This is my first new post in a long time. Those of you who follow The Butterfly Mother Facebook page will be up to speed but I’ve desperately neglected the actual blog for a while now; life just got very busy after our new arrival back in May. However, the current situation with Coronavirus, which continues to devastate many and disrupt everyone, has led me back to this space. COVID 19 and the affect it has had on our lives is difficult for all of us, but if you already struggle with Anxiety it can be even trickier to navigate.
Personally, I’ve found my feelings to be extremely mixed and I hear this is true for many of us. One minute I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of panic and the next I’m almost enjoying this slowdown and extra time with Hubs, Caterpillar and Baby Bea. One day the huge disruption to routine has me feeling really unsettled, and the next I find I’ve gone hours forgetting we’re even in lockdown as we quickly adapt to this new situation. In short, it’s confusing and exhausting.
Can you tell I’m an overthinker? Overthinker or not though, I definitely feel like those of us with experience of recovering from an Anxiety disorder almost have an advantage. We know how to recognise signs of Anxiety and already have the tools to manage it. At least, in theory!
Today I’m sharing my personal strategy in case it helps anyone else. I’m using three approaches and various techniques within them.
Firstly, we need to choose the most simple and effective tools from our anxiety management toolbox. You may have your own strategies but I know what has worked for me, and lots of my fellow PND survivors, many times in the past.
1. The traffic light technique
This straightforward tool, that also incorporates deep breathing, was the very first anxiety management skill I learnt when I was in the acute stages of Postnatal Anxiety seven years ago, and I still keep it in my back pocket for any particularly strong and sudden anxiety attacks.
Read more about the traffic light technique here.
2. Invite it in
It’s based on the concept that our instinct is to try to fight or avoid Anxiety because it’s such an unpleasant feeling, but experience teaches us that fight, flight or freeze style responses only fuel the anxiety in the medium and longer term. Our reaction is more important than the anxiety symptoms themselves. If we can learn to invite Anxiety in, or even welcome it, the fear begins to dissipate. This requires practice and patience because it’s going against your natural instincts.
I’ve written about this in a lot more detail here.
3. Fear vs fact
This a technique I primarily learnt from CBT therapy and it’s really useful when facing very specific worries and fears. In a two column list, write down your almost always irrational or exaggerated fears and then counter them with rational thought and fact in the opposite column. After some time we can train our brains to give more weight to the rational column and help us keep some perspective.
You can read more about Fear vs Fact and other journaling techniques here.
Mindfulness, or more specifically learning to live more in the present moment, is so helpful for Anxiety sufferers. Anxiety focuses almost entirely on what could happen in the future and if we can limit the amount of time we spend contemplating the future the less anxious we will feel.
This helped me a huge amount during the acute stages of my illness and gave me some relief from the most severe panic. It’s something I often still reach for in times of panic and high worry.
Being surrounded by uncertainty makes it very easy to slip into a worry spiral which could eventually lead to a panic attack. Although it’s not humanly possible to continually think only of the present, being able to do this on a periodic basis can bring us peace. And it makes sense too! Nobody knows what this pandemic will bring, for us as a nation or as individuals, so why spend too long speculating if our jobs don’t require us to (sorry scientists and politicians!)?
Achieving mindfulness is a very individual journey but if you’d like to find out more about how I do it, check out some of these posts:
All the techniques I’ve mentioned can be tricky and take practice but the battle I continue to face even now is resistance vs acceptance.
A common trait among anxiety sufferers, and the majority of humans really, is the need or desire to have control over our lives. Any semblance of control is largely an illusion, and the percentage of what we can directly affect in our lives is a small (but powerful) number. A crisis like the one we are facing now is a stark reminder of how quickly our lives can be altered and how we can be forced to accept truths that we don’t wish to accept.
When it comes to acceptance and resistance I’ve faced two major hurdles (and a million minor ones, as we all do every day) in the last decade. The first was my resistance to being unwell after Teddy was born; for a long time (years, really) after being diagnosed and recovering to around 90% well I struggled to accept what had happened and couldn’t face all the emotions surrounding it.
Second was our struggle with secondary infertility, another painful time where I had little to no control over the outcome and my resistant brain went into overdrive.
Resistance can be really damaging to our mental health; it brings so many lengthy spells of sadness, anger, frustration and fear and if we don’t do some work to move to acceptance we can move into a really bitter, difficult place instead.
True acceptance of any given situation or feeling is incredibly freeing. The first week or two of this lockdown was really difficult for me. My resistance to change and my frustration that we had to led to lots of anxiety and sadness. As time has moved on and I’ve worked on accepting I’ve found myself on a much more even keel, at least some of the time.
Learning to accept certain situations or emotional states means we can avoid being consumed in a resistance cycle. Natalie Nuttall at Innate Wellbeing Coach posts often about accepting all emotional states if you’d like more information.
Last but not least, if your Anxiety is high at the moment that’s okay. Everyone is worried, scared and frustrated. Your feelings are all valid and, vitally, temporary. Try to keep yourself as positive and calm as possible and accept moments when you’re not with lots of patience and self-kindness. This too shall pass and we will learn a great deal, as always.
Please share this post with anyone you think may benefit, and feel free to add your own anxiety tools in the comments below, I love to hear others’ ideas.