perhaps, might happen (future) is a day missed. – Headspace