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Looking for a guide to anxiety?
Here I will be discussing my experience with anxiety, how it has affected me, how I have coped with it and in most cases, overcame it. I am in no way an expert or a medical professional in this field but I feel it's helpful to share our experiences of anxiety, to help sufferers and educate non-sufferers.
We all experience anxiety at some stage of our lives. Anxiety is a useful response in order to avoid danger and it can vary from feeling slightly uneasy, to having a full blown panic attack. Anxiety becomes a problem however when it turns into an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are more severe, longer lasting and they interfere with a person's life, relationships and work.
Anxiety causes physical, mental and behavioural effects some of which are:
There are a lot of different anxiety disorders but the most common ones are:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Involves feeling anxious most of the time about anything and everything, such as family, work, health, money, the future... even though there are no actual signs of trouble
Someone with a panic disorder suffers from panic attacks and has a fear of a panic attack occurring.
A panic attack involves severe apprehension, fear or terror. They can begin suddenly or develop rapidly over a period of time. When experiencing a panic attack the person can feel like they're dying and that the symptoms are not going to end, they can be very frightening.
A person with a phobia avoids activities because they have a specific fear. This fear is usually unreasonable and excessive. Some examples of phobias include crowded places, travelling, speaking in public, fear of vomiting and a fear of specific events. The fear will usually bring on a panic attack.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
This can develop after a distressing or major event. Some examples of events that can cause PTSD may include sexual or emotional abuse, war, severe weather events, robberies and terrorist attacks. Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are very common with PTSD and attacks can last for a very long time.
OCD (Obsessive-Complusive Disorder)
A person with OCD can experience obsessive/intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviour and strong anxiety. Obsessive thoughts are recurrent thoughts, impulses or images that are unwanted and cause severe anxiety for the sufferer. Some examples of OCD are repeatedly cleaning for fear of something bad happening if you don't, obsessive negative thoughts about a loved one that you don't want to have and even unrealistically questioning your relationship and the person you are with.
My first memory of experiencing an anxiety attack was on my first day at school, before I even went into the school! I have no idea why, I guess it was either because it was a new experience that I was nervous about, or it was because I felt sick. I suffer with Emetophobia(fear of vomit) which causes me severe anxiety whenever I feel sick.
I can remember feeling panic when I was waiting to go into school and then I just threw up everywhere... Nice!
After this horrible experience I ended up feeling the same way every Sunday night and after half terms, knowing that I had school the next day. I can only assume that the one bad experience made me repeat the same thought pattern every time I was in that situation again, either that or I really hated school, haha! I can't actually remember when I grew out of this but it was quite late into my teens until I was 'okay-ish' with going to school, partly because of the bullying I experienced too.
Emetophobia is a severe phobia of vomit and this is what I have. As soon as I feel sick, see sick, smell sick, or even hear the word 'sick' I will start to physically feel sick, this then triggers my anxiety because I'm so terrified of being sick.
This phobia may not sound very extreme to most people but it really is! I overcook food to avoid food poisoning so that I'm not sick, I avoid ill people and germs to avoid catching sickness bugs or illness myself, I dread being pregnant because of morning sickness, I get anxious before I travel anywhere by any means incase it makes me travel sick and I avoid getting drunk as much as possible because I'm scared I'll be sick.
It really can be a pain in the arse! Thankfully I don't allow myself to give in to the phobia and I force to myself to do these things when I need to so that it doesn't control me. Although forcing myself to do these things causes me severe anxiety, which makes me feel sick, which then makes me sick, which then causes anxiety. it's a vicious cycle!
My anxiety became much much worse when I was in a toxic relationship. The person was very controlling and used to play on my anxiety, they would deliberately do the things that made me anxious and didn't comfort or support me in anyway. Being with this person made my anxiety sky high and made future relationships very difficult because I always expected the new person to react in the same way as he did.
I have since found myself in a very supportive relationship, my partner doesn't judge me or make me feel like an idiot if I get anxious. He doesn't tell me what to do, or tut, or get annoyed with me, instead he comforts me and calms me down and gives me abit of space if I need it. I hope this reassures you that there are understanding and supportive partners out there and that you shouldn't be made to feel bad about yourself simply because you have an anxiety disorder.
I don't get anxious at all running my businesses, not at this stage anyway. However, I have got severely anxious in past jobs, particularly in office jobs! I found a lot of these jobs involved targets, ridiculously demanding workloads and very bitchy people. A lot of workplaces now are more aware of mental health and anxiety but in the past I always felt like a stigma was placed against me if I ever told a manager or colleague at work that I suffered with anxiety, this led to me keeping it to myself.
Anxiety would make me wake up in the mornings feeling sick, I wouldn't eat much and I wouldn't be able to concentrate at work. I can remember one occasion when I had an absolute dragon for a manager and I was in the toilets with my hands physically shaking! My hobbies were always my escape from these horrible experiences and I'm very thankful that these have now turned into businesses.
Now that I'm older I'm much better at speaking up for myself and seeing things for what they really are. It really is just a job and if you found out you were dying tomorrow, would you really care about it? If you find that your job is making you anxious and/or unreasonably stressed then write down the things you are really passionate about, the things that make your heart flutter and get you excited. These are the things you should be pursuing because when you're doing something you absolutely love you will rarely find that you're this severely stressed and anxious. Take some time to really think about what you want to do in life.
In recent years I noticed that I was becoming anxious for no real reason. I would wake up and feel physically sick and panicky, I would be anxious during work, I would feel anxious when going to bed and I could barely sleep through the night.
I was put on different medication, none of which really helped and I was sent for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but I found that this didn't help me either. I was at a real loss and felt like I was going to be permanently anxious for the rest of my life!
It wasn't until I started seeing a herbalist about my Vitiligo and came off the contraceptive pill 'Yasmin' that I realised just how much the pill had affected my anxiety. When I first came off the pill my anxiety worsened for around 4 months, but then it gradually started to die down. My herbalist was also helping to control my hormone levels and get them back into balance, so this contributed greatly to my anxiety disappearing.
I am very pleased to say that I no longer experience anxiety everyday. I now only feel anxious if my Emetophobia kicks in badly or if I am unsure about a future event, but I can bring myself back to the present fairly quickly and it usually doesn't last very long.
When you're experiencing an anxiety attack it is horrible, it feels like you're going to die, you can't breathe, you have racing thoughts, your heart is pounding and it feels like it's never going to end.
The way I control my panic attacks is to sit in the bathroom and open the window really wide or to go outside in the fresh air. I breathe in deeply and slowly from my stomach and then breathe out through my nose, whenever my mind starts to race or wander off I bring it back to focusing on my breathing. After about 10 minutes the symptoms usually subside but If I'm really bad I will call someone close to me to help calm me down.
I have found that eating healthily, exercising regularly, maintaining a social life and practising mindfulness have helped me in preventing anxiety attacks.
I avoid processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol as much as possible, dairy and wheat (all of this affects my hormones which then affects my anxiety.) I also drink lots of water and herbal teas and avoid sugary drinks.
The exercise I do weekly involves swimming, HIIT and dancing. Swimming is very relaxing and a great way to de-stress and HIIT and dancing gets me pumped and I come out feeling positive and great about myself!
I practise mindfulness by listening to meditation apps on my iPhone such as 'Headspace' and 'Louise Hay's Positive Affirmations.' I also listen to positive affirmations and watch motivational speakers on YouTube such as Joyce Meyer and Tony Robbins. If I can't sleep then I will listen to some of the Spotify 'sleep music' playlists and fall asleep to them.
I generally find that breathing correctly is a great help. As babies we breathe in deeply from our stomach and out through our nose, but as we grow older we somehow unlearn this and we start shallow breathing from our chest. Breathing in deeply and slowly from our stomach and out through our noses helps us to calm down and relax, this works really well when you suffer with anxiety.
Being in a relationship with someone who suffers from anxiety can be challenging, not just because you may not understand it but also because you don't know how to help or stop it.
The best advice I can give is to read up on anxiety as much as possible, familiarise yourself with the type of anxiety your partner is suffering with. Attend GP and medical appointments with them to support them, even if it is just to hold their hand, this will mean a lot to them. Ask your partner if they like space when they're anxious, or if they want to be comforted, this will help you know what to do whenever they have an attack.
Please do not judge them, tut at them, laugh at them or roll your eyes at them when they are feeling anxious or having an attack. Anxiety makes you feel alone, trapped, embarrassed and sometimes silly so having a partner who responds in this way will make them feel 100 times worse and may lead to them trying to hide it from you. Put yourself in their position, how would you feel if it was you experiencing this and your partner was reacting in this way?
Be supportive, be loving and help your partner to get the help and support they need.
A national charity run by people who have lived with anxiety. Support includes talking therapies and self-help groups
Phone: 08444 775 774 (Open Mon-Fri, 9:30am - 5:30pm)
Text: 07537 416 905
A charity helping people who experience any form of anxiety. They specialise in self-help via their helping and also have a website for further resources.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (Open 7 days a week, 10am - 10pm)
A national charity focusing on obsessive compulsive disorders. They provide support and information to people affected by OCD and run self help groups and online support groups.
Phone: 0845 390 6232
Triumph Over Phobia
A UK charity focused on helping sufferers of phobias.
Phone: 01225 571 740
Big White Wall
This is a great online support group where anxiety sufferers can help each anonymously.
I hope that you have found this page to be a great help, whether you are an anxiety sufferer yourself or somebody close to you is suffering with anxiety. I know how horrible anxiety is and I know just how extreme it can be, so if there is anything I can do personally to help you, just let me know.