Friday, 19 August 2011

Just breathe...controlling anxiety

I used to be terribly anxious. I remember as a kid I would concoct these scenarios in my head over the smallest signal of something potentially winding up bad. I was a worry wart, no doubt about it. Enter adulthood and anxiety resided in me without me ever really tapping into it. I worried more than the average person and could work myself up into a stupor over minor issues.
About 8 years ago our family was dealt with 2 traumatic events in the span of 9 months. Prior to this I had not personally known tragedy or grief or trauma. My life was, looking back, a bed of sweet smelling roses. I had grieved the loss  of my elderly grandfather, which felt of course, quite natural, but aside from that hadn't dealt with trauma in any way.
At the onset of both traumatic events I found I had slipped into overdrive running on adrenaline, making sure my parents were ok, my brother was ok, my brother’s kids were ok, but I didn’t really notice the increasing level of anxiety in me until years later. Although, I do recall the morning after the first event, with zero sleep and a head full of questions, hurt, sadness, anger and devastation, I had pulled up at the local service station to re-fuel my car. A guy behind me started waving aggressively for me to move forward, to what I noticed was a non-working bowser. Before I even realised I had hurled myself out of my car and had started stomping over to him, to give him a piece of my devastated mind! Poor guy must have seen my crazy eyes as he was apologising and the waving had turned to much less impatient ‘it’s ok’ gestures before I reached his car. What would I have done I wonder, taken my anger out on an innocent, impatient stranger?
Over the next 2-3 years, so I can see now, the anxiety intensified. After mornings of waking up in tears and nights of going to bed in tears, tears as I was driving, tears as I was thinking, tears as I was not thinking, the anxiety reached boiling point. I was checking that my door was locked before I went to bed. 10 times. I was concocting those childhood scenarios in my head again but on a much grander style. ‘What ifs’ ruled my world. I became very good friends with a dude called ‘hyper vigilance’, he was well alive and kicking in my own head, consuming my soul. I was such a mess that right before the Christmas we had just moved into our first home together, I stood in the kitchen one afternoon and I felt this overpowering sense of hopelessness. I was lost. I wasn’t me anymore. I needed help. I know now that the moment that triggered this sense of hopelessness beyond a point I could return on my own, was brought about as I was on holidays. I didn’t have work to distract and keep my mind busy from the thoughts, and, I was standing in my own family home, happy. Surely something bad would have to happen now, no?
Adding to this, as I have discovered, our body has this amazing memory of trauma and the smallest triggers can set off emotions we have felt during significant and traumatic events. For instance, the second traumatic event I mentioned took place on 4 January. Pending Christmas, summer and its heat and smell in the air, they remind my sad little, lost soul that all was not good at this time of the year some 4 years back from this point. So, as I stood in my newly painted kitchen in my humble little lovable home, surrounded by goodness and family and love, my body was telling me LOOK OUT, bad memories ahead.
At this point I called a therapist I had been seeing on and off over the years. I would see her when I was desperate, then not see her when all felt good. I called her in a blubbering mess, she insisted on seeing me asap.
Now I know not everyone is open to therapists, but this lady, I will call her J, has saved my soul in more ways than she realises. J lets me sit and bawl for an hour, talk about anything I want, and without judgment she will soothe my aching heart and confirm that which I need to hear. There is nothing I could have done to prevent the tragedies from taking place, yes it was unbelievably sad and yes it is ok for me to feel sadness. She also confirms over and over again, that I have to look after me.
Unfortunately anxiety is the kind of feeling that feeds itself. The more I would check the door, the worse the anxiety gets, the more I have to check the door. The only way I could reduce my anxiety was to check the hyper vigilance and break the habits that were feeding the anxiety. That is still a work in progress. I have many tools that I find work for me.
Deep breathing – diaphragmatic breathing is essentially a simple deep breathing technique that expands the abdomen rather than the chest. I do this every day. In times of intense anxiety (butterflies in my stomach and overwhelming helplessness) I may practice deep breathing several times a day. The thing about deep breathing is it is free, can be done anywhere and is accumulative. The more you deep breathe, the more your anxiety subsides.
Meditation – the first time I tried meditation with the aid of a CD, I was hooked. The relaxed state of my body and mind was intense (in a relaxing way). Although during the first few sittings my mind was still itching to race, I could control it in a way that I would accept the thoughts without succumbing to them.
Writing down fears – sometimes I can get a ‘what if’ or fear in my head and it sits there and stirs for hours, sometimes days. I have found that if I write it down, read it, dissect it, and even ascertain whether the fears are valid (in my head they are always real and very valid) I can usually step back and let rationale take over the fear. I could spend a lot of hours worrying if I allowed myself to.
Therapy – this works wonders for me. To have a professional feed me a rational insight into my own thoughts and fears is very relieving for my heart and soul. I can go into the room shoulders hunched, heavy hearted with a spaced out mess of a head and walk out an hour later somewhat relieved. Although over the years I have reduced the amount of sessions, this is essential for me on a long term basis. I just find my racing mind needs the comfort I find in therapy. I am grateful I was open to it in the start.
Having a special place – I love the beach. On some of my saddest of days I have taken my sorry butt to the beach and plonked myself in the sand. For a few hours I take in the sun, the smell of the sea, the sounds, the peacefulness and the serenity that the sea embodies, and that itself reduces my anxiety and sadness. Placing myself in an environment where just for a moment or two I can truly relax and enjoy it for its natural simplicity works for me. It may not rid me of my anxiety, but it certainly relieves my stirring stomach for that moment. It reminds me I don’t have to always feel that anxiety.
All of these tools have taken a lot of effort on my part, and results are certainly not instant. There are days I have struggled to get out of bed, there are days I have been so consumed with sadness and fear that any day that starts off sunny for me is a good day. But it does take continued effort. No-one but me could get me to where I am today. Sure support and love from others certainly play a huge role in my development, but the hard work has to be done by me. I found that sitting around waiting for the answer was not for me, so I went out and found it. 8 years on I can truthfully say I am closer to inner peace and inner calm than I could ever have imagined. I'm getting there.

{Image source Pinterest}


  1. Anonymous9:20 pm GMT+8

    I'm glad you are finding your inner peace and happiness and I love you for what you have become xx

  2. I wouldn't be anywhere close without your support. Thanks Mum. xox

  3. I don't know how always know it's me when I post a comment as Anonymous...Hope this makes you understand how Mums always know as you are one yourself now. You have been wondering that for a long time xx

  4. Oh I always know it is you. I can hear you talking to me as I read your comments even if you are commenting as Anonymous. :)

    I will still never know how you knew I didn't really brush my teeth... ;)

  5. Some secreats I will never reveal..:)


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