Foreword: My first draft of this post was a jumbled mess of incoherent thoughts. It was quite enlightening to read back as it was a true reflection of how my mind reacts when I’m anxious. It is so hard to organise your thoughts into an intelligible, clear and ordered format when you are anxious – it’s like trying to control a group of small children at a party when they are all running around in different directions.
Living with anxiety
For some reason my anxiety has been really high the past couple of days. I have completely lost my confidence and I’m doubting everything I say and do. Now, this isn’t something new, I have lived with anxiety all my life and should be used to it by now, but it still frustrates me. Rather than let these feelings consume me I decided to write about them in an attempt to understand what has happened to trigger these feelings. I have an analytical mind so I want to try and figure out why I’m so anxious at the moment; what has caused this?, what are my triggers? By finding this out I may be able to avoid my triggers and keep my anxiety at a more manageable level in the future. Maybe you will be able to relate to these triggers too.
When my health deteriorates, and this applies to my physical health too, I become obsessed with finding out the reason why. It’s important for me to attribute the deterioration to an act so I can avoid it in the future, it’s my way of explaining or rationalising something which is often irrational. With an unpredictable chronic illness like ME/CFS, where symptoms regularly fluctuate for no reason, this approach can be counterproductive and lead to frustration. But my brain does not shut up, my thoughts spiral trying to make sense of the decline in my health. This is how my brain is wired so I have learnt to accept it.
Of course, we all know how unpredictable anxiety can be. It may be that I just have to accept that some things I can’t control and instead of trying to figure out why, I may just need to find ways to be kind to myself when I’m this anxious. But is it possible to rationalise the irrational?
How anxiety makes me feel and react
Firstly, is important to establish how anxiety makes me feel and react.
When my anxiety levels are high I doubt myself – I doubt everything I do and say. Anxiety steals my confidence, even my ability to carry out familiar tasks which are like second nature. I often find myself irritable, short tempered, angry and confused. I become really needy and I need constant reassurance. My mind becomes so overactive, racing from one negative thought to another – it doesn’t stop. One question triggers ten more; it’s like having a 2 year old child in my head constantly asking “But why?”
I feel like I’m upsetting and annoying everyone; maybe I am?. Did I say the right thing? Did my comment upset someone? Do I sound bossy? Was I too abrupt? I overcompensate by being overly nice and I apologise… a lot! I’m jittery – constantly on edge. My body vibrates with the adrenaline coursing through me. I struggle to sleep, and the few minutes of shut eye I manage to get, are filled with anxious, scary nightmares.
I always find myself in a reflective mood when I’m anxious or depressed. It’s at this time that I want to write about my feelings and thoughts, but it’s also when I am most exhausted and I don’t have the energy to write. This causes a lot of frustration as I want to rest but my mind will not let me.
What has been different recently?
After giving myself time to think about possible triggers and to establish what has been different recently, I have realised how busy I have been. I sometimes forget how physically ill I am (or maybe sometimes I just stubbornly refuse to accept my limitations). My physical health has been deteriorating and this makes it harder for me to cope with the challenges my mental health places on me.
Also, writing a blog leaves you open to criticism and most of the time I deal with this in a confident manner, I accept you can’t please everyone and not everyone will agree with my thoughts and opinions. But when my anxiety levels are high I start to doubt myself and begin to belief what people are saying. But it’s ok for people to disagree, as long as that disagreement doesn’t turn into a personal attack. Yes, I have let a couple of trolls knock my confidence when I would normally just ignore them – I need to learn how to choose my battles, some people are not worth the energy.
I love being busy, I love interacting with people, I love the excitement of new projects, I love learning and educating myself, I thrive on progress. I have so many ideas and so much I want to do. But the truth is, I am not physically well enough to take on so much. I need to prioritise, and work within my limitations. I need to be more disciplined.
My anxiety triggers:
The cause of my most recent increased anxiety and panic attacks are common triggers that I’m very familiar with:
1. Stress – Stress had always been my biggest trigger. My recent heart problems and hospital visit, along with the prolonged hot and humid weather have contributed to a rise in my stress levels. Also, my carer was on holiday for 2 weeks.
2. Overexertion. I’ve been trying to do too much, this causes my brain to become overactive and my body to weaken. My hospital stay with regards to my heart problem and increased work on my blog are “extra” activities my body and mind aren’t used to.
3. Exhaustion. I’ve been overdoing it on my blog, doing a lot of awareness campaigning but also my hospital visit and my regular carer being on holiday have added to my exhaustion. Exhaustion causes palpitations which mimic panic attacks.
4. Change in my routine. My normal, regular carer was on holiday for 2 weeks so I had new carers everyday. This was exhausting, stressful and unpredictable. When my familiar, well practised routine is disrupted, I panic. Change brings with it new challenges which my foggy brain finds exhausting.
5. Lack of sleep. I haven’t been sleeping very well due to the prolonged hot and humid weather.
6. Hormones. My hormones have always affected my mood. This has been further exacerbated by excessive bleeding due to blood thinners I’m now taking.
7. Confrontation. I don’t deal with confrontation very well, and there has been quite a lot of it recently, with trolls online and disagreements with my care agency. Confrontation adds to my stress levels, it’s exhausting for me and I find myself replaying the incident multiple times, often lasting hours.
Some of these triggers I have no control over and so I will just have to learn to accept them, and adapt where possible. And,of course, some of my anxiety doesn’t have a “trigger” – it’s irrational and appears from nowhere. But some triggers I can influence by making positive changes in my life, which I plan to do.
So, what steps can I take to improve my health?
The truth is, I have just been doing too much. Rather than pacing myself and listening to the signs my body and mind have been sending me, I have ploughed on. I have lots going on at the moment but it’s mostly positive stuff and I always find it hard to pace myself when I am excited about new projects. My mental health is intertwined with my physical health – one directly affects the other, so the more exhausted and in pain I am, the more anxious I am.
The most constructive thing I can do right now, is to back off for a while – let myself rest, if my overactive mind will allow me too. Being tired makes it harder for me to cope with my anxiety when it does appear, I struggle to think clearly so my anxiety spirals out of control.
2. Find time to do things I enjoy
I’m going to try to incorporate some fun into my life, it’s a great way to reduce stress. It’s been a bit “full on” with my blog, writing, helping others in support groups – I need to concentrate more on myself.
3. Practice mindfulness meditation
I have let my mindfulness meditation slide a bit, so I’m going to schedule time each day for that, it really does calm me so it’s important. Mindfulness also helps me find constructive ways to cope with stress and it helps me gain some much needed perspective on problematic situations. A valuable lesson I have learnt through mindfulness is that, you don’t have to obsess over or react to every negative thought you have, you can just let thoughts come and go.
4. Be selective with my battles
I am also going to be more selective with the battles I choose to fight. Some battles are just not worth my energy and time.
5. Accept some things are out of my control
Life is unpredictable and so is my physical health and my anxiety. By trying to control what is out of my control I’m only adding to my frustration and stress.
6. Monitor my heart rate
I recently bought a fitness tracker to monitor my heart rate and sleep patterns. What I’ve discovered is that my anxiety increases when my heart rate increases, even if anxiety wasn’t the initial cause of the rapid heart rate. Palpitations caused by physical exhaustion actually trigger my anxiety and pain attacks. I’ve also discovered that even basic activities like brushing my teeth cause a dramatic increase in my heart rate (from 60 bpm to 140 bpm) So now when I feel anxious, the first thing I do is check my heart rate. If it’s high, I work to reduce it through concentrating on my breathing, meditation or by resting. This simple piece of knowledge has really helped me understand the relationship between my physical health and my anxiety, and has helped me manage both more effectively.
Anxiety can be unpredictable and irrational but we can take positive steps to improve our health, which in turn will help us cope with anxiety when it rears its ugly head. If you too are experiencing heightened anxiety, please try to take some time out from your busy life to concentrate on your wellbeing. For years I tried to avoid my anxiety by keeping busy. I was active 24/7 trying to distract myself from the negative voices in my head – to some extent I still do this now. This approach only leads to physical exhaustion and increased anxiety in the long run. I know the phrase “Be kind to yourself” is overused, but it really is important. Show yourself some compassion and forgive yourself for your misgivings and perceived failures. Find time to do what you enjoy and take time to rest and recharge. Take care x.
Do any of my anxiety triggers sound familiar? What are your triggers? What coping strategies do you have?
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