Along with my diagnosis my doctor also gave me a referral to a psychologist. If you are in need of a psychologist and are based near Sydney city I can not recommend Dr Claudia Cobon enough. She is fantastic: calming, professional, and really seems to genuinely care. I cannot explain exactly how much she has changed my life lately. (And yes I’m sending this to her to read so, Hi Claudia!!)
Since I recently had my last session with Claudia (Medicare only rebates for 10 sessions per calendar year) it’s time I shared my plan for how I’m going to manage my anxiety going forward, thanks to the help that Claudia gave me.
My Anxiety Management Tools
Breathe Baby, Breathe!
It sounds so simple but sometimes the biggest thing I have to remember to do is breathe. When I’m starting to get worked up, feeling my anxiety rising, I simply close my eyes and concentrate on my breath. A few deep breathes are amazingly calming and can sometimes be all I need to re-centre myself and calm myself down.
Clear your mind, man!
Meditation has made the biggest difference for me. I first started meditating when I started attending the Sydney Buddhist Centre for my Buddhism course. I noticed how calmer I felt, even with the meditation was a “failure” – I wasn’t able to concentrate or I fell asleep! Simply sitting and focusing on only one thing allows me to calm down and become more aware of what I am thinking and feeling.
I’ve tried a few different meditation iPhone apps but the best I’ve found is Buddhify 2. I was a big fan of the original Buddhify app and the new app is excellent. It includes short meditations for everyday situations – ones I’ve used include Can’t Sleep, Going to Sleep, Exercising, In Nature, Feeling Stressed and Working Online. So not only is it about meditation it is also about being more mindful.
I will also be completing the Mindful in May Challenge, a 1 month meditation challenge that raises money for Charity Water. I would appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me or even joining the challenge yourself.
I’ve got my mind on my (thoughts) and my (thoughts) on my mind!
Being mindful of my thoughts and my moods goes a long way to managing my anxiety. As I quoted in the image above – “The mind is everything… what we think we become.” This was one quote from the Buddha that stood out to me the first time I read it. One of those things that we “know” just have never really realised.
Everything that we are comes from what we think. The way we act and react stems from our thoughts. It’s so simple when you read it like that but it’s such a major theory to be conscious of and act on.
By being mindful of my thoughts I can catch the “bad” ones quickly and just let them pass, instead of getting caught up in them. One of my biggest issues has been “catatrasophising” – my mind tends to jump to the worst possible conclusion first. It’s hard enough worrying that my husband isn’t home from work – having my first thought being that he got hit by a car on the way home just compounds the issue.
By being able to catch that first thought and dismiss it as, frankly, ridiculous I am able to then stop the spiral of thoughts that would otherwise happen. If I don’t catch that thought I will begin to think about how he might have been hit by the car, who would call the ambulance, would they know to call me, I would have to get the girls out of bed, where would I park at the hospital, what happens if he dies, what if he’s on life support, could I make the decision to turn it off if necessary, how would I survive after…
As you can imagine, that’s not healthy or helpful for anyone! It is so important that I catch that first thought and don’t let it continue. This is harder when my anxiety is already heightened or I’m having a bad day, and I am simply unable to catch that thought quickly. Sometimes even when I catch it I find it too difficult to dismiss it and move on. It can almost be comforting to let myself descend into that spiral – have you ever noticed that when you are in a bad mood it is easier to go further into that mood instead of pulling yourself out of it? But I know that I must or else my mood just deteriorates further and faster.
Even simply keeping track of my thoughts can make a difference. By writing my thoughts down over the day I can see the common themes running throughout – too much negative self-talk, too much catatrasophising, too much focusing on the past, the future or my failures.
“SHOULD” is a banned word!
One thing that became obvious in my sessions with Claudia is that the word “SHOULD” is a very loaded word for me. So many of my thoughts include the word and it helps me to place a lot of expectations on myself:
“I SHOULD be able to do this…”
“I SHOULD be doing that…”
“I SHOULD not be feeling like this…”
“I SHOULD have done this today…”
By using the word should so much I am basically lying to myself. I am telling myself of a reality that doesn’t exist. Who says I SHOULD be doing anything? Why should I compare myself to anyone else? And as Claudia kept saying to me, really what is the worst that will happen if I don’t complete those shoulds?
So what do I do about these should statements? Well, be aware of them firstly. When I am aware that I thinking with the shoulds I am able to realistically look at my thoughts and analyse them. Is this a realistic thought? Is this something that I should really be doing or able to accomplish? Am I placing too many expectations on myself?
Another thing I do is to change the word. Instead of thinking SHOULD I can start thinking WISH:
“I WISH I was able to do this…”
“I WISH I was doing that…”
“I WISH I was not feeling like this…”
“I WISH I had done this today…”
I find the word to be both much more minimising as well as encouraging. By wishing that I accomplished things that I hadn’t I am able to minimise the negative thoughts surrounding it – “Oh well, I wish I had done that but I didn’t”. By wishing I was able to do something I am encouraged to keep trying.
It’s funny how one little word can have such an impact on my thoughts, my feelings, my anxiety.
Read ALL the books!
It seems like a funny thing to add in here doesn’t it? But reading books is one of the only times I get to relax and really distant myself from life and it’s worries. However, the only time I get to read is when we go to bed. That’s often after midnight and so I’m reading until the early hours of the morning. If I’m reading a book that’s engrossing and I simply cannot put down, I can sometimes be reading until 5am. Which of course leaves me tired for the next day, and less likely to be able to catch and counteract the bad thoughts.
I’ve always loved reading and it has been a big part of my life. If I go an extended period without reading a novel I begin to feel a bit… not normal. I love finding new books to read and constantly have a list or a pile of books still to read. It’s my pleasure, my hobby, sometimes my little saving light in the day.
But sometimes I’m just too tired by the time we go to bed. Or I’m feeling too down or too anxious and don’t want to pick up the book. Or I’m reading a book that hasn’t quite grabbed me, making me excited to pick it back up. Or I’m reading a book that’s “hard” to read – whether it’s the subject matter or the writing style. At times like this I can go for a week or two without picking up a book and I often find that that can coincide with a week of extra anxiety or feeling down. I’m not sure how much it is a cause or a by-product but I’ve found that when I regularly read, especially books that I enjoy and stimulate me, I feel much better overall.
Find that trigger and pull it!
Certain situations or feelings can be a trigger for my anxiety. The biggest ones are:
❤ not enough sleep
❤ already anxious situations like running late
❤ a culmination of “bad” or disappointing events
❤ housework piling up
❤ busy days/weeks where I feel everything has to be planned out
It’s really important that I’m aware of these triggers and can go into these situations already aware that they make me anxious. I can then plan ways to work through it or manage the anxiety afterwards. For example on days when we have many errands to run, or stressful events, I know to plan simple, easy meals for those evenings.
By being aware of it and going into the situations already calmer I find that the anxiety is often weaker and takes less of a hold over me.
Keep on running and don’t look back!
I’ve recently started running regularly(ish). Anyone that knows me will know that I’ve always hated exercise, especially running. But I was inspired by a few bloggers and it felt like something I could do.
So I started the Couch to 5k program again. Yes again – I started it after Lily was born but only got a few weeks in to the program, over a few months.
At first I was only going out for a run on days when Mr Monkey was home, when he was able to look after the girls. This was mostly in the evenings as I’m not a morning person so didn’t think I would be able to get up and go before he went to work.
But then I decided that I simply wasn’t going to be able to get out enough unless I went in the morning. So I started getting up at 7am and running so I would be back in time to have a shower before Mr Monkey got up to get ready for work. Chloe normally sleeps until at least then and if Lily wakes she is able to get herself something to eat and turn the TV on until I get back.
It’s been a bit of a struggle, I wasn’t able to go for over a week when both girls had croup and there has been times when I’ve used excuses for not getting out of bed when I really should. Plus, for the past 2 days I’ve either slept through my alarm or gone back to sleep after turning it off.
But I’m up to week 4 of the program and have set myself the goal of running the Cook River Run on June 22nd. I may not be able to run the entire 5km by that stage but I will run as much as I am able.
This has been a huge accomplishment for me and every time I come back from a run I’m still astounded that I did it. It’s given me something to work towards, it’s making me feel awesome and I just know it’s good for my mental health.
But it does annoy me that all those people that said exercise is really good for you were right. Pfft.
Eat ALL the chocolate!!!
Yes, I know. This probably shouldn’t be in here but it is a big part of managing my anxiety. I’ve mentioned before that I’m often aware that my anxiety is worse because I start eating much more chocolate.
But I’m still eating chocolate. I’ve made sure that I limit when and how I eat it – the block sits on my bedside table and I eat a row (or two) while I’m reading. I’ve also started making sure that I don’t go out of my way to buy a new block if I run out before the next grocery shop (however anxious I might feel if I don’t have any chocolate on hand).
It may not be the best solution but sometimes it’s the little things that can make you happy. For me it’s reading a good book and eating good chocolate.
Perhaps the biggest thing that I need to work on is lowering my expectations.
I do have a lot on my plate – 2 young girls who need a LOT of attention, my marriage, a husband who works very long hours and is probably out of the home more than he is in it, a blog, study, plus an entire house full of housework and decluttering.
I’m sure others have more on their plate but for me, that’s more than enough. It’s important that I remind myself that sometimes and lower my expectations about how much I can do.
As much as I want to I know I will never have a magazine ready house, a perfect blog with constant, engaging posts, a Certificate completed in months and well-behaved children. It’s just not going to happen.
During my sessions with Claudia we worked out what my core values are for different areas of my life. I need to keep coming back to these values and analysing where I’m at. All I need to be aiming for is to meet those core values. Sure, if I could be closer to my “perfect” self then that would be great, but I know how unlikely that is. By keeping my expectations reasonable I will be happier with where I am.
Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be advice for others. Of course, if it helps you then great! But everything doesn’t always work for everyone. This is what works for me. If you feel you have an anxiety or mental health problem I implore you to seek help. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.