So, this year I’ve been anxious. Super anxious. Since my anxiety attacks started in 2014, I’ve been trying a few things to minimise impact. Anxiety can hit me any time – on the Luas, in work, on a night out – so having a few tricks up my sleeve helps.
1. DEEP BREATHING
Good breathing calms things down. Today, for example, I was on the Luas. Shamefully, I hadn’t eaten well before stepping out and while on the track I felt a little faint. The tram was becoming pretty loud and crowded, and we were only at Drimnagh. FML.
First my eyes went – usually the first sign of impending panic. I couldn’t focus on anything. Then my body felt heavy, but weak. My thoughts were let loose:
I’m going to faint. Oh God. I’ll collapse. What if I smack my head? I’m going to collapse.
I’ll definitely pass out. Why didn’t I eat properly? Oh no, no, no.
OKAY BREATHE, AILEEN.
These unhelpful thoughts are the staple of any anxiety attack, and the best way to tackle them, I’ve found, is by doing some deep breathing. For example, inhale to the count of five and then exhale to the count of seven. Make sure you breathe in all the way to your stomach – let it expand as you breathe in, contract as you breathe out.
2. PRACTISE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness means taking a few minutes a day to practise awareness by noticing the things around you. So much of your head space is consumed by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.
How present are you, honestly?
Some ways to be mindful: commute without headphones and listen to the sounds around you. I do this sometimes, on days when I can bear to be without music. I listen to footsteps, the engine of the bus, the hushed chatter around me. Everything that comes up.
It takes a little while, but this inconsequential noise does become a soothing soundtrack to my day. When I feel anxiety coming on I turn off the music, and try hard to notice my surroundings. Listening out for surprising sounds takes the edge off, I promise.
3. EXERCISE – OR AT THE VERY LEAST, STRETCH
I’m a very busy English language teacher. If I’m not teaching, I’m correcting writing assignments or planning a lesson. While my head is off worrying about how lessons are going and what to do next, my body isn’t given a second thought.
So when I can, at lunch usually, I find an empty classroom to stretch – in order to reconnect with my body. I’ve also taken to doing pilates twice a week, and boxercise once a week (with the best trainer ever!). Even if I ditch these classes – sometimes I just can’t find the motivation to go – I still stretch. It helps.
If you can’t exercise or find time to stretch, get off the bus a few stops early – a tip from my doctor. Do anything to move your body during the day.You won’t regret it.
4. PRACTISE GRATITUDE
When you feel like your head is exploding and your world is ending, it’s easy to forget the good things – so remind yourself. The big things matter, of course, like family, friends and a home to live in. But it’s the small stuff that cultivates appreciation, I find.
On a daily basis, recall three good (and small!) things that make today different from yesterday. For example, today: I had a peaceful bus ride home without my headphones; when my dog saw me he jumped on my lap and started to lick my hand; and my family and I sat down to watch Gogglebox together.
By remembering the small temporary stuff you notice how different each day can be and end up keeping some nice things in your memory bank too.
So there. I hope that, if you do suffer from anxiety, you find or will find these things helpful to you. I also recommend trying CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The best thing I’ve done this year is see a counsellor.
Don’t think twice about it, just go.
Slán go fóill.
BOOKS THAT HELP
Mindfulness for Worries: Overcome Everyday Stress and Anxiety – Padraig O’Morain
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
A Year Of Living Mindfully – Anna Black
A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled – Ruby Wax