Last week I mentioned my collaboration with Hands on working Mum on anxiety. I’ve had a big week with family and work commitments, but better late than never - so here’s my interview with Karla.
I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do this and I hope it brings some comfort to fellow anxiety sufferers because anxiety can be isolating.
The really interesting thing for me is the physical symptoms, which seem to be different for everyone. For me the big ones are nausea, dry mouth, tension in my jaw and a ball in my chest/throat. I also find it hard to focus.
What tends to be your physical symptoms for anxiety?
The physical symptoms were what caused me to seek some help. My palms would sweat. But the worst was the shakiness. My adrenaline would kick in as if I was in serious danger, but I was simply attending a meeting. This probably sounds pretty weird, but my head would shake! It was mortifying. I was in a fairly high profile position, and had this need to portray the image of having my stuff together. After it happened a couple times, my fear of it happening again actually caused it. It was a terrible snowball effect.
What self-care do you practice to manage your anxiety?
I learned a lot from the Midwest Centers for Stress and Anxiety. If you look online, many people say it’s a scam, but it helped me. I had to change the way I thought. I was constantly beating myself up. My self-talk was quite cruel. I’ve learned to love myself and stop ruminating about everything (and I do mean everything). When I begin to feel myself getting anxious, changing my breathing is very effective: Breathe in for 4 counts, hold it for 4 counts, and exhale for 4 counts. I do that several times until I feel myself calm down physically.
I also went to counseling for a while, and the most important thing I learned there is to take my thoughts off of myself. Let’s say, as a manager, I had to give bad news to someone about their employment. My old habit was to be concerned about what the person would think of me. I started to take the focus off of myself, and instead sincerely look at how I could help the person.
Do you find it difficult to talk about your anxiety? Is it something that you share with people?
The only thing I still find a little embarrassing is talking about the head-shaking! But, in general, I talk about I pretty often. It usually comes up because I see someone else suffering from anxious feelings or negative thinking. I share with them what I have learned. It’s generally received positively.
How do you find that people respond when you tell them about your anxiety?
I think everyone feels anxious sometimes. In our current society, the problem has become more of an issue. I tend to think this may be true more for women, as we are expected to fulfill so many roles. I believe people who struggle with more serious anxiety are generally very sensitive. This is a good quality in many ways, but you have to recognize it in yourself and use good judgment about when you may be taking things too personally. I’ve been surprised at how many people have some sort of anxiety, whether it be large crowds, being alone, or even a fear of heights. Because most people can relate, somewhat, they don’t seem to be too judgmental about it.
What tip or advice would you share with other anxiety sufferers?
The root of anxiety is the desire to control everything. In reality, we have control over very little. I’ve said before, the only thing we can really control is our own behavior, and sometimes we aren’t even very good at that.
Through my journey, my faith grew and I learned to turn things over to God. I learned to treat myself with the same compassion I extend to others. Taking care of yourself physically can go a long way in reducing the symptoms, too. You think more clearly and realistically when you have had enough sleep. Reducing alcohol is important; I used alcohol in social situations to reduce my anxiousness, but that can backfire in a number of ways. I’m a big coffee drinker, but when my symptoms were bad, I found that reducing my caffeine helped keep them at bay to a degree.
My first step, that was really life-changing, was to recognize how many negative thoughts I had. Once I started paying attention to them, I was shocked at how negative I was! Replacing those thoughts with positive, but realistic ideas changed my outlook.
My enormous thanks to Karla for her time and for being so open and honest. If any readers also suffer from anxiety I’d love to hear from you.
I share a lot of pages on twitter about mental health, so follow me on twitter if you’d like to follow the pages I’m sharing over there: Busy Bee Twitter