Anxiety is a beast that I still don't understand. Since I started experiencing panic attacks about two years ago, my mental health has had its ups and downs, having a real impact on various parts of my life.
I have already written about my journey with anxiety (here and here) but I have never really done a post on how I have coped. I appreciate that what works for me, will not always work for others, however, I believe that these positive changes that I have employed in my life over the past few months have had a real impact and my anxiety levels have remained pretty low. Personally, medication was not an option and I have always tried to manage my anxiety myself and with therapy.
Some of these changes might seem quite obvious, but hopefully, there is a grain of advice that someone might find useful in this post!
1. Listen to yourself (but not too much)
I think this is one of the biggest lessons I learned after I finished my therapy sessions. It's okay to give yourself time out when you need it, and if you are mentally exhausted going out for dinner with friends is understandably the last thing you want to do. However, I had perhaps listened to myself too much and created a bit of a fear within myself that meant that I didn't want to do things that would result in being tired because I knew that when I got tired I would be susceptible to having a panic attack or feeling anxious. So, I gave myself a little talking to, told myself I can do it. I have gently pushed myself into situations and do you know what? I'm fine. Nothing happened and my anxiety hasn't reared its ugly head in situations I am mean to enjoy. Sometimes you have to ignore what your head is telling you and do it anyway.
2. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness sounds fluffy, and I've seen and heard first hand so many people dismiss it as some kind of hippie nonsense, but it's something I will continue to swear by. The toolkit of coping mechanisms it gives you goes far beyond the ten to fifteen minute daily practices and it has genuinely had a profound impact on how I manage my anxiety symptoms. I noticed a distinct difference in how I felt when I got out of the habit for a few weeks. Our brains are constantly on the go so taking time out to just stop is one of the best things you can do. The easiest way to practice mindfulness is with an app - my favourites are Calm or Headspace. I plug myself in with my headphones, whether it be for ten minutes or half an hour. Dan also bought me a little mindfulness book for my birthday which I use nearly every day to document how I feel and reflect on my mood in a constructive way.
I really underestimated how much better exercise can make you feel. I've been going to the gym for over a year and have fallen in and out of a routine, but my primary goal was always to tone up and lose weight. However, four weeks ago I downloaded Zanna Van Dijk's Sculpt Guide and I shifted my mindset to "I will exercise because it makes me feel good." And do you know what? It works. I now exercise four to five times a week and I feel so much happier and healthier in myself. Even though some of the workouts make me want to cry whilst I'm doing them, I always finish them off the best I can and I can feel myself building mental strength as I build physical strength. I think everyone should prescribe themselves exercise, even if it's just a 45-minute walk every day. It's surprising how much better it can make you feel.
4. Surround yourself with positive people
It's a no-brainer - If the people you spend time with don't give you good vibes or make you feel good, don't spend time with them (Or a majority of your time!) Try and surround yourself with people who are positive and who will support you. Relationships take time and effort, so don't be afraid to say no if people are a drain on your energy and impact your mental state. Dan is one of my biggest supports and inspires me to be a better person. I know he will always be there to offer advice if I need it. It's the same with friendships; the people I try and spend time with make me feel good and the relationship is a two-way street.
It's also worth noting that this applies to online people too. You don't have to follow someone's social media account if it doesn't make you feel good. It's totally acceptable to press the unfollow button! Social media definitely encourages comparison which can lead to anxious feelings so if you need a break, take it.
I'm talking about proper talking; I mean taking a good half an hour or more to talk to someone. Whether it's your mum, partner or therapist, making and taking time to talk to someone is one of the best things I did for myself in the last few months. It has influenced all corners of my life from my relationships to my job. It's not rocket science, but talking to a therapist allowed me to uncover a lot of negative thought patterns and helped me start to challenge them. The outcome has been a much more positive outlook on life. You can read more about this here.
If you're going through a hard time at the moment, it will get better. And although these lifestyle changes are quite small, they have a significant impact in the long term, it's only when I look back in retrospect that I realise all the good they have done!