Our impact Case studies Clare's blog Struggles with my mental health. "I have always struggled with anxiety. My earliest memories were of me being extremely quiet, shy and nervous around other children. I always knew from an early age that I was an anxious person and lacked confidence in the world. Various childhood and life experiences made my anxiety worse and I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder at 28. I always felt judged by other people and worried constantly what people thought of me. This made me become more and more withdrawn and I became fearful of everyone and everything. My biggest anxiety is around uncertainty and the future, health anxiety and social situations. I’m a perfectionist so can’t stand feeling as if I will be judged by others or rejected in some way. My main limiting beliefs of myself are fear of abandonment and rejection, social exclusion and isolation, defectiveness and failure. Living with anxiety has been very hard at times in my life and I went through a bad time about 12 years ago where I couldn’t cope and had a breakdown. I never reached out to anyone for help and kept bottling everything up for years. My fear of admitting failure by admitting something was wrong was the thing that broke me. From then on my journey to becoming more self-aware about my anxiety and where it came from began. The last 12-13 years have been a rollercoaster. I finally recovered from my nervous breakdown but sadly a few years later I lost my husband very tragically to cancer in 2013 when I was just 33. I truly believe if I hadn’t gone through what I did in 2008/2009 I wouldn’t have dealt with my loss the way I did. I then started various counselling including bereavement therapy, CBT and Psychotherapy to help me deal with things I have been through in my life. This was the start of my journey to working through my anxiety and trying to make peace with everything I’ve been through. It’s an ongoing process but every journey starts with a first step. How anxiety affects me physically and emotionally I’ve always been an anxious person, but over the years I’ve come to realise that it is more than just being ‘a worrier’. Having an anxiety disorder is more than just worrying about little things. Being told to ‘stop worrying’ on numerous occasions has been the most unhelpful piece of advice I’ve been given! I will share how having anxiety has affected me. As I mentioned before, my anxiety is Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Health Anxiety and Social Anxiety also known as ‘Anxiety Disorder Spectrum’. For me, this presents itself in different ways. GAD People who struggle with anxiety worry constantly about the future, the unknown and uncertainty and not being able to control situations. Part of my anxiety is also feeling insecure and struggling with low self esteem. This has been particularly noticeable for me over the years. The feeling of continuously not knowing what is going to happen fills me with dread. Daily self doubt also holds me back a lot in life. To try and compensate I have always tried to be in control of everything until it gets too overwhelming. Then the physical symptoms set in; palpitations, muscle tension, being on edge, and at the worst, panic attacks. When I’m feeling particularly nervous my heart races and I get digestive problems. Sadly IBS for me is another symptom of anxiety. These symptoms can be quite frightening at times, which then sets off my health anxiety and thinking there’s something wrong with me. My logical brain in times like these tells me it is just symptoms of anxiety, but my illogical brain is convinced I’ve got some terrible disease. Health Anxiety For me, Health Anxiety is something that has developed over the years, but it may well have started in childhood. I remember a couple of occasions when I was a child where I was scared when I got ill, or I would hide away in my room ashamed of having something wrong with me. I guess it is part of my perfectionism where I felt I couldn’t be ill or I had to be in perfect health all the time. My Health Anxiety got much worse after the sudden death of my husband to cancer in 2013 when he was just 37 and I was 33. For quite a few months after my loss, I had convinced myself I was going to die from cancer too or some other awful disease. The worst part about his death was that it was completely unexpected and we didn’t know the cancer was there until the day before he died. This severely heightened my anxiety to the point where I was experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. The mind can be very powerful at times. I had convinced myself that every single ache and pain I was getting was Cancer or I was going to have a heart attack. It was very frightening and felt very real. My husband had cancer and didn’t know, so in my mind who was to say I wouldn’t get it too. What made it worse was that he didn’t have many symptoms. I started googling every single symptom imaginable which made my anxiety ten times worse. Dr Google as I called it. This, I realised, only makes matters worse. I have my Health Anxiety more under control now, but every so often it comes back again, particularly around anything to do with health assessments, blood test results, vaccinations or when I get any strange symptoms that I start to worry about. I have realised over the years though that the majority of the time it is anxiety that causes these symptoms. Being more aware and in tune with your body and how you are feeling at a particular moment really helps with this as you can notice any patterns that keep occurring. Social Anxiety and Shyness My earliest memory of being shy around other people was from childhood. I remember my parents saying to me once that I used to scream when another child came near me. From then on I was always fearful and extremely shy around other people when I was growing up and was always the quiet member of the class at school. I never put my hand up in class to answer questions for fear of getting it wrong or making an idiot of myself. I had this overwhelming fear of being judged in some way and laughed at by others. This continued into my teenage years. As a teenager I never did the usual things a teenager would do such as going out to parties, meeting boys etc. I was just too shy. I just felt that it would be easier to keep myself to myself as I didn’t want to be seen or speak up. I felt extremely self conscious when I talked in front of other people, particularly groups. I felt everyone was looking at me in a disapproving way. Even now as an adult I still struggle with the same difficulties around socialising and being in groups. One to one I am fine. I find it difficult to make friends because of my social anxiety and this in turn makes me feel very lonely and isolated from other people. I want to make friends with people, I just find it very difficult to hold conversations with groups of people. I just feel I don’t have anything interesting to say and other people would be bored with anything I had to say so I keep quiet. The fear of being judged or rejected is a difficult part of my social anxiety. When I do have to speak in front of people, I can feel myself getting hot, I blush and can feel my heart pounding when it is my turn to speak. It can be very limiting and debilitating at times and does hold me back a lot. With my shyness I am very quiet and introverted and struggle with low self esteem, a quality that I feel is a weakness to other people. I have been to some social anxiety support groups alongside my therapy sessions which have been helpful and make me more aware of why I struggle like I do and changing my beliefs around how I feel in groups. The support groups are a very good way of practicing opening up in groups with like minded people. For anyone struggling with Social Anxiety I would really recommend finding like minded groups and support groups to connect with. How I manage my Anxiety on a day to day basis and coping strategies Anxiety for me is something I have had for most of my life. Different people deal with it in different ways, but I have learnt various coping techniques and strategies to help me over the years. I think anxiety is something that will always be a part of my personality and I can’t change that, but I am learning to manage it so that it doesn’t define me and take over my life. When my anxiety was really bad back in 2008/2009 when I suffered an emotional breakdown, unfortunately I spent a few weeks as an inpatient at a local private hospital where I received excellent intensive therapy treatment one to one and in groups alongside medication. This was a turning point in my life which I still believe to this day has helped me become a stronger person mentally and emotionally. I had bottled everything up for so many years as I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone that I finally realised I needed to reach out and ask for help as I couldn’t cope anymore. This is my first piece of advice. Talk, talk and talk. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. This has been a big part of my anxiety recovery. Talking to other people certainly helps relieve a lot of the worries that go round in the mind of people who struggle with anxiety. Talking therapies such as CBT and Psychotherapy have been proven to be extremely effective for Anxiety and Depression. Sadly there is a stigma attached to being in Counselling, but personally I would rather talk about it than end up back where I was several years ago. As for medication, I personally am not in favour of taking it now. I am not saying that it doesn’t work for people, and they are a lifeline for a lot of people. Everyone is different and responds to different treatments in different ways. I think I am not very keen on taking medication as I had a particularly bad experience of a certain type of medication back in 2013 before I lost my husband when I was misdiagnosed with depression, when I was in fact just suffering with a bit of insomnia. I much prefer to manage my anxiety in other ways if I can, but as a last resort I would consider it if I really couldn’t cope. I think talking therapies alongside medication are extremely effective for a lot of people. Aside from talking about my anxiety, another strategy that has worked tremendously for me is running. After the sudden death of my husband in 2013, I turned to running as an outlet for my grief and trauma. It gave me a sense of purpose and I set myself a challenge of running 37 races in his memory - he was just 37 when he died so this seemed an amazing tribute for me to do this and it was my way of dealing with it. Anxiety builds up a lot of adrenaline and tension in the body, so getting outside and moving really works wonders to release some of the anxiety I feel inside. I must admit, I don’t always feel like running and get very self conscious, so getting the motivation to put my trainers on and run is hard at times. When I feel like this, I do the next best thing - go and walk out in nature. Nature is this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week. It is my calm place and gives me time to think and relax a bit. My favourite place to walk is in the woods , near the sea or on Ashdown Forest near where I live. 30 minutes a day is all you need, it doesn’t have to be a long hike. Getting some fresh air really helps calm my mind and body. Another technique I use is creative writing. I have discovered this more in the last year or so. For people with Anxiety that struggle to express their emotions, writing is a great technique to help manage worries and help process emotions. It has been proven extremely effective as a tool to help with Anxiety, Depression and other mental health issues and trauma. Journalling, writing poetry, short creative writing pieces and starting a memoir of my experiences has certainly helped me express how my anxiety and trauma has affected me. Listening to music, relaxation techniques and self care - when my physical symptoms of anxiety are bad such as a racing heart and feeling on edge, I switch on my headphones and go and have some self care time by listening to my favourite pieces of music. Breathing exercises have been particularly effective in helping to calm my anxious mind. Self care is something I want to develop more in the future. It can be as simple as a relaxing bath, reading a good book or magazine, watching your favourite TV show, relaxation exercises such as yoga, writing, or picking up the phone and calling a friend. Lastly, connecting with yourself and other people for me has been key in helping me manage my anxiety. Through my therapy sessions and volunteering for the Hub I have developed more self awareness which is the first step on the road to recovery. I truly believe if I hadn’t experienced anxiety and depression with my breakdown all those years ago, I wouldn’t have coped with my loss in 2013, which in turn helped me become a stronger person today by re evaluating my life and what is most important to you. I may well be an anxious person by nature, but wasn’t doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as the saying goes.