I wrote a blog post back in January called Blind Faith where I touched on the power of how learning to think a certain way can have a truly immediate impact on Anxiety and your mood. At the time of writing it I couldn’t imagine struggling so much again that I would question the truth of my words, but I was wrong. Following a tumultuous year where we faced miscarriage and the stress of trying to conceive our second child, Anxiety truly had me in its grasp again. For a few weeks I couldn’t even look at this blog as it was a stark reminder of firstly, how far I had fallen and secondly, that I would never be “safe” from Anxiety.
Fortunately, the rational part of my mind still had some control and, under some encouragement from my amazing support network of friends, family and fellow advocates, I faced my disappointments and began to utilise some of my own words from the past to feel better in the present. I also tried to tell myself at this time that perhaps slipping back into Anxiety’s clutches again was not a failure but instead a simple response to a stressful time and, vitally, an opportunity to learn and ultimately become stronger. This belief is slowly and steadily growing.
When revisiting my past posts, Blind Faith became particularly important to me. The first time you experience Anxiety, or any other mental health issue, is going to be particularly difficult as you don’t have any guarantees that things will improve. Often this first time is especially serious and treatments like medication or talking therapy are essential. But the “bonus”, if you like, of a relapse is that you already have hard evidence that you have the strength inside you required to get back to a peaceful place again.
Anxiety likes to lie, catastophise and generally batter you down with negative thinking. It’s a bastard, plain and simple. It’s quite bizarre how quickly it can gain power back over you but it’s so important to remember it only comes from you. Therefore you also have the power to control it and diminish it. As I’ve begun to feel better (more quickly and easily than previous blips, thank goodness) I’ve begun to see more and more power in the ability to believe in yourself and your own strengths and capabilities. I believe that learning to control how you think can be just as key to recovery as more traditional treatments (find out more about positivity here).
Anxiety, and the destructive thoughts that accompany it, can make you feel totally out of control. You feel that Anxiety is running the show and you are simply a weak, frightened observer who must ride out whatever Anxiety throws at you. You will begin to have good moments and good days during recovery but at first you will feel like these are random and might feel on edge, waiting for the next “bad” day or moment. The realisation that you can actually control how good or bad you feel is such an important turning point. In my experience, this concept is broken down into three actions:
This is the blind faith I discussed in the earlier post. Although if what you’re struggling with is a relapse then that faith is not even entirely blind; you have so much evidence that you already defeated Anxiety. In terms of practical tips, try looking at journals or photos, or chatting to friends, about how you felt after your initial illness but before this relapse. That is evidence in the court case against the anxious thoughts.
Even without evidence-gathering though, test out how certain thoughts make you feel. What path they send you down. For example, I might think “I’ll never get better, I’m too weak to recover this time. ” This will lead to panic and distress. Instead, forcing myself to think “You’ve defeated this before so you will again” brings with it some immediate relief. You might not 100% believe the thought, or even 25% believe it, but saying it over and over sure beats descending into the awful feelings the opposite thought brings, right? Subsequently, that belief grows stronger, which leads to…
This is something that truly does require time and space to grow. I know, that’s not what anyone wants to hear because we are impatient to feel well but it’s the unfortunate truth. Confidence in your ability to handle whatever thoughts, feelings or physical symptoms Anxiety throws at you will grow with every day that passes or achievement you experience. Scared to be alone at home? Force yourself to do it, no matter how you feel, and when that day is over that’s a huge tick and a big confidence boost. Scared to go somewhere in case you have a panic attack? Go there anyway and give that confidence pot a boost afterwards. I know these things sound terrifying and impossible. I spent most of March this year avoiding everything that made me uncomfortable and it got me nowhere. There is only one thing that builds confidence in our belief that we can manage Anxiety and that’s doing everything, to hell with how we feel and what others may think. You might be surprised by how quickly that confidence can develop when you start using this approach.
This is something new that I’ve added this time around. Along the same vein as positive thinking we can use our imaginations to add an extra layer of positive thinking. When something is coming up and we feel anxious about it we immediately visualise the worst case scenario (which almost never comes true). Instead, try to imagine a positive outcome instead, really picture it – including lots of great details. This is hard, I can’t lie. It feels unnatural at first. But with practice it really helps.
I’m still learning about all of this, I’m starting to accept that I’ll always be learning to a certain extent and slowly accepting that. My recent setback has knocked my confidence a great deal and I’m working on building it back up. It’s a slow, often frustrating process but I’m getting there. Some days feel easy and I feel like I’m full of strength and the anxiety is completely shrunken and insignificant. Other days it creeps and builds, slowly and sneakily, until it feels big and important again and my faith is shaken. For example, I had a big wobble between the time I drafted these words and when I posted them! But the wobbly days are lessening and the stronger days are getting more frequent. And I know the way to keep this momentum is to have faith, belief and confidence.