Anxiety and Me {And How to Deal with It If You’re Suffering Too}

Author: Lisa Soeno

There I was, standing in my local Sainsbury’s, waiting to pay for my shopping. “Hi, Lyra’s mum! How’s Lyra? How are you getting on with the new baby?” One of the staff from my daughter’s old nursery was in the queue behind me and was making nice, normal, small talk, but all I could think about was how flustered I was and how I wanted to get out of the situation and just be back home.

I have always been a worrier but I would never say I’ve been anxious. But at the start of this year I started to experience what I can only describe as anxiety attacks such as the Sainsbury’s incident. Getting Lyra ready for pre-school? Never usually phases me. But there were a couple of mornings where just the thought of trying to wrangle her into her uniform and get her to school before the bell whilst trying to deal with a Jenson poonami sent me into a minor panic. Taking both kids on a three-hour round trip to Shropshire to see my oldest and dearest schoolfriends and their little ones? Usually I would have been so excited about this kind of outing and made the journey into an adventure for the three of us. But the thought of potentially being stuck on the motorway with wailing children sent my heart racing to the point that I ended up cancelling our playdate.

I put these panic attacks down to the fact that I tried to take on too much, too soon after Jenson’s birth. Blogging is the best job in the world, but it’s still a job and I was naïve to think I would be able to glide gracefully back into the world of work a few months after having a baby. (And a baby who is still refusing to sleep through the night, at that!). When I plucked up the courage to go and speak to my doctor about what I was going through, she agreed and attributed it to postnatal anxiety. Her suggestions? Well the first two bullet points below are what the doctor ordered, and the others are tips/methods that I found hugely helpful.

Time Out

I had some time off work and spent some proper time with Jenson. Real, proper quality time. I even managed to take him to a few baby groups, which is something I just haven’t done this time round. Snatching a couple of hours of ‘me time’ whilst he napped was also invaluable.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Group therapy sessions filled me with dread: I had visions of having to discuss all my issues with a bunch of strangers. In reality, the hardest thing was walking through the door into the first session. A lot of the sessions weren’t really relevant to me but one thing that did stick with me were the quick fix questions to ask myself when catastrophizing (thinking the worst will happen):

– What would I say to someone who cared about me in the same situation? (If you feel that overwhelmed by it, just don’t go to Shropshire. Your friends will understand.)
– What’s the worst thing that could happen? (So Lyra’s late for pre-school once? The teachers know that parents are only human).
– Will this matter in five years time? (I doubt if Lyra’s nursery worker will even remember me in five years time, let alone the fact that I was flustered at the supermarket checkout!)

Just Breathe

After my first pregnancy yoga class four years ago, I came home and excitedly talked Rich through the stages of pain relief that I’d learned about. “Stage one is breathing! Would you believe it? I have to breathe innnnnn through my nose, and outtttt through my mouth.” Rich didn’t believe me. Nine months later, he soon ate his words…

The CBT sessions expanded on this technique by teaching us to breathe in (for four seconds), hold it (two seconds), and then breathe out (six seconds).

And Lauren has also mentioned to me an exercise that her acupuncturist introduced to her: placing your fingers over your left nostril and breathing in and out once through your right, and then swapping sides and breathing in and out once only through your left.

The cynic in me thinks that half of the success of breathing exercises is attributed to the fact that they’re distraction techniques, but of course there’s a whole raft of evidence which proves that deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, thus promoting calmness and staving off anxiety attacks.

It’s Good to Talk

I wasn’t sure whether to talk to Rich about what I going through. He’s generally totally unsympathetic when I’m ill and I assumed he would tell me to just pull myself together. I was doing him a disservice and he’s been my rock. As have my mates. A problem shared and all that…

Find Your ‘Thing’

Don’t hate me for this one. Because my ‘thing’ this year has been exercise, and netball in particular. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I felt most panicky and overwhelmed at a time when I hadn’t played netball for several weeks. On a similar note, I’m a walking New Years cliche in that I joined a gym and have been hitting it hard since the start of the year. Booty Barre, Body Combat, Ashtanga Yoga…you name it, I’ve tried it. As with the CBT sessions, the most intimidating part of exercise classes has been attending the first one, but the buzz and sense of achievement I’ve experienced straight after has been phenomenal. And well worth the scariness of being the class newby.

As with deep breathing, the link between exercise and a healthy state of mind has been proven countless times, but it doesn’t have to be exercise. Just doing something – some form of activity – is always going to be beneficial if you’re feeling anxious.

Headspace App

The ‘basic’ version of the app is free. It has bitesize relaxation sessions in which a lovely relaxed man with an uber-relaxing voice tells you to relax. If you listen to it at night you may end up SO relaxed that you fall asleep to it. It has graphics that rival the Rock My pins that Becky creates. And the breathing gif at the end of each session is just plain genius. Can you tell that this is an app that I rate?

Typically, since I’ve started paying the £9.99 Headspace monthly subscription, I haven’t used it once, but this is probably a positive thing, as it goes to show that I don’t feel that I need it in my life at the moment.

I’m just going to leave you with a saying that hit home when I read it. It’s the old lifejacket analogy. In the safety demonstrations on a plane, you’re told to put on your lifejacket and oxygen mask before helping your children: it’s only when you look after yourself that you can help others.

Has anyone else been affected by anxiety? Any other tips to throw into the mix? (And whilst I’m by no means an expert, if you have any questions about CBT or anything else pop them into the comments box below and I will do my best to answer them).

P.S. Now that family content has moved back to RMS we’ll be back after lunch in our new Monday and Wednesday afternoon slots. This afternoon we’ve got a ‘Day in the Life’ careers post from a reader who’s juggling motherhood and a brand new business.

{Contributors}

Image from Rebecca’s Home Tour

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Author: Lisa Soeno
Lisa is obsessed with all things interior design. And Cadbury buttons.
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47 thoughts on “Anxiety and Me {And How to Deal with It If You’re Suffering Too}

  1. Lisa thank you so much for this post, for opening up and sharing this. I swear that I could have written that first paragraph myself – it happens so frequently.
    I’ve been challenged with intense blushing and sudden anxiety from the age of about 15 (I’m nearly 40).
    It’s horrible.
    I’m a mum of two boys, Have a loving husband and family, run my own business – life is good. But no matter how hard I try this challenge does not shift for me. I literally hate it.
    I haven’t spoken to anyone about it but have wondered about cbt. I also read recently that keeping a diary of when this happens can help you rationalise and deal with situations… maybe worth a try?
    I love your advice of thinking what advice you’d give to a friend in a similar situations. I’m following the post as my biggest challenge is actually making the blush and fast heart beat ease when the attack happens
    Thank you so much again xxx

    1. Sending you a massive hug Heather! It IS horrible.

      CBT is definitely worth a go, you’ve got nothing to lose. I was hoping to find a link to the quick fix questions as I thought they were so useful. The others on the list were:

      Am I making things worse than they really are?
      Does it matter if things don’t turn out exactly right?
      Is my reaction in proportion to the actual event?
      Is this really as important as it seems?
      Am I showing compassion and kindness to myself?
      Am I setting impossible standards?
      What are the chances of this actually happening?

      All seem so straightforward, but sometimes you just need to be told! x

      1. Thanks so much for your kind reply Lisa. You are a gem x
        Those questions all make total sense and really do help to calm and logically evaluate the situation.

        My only issue is that the intense blush, absolute feeling of panic and crazy heart rate comes on with no warning at all and is so fierce that I barely get a chance to even think anything logic before I’m in the thick of it. I know that that the reaction is in no way in proportion to the actual event and it frustrates the hell out of me, and then often makes the other person involved look very uncomfortable / baffled too.

        However, after reading all of the amazing comments below though, I have decided that I am going to seek some help and guidance. I really feel hopeful, even empowered, by the positive stories that things have improved for people with the right tools.

        Thank you again for sharing and good luck with your own progress.
        Heather x

  2. I’m also a sufferer. My anxiety manifests itself in the form of health anxiety where I become convinced that every symptom I have, however minor, is the start of a serious illness! I can go for months without really suffering but have found it becomes worse when life is stressful (currently going through ivf and it’s been off the scale for the last couple of months). I’ve started CBT after a lifetime of suffering with this and really hope it’ll be the solution. I also find meditation (I favour the calm or buddhify apps) and breathing exercises very useful as well as just taking myself off for a long walk. I’m so glad you’ve shared this Lisa, we really need to be more open about anxiety and mental health – it impacts so many of us xx

    1. Rachel I’ve never heard of this. It sounds awful. Fingers crossed the CBT helps and well done for starting it.

      Yes the long walk tip is a such a good one, for me just getting out into the fresh air does the trick too.

      Sending you all the luck and love with your IVF treatment. xx

  3. Thank you for sharing Lisa x

    I suffered from severe (and to be honest debilitating) anxiety after the birth of my son. The only way I can describe it was that every moment of every day I felt the sheer terror I imagine I would feel in a plane crashing towards the ground. Every morning I woke up and just wanted it to be bedtime again. It was the worst time of my life, like living in a black hole.

    After a year of CBT (I am lucky that I could afford to continue after the NHS prescribed 8 sessions), I feel like I am getting back to myself. I have opened up to friends and family which has also helped.

    My main advice to anyone suffering with a mental health issue is to go to your GP and seek advice. My GP felt talking therapy was the best thing to try for me. The first step is the hardest but there is help available. I never thought I would be happy or ok again but here I am.

  4. Oh Lisa, thank you so much for writing this. I have booked a GP appointment last week when I was feeling particularly bad and been wondering whether I should just cancel it as I’m feeling better now. I’m not even sure how to explain myself. It’s so hard as rationallu I have everything I could wish for and most of the time coping really well. It’s just that when things go even slightly wrong I tend to descend into catastrophic scenarios and total sense of hopelessness which then often lingers for days. Anybody else suffered with intrusive thoughts? Mine are less and less now but they are scary and the sense of guilt I have after is just as bad. It’s really good to know that you found the cbt helpful and other strategies too. I might well go ahead and chat to my GP later.

    1. Kat I have them too, horrible thoughts that are really morbid and circle like vultures in my mind. It’s rough but you aren’t alone xxx

      1. Hi Lucy and Kat… I don’t know if you follow Mamas Scrapbook on Instagram (the lovely Anna actually wrote for RMF a little while back) but she wrote a post a few weeks ago about these super irrational thoughts that escalate out of control. Might be worth having a scroll of her feed to see if you come across it… the image is of her hand on a steering wheel xx

        1. Kat you’ve got two little ones a similar age to mine haven’t you? As lovely as they are, gosh life is stressful at this stage. Yes definitely worth thinking about speaking to your GP. I wrote some notes to take with me as I didn’t know where to start either. x

          Becky I was going to mention Mamas Scrapbook too! Great minds. x

          1. I found the early days a lot easier somehow and only started feeling overwhelmed quite recently. Thanks for the mamas scrapbook recommendation too, Anna’s posts are really good. I did go to the GP, he was very good but I did find it really hard to talk about.

    2. I would really recommend CBT for this. Learning how to manage my thought patterns and habits has been life changing for me. Lots of love, you are not alone x

    3. Kat, definitely go to the doctors. My intrusive thoughts were related in part to PTSD but manifested through OCD and my therapist really really helped me deal with them. There is no harm in going for a chat and that way you can get the tools you need in case they come back xxx

    4. Kat, you’re really not alone with the intrusive thoughts. My husband and I recently had a very honest conversation about this in the car. It seems to be a normal part of the human condition, but it gets exacerbated by anxiety and the guilt turns up to 11. I can also second Beckys recommendation to follow Mamas Scrapbook. She’s great at normalising mental health. xo

  5. Hi Lisa
    Thanks for sharing your story! I have suffered from anxiety since my second miscarriage- brought on by returning to work as though nothing had happened. It manifested itself in me losing my voice whenever I had to give presentations (which is often!) and it was very confusing and scary! I’ve been forced to take time out and it’s the best thing I’ve done – that plus Headspace, counselling and trying to be kinder to myself. It’s so important to talk about mental health – well done

    1. Sending you lots of love Lou. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must have been.

      I’m so glad to hear that all these things have worked for you. xx

  6. Thank you so much for this post Lisa. I really struggled with peri and post natal anxiety after S- it was awful, especially at work when I was pregnant. I had a big scare on a trip away (possible leaking waters at 15 weeks) and never really recovered confidence wise. I was all over the place, paranoid, frightened, dreading tasks and imagining the worst possible consequences of any mistake I made. It peaked after she was born when I couldn’t sleep as I was convinced she would die if I did.

    I realised that actually, while heightened at this time (apparently your brain changes more during pregnancy than st any time since the teens and you are hyper aware of threats) it’s been there my whole life- fear of teachers in primary school, dreading bullies, desperation to please and achieve, episodes that I now recognise as panic attacks.

    For me calling it by it’s name has been a huge help and step forward. I still have tough days but they are much rarer and I can say to myself that this is a tough day, it’s the anxiety and it will pass. Exercise outdoors helps me so much- I had a really rough few days in the summer and my husband basically marched me to the coast and made me go swim in the sea- it was so healing and wild just tussling with my thoughts in the water. Running is also effective for me, my running pushchair was the best investment in postnatal mental health I could have made.

    Love to you xx

    1. Oh Lucy S big love to you too. What a lot to go through. Yes calling it something definitely helps: it makes it more real and as such something that needs to be addressed. And thank you for bringing to my attention the running pushchair – didn’t even know there was such a thing but I now want one! (Jenson’s got a fair few pushchair months left, hasn’t he?!)

      Your comment made me wonder if anxiety is more common in women than men – and I found this which is interesting:

      http://theconversation.com/women-are-far-more-anxious-than-men-heres-the-science-60458

      xx

  7. Thanks for sharing your story. I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed recently and am definitely going to try some of your tips.

  8. Lisa,

    How lovely that you have shared this. Hopefully it makes people realise how ‘normal’ it is to feel like this sometimes, and hopefully the comments will show you the same thing.
    The hardest thing I find with anxiety is that unlike a physical ailment, it feels like you can’t tell people that you can’t do things because it’s making you too anxious. Maybe the more people talk about it, the easier that will become.
    P.s. love the headspace guy -did you try the kids section for sleep with Lyra?

  9. CBT worked wonders for my anxiety and OCD. Due to some very horrid life crap that’s been thrown at me lately it has reared it’s head again but I feel really tooled up to cope with it which is amazing. I had 1:1 sessions through the NHS rather than group which I don’t think would have worked for me.

    1. Amy I would much rather have had the 1:1 sessions but the waiting list was several months long! Which is such a shame, because when anxiety is having an impact on your everyday life that is just too long to wait. You will get through this tough stage, sending lots of love. x

  10. I’m on day 2 of medication for depression/anxiety so this is timely. I urge anyone to seek help, it’s been awful for me and I’m emotionally exhausted with it. I have 4 year old twins, and I think since they were born I have always suffered an underlying post natal depression. Last year my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer and that was my ‘trigger’ for me, and the anxiety was released. Mine comes out as a similar poster above, every single niggle or pain, I think I’m going to have a life threatening disease. The problem with anxiety is that it can often come out in physical forms (blurry vision – I was convinced I was having a stroke, heart racing – heart attach etc which then brings on a panic attack, and then I go in a vicious cycle.
    I also have a fear that the children will get really ill too and any minor illness is a trigger.
    So I’m joining up medication with CBT in the hope I get better .. I feel like I’m wasting my kids childhood by not being my best for them or me 🙁

    1. Just because you’re depressed/anxious doesn’t make you a bad mum. Just being there and being present is everything! Sending you a massive hug. x

    2. Nikki please don’t think you’re wasting your kids childhood. You’re showing them how important it is to seek help and look after yourself and your mental health. Youre not lying under this and that is the best any of us can possibly do xo

  11. As you know Lisa, I could have written this exact post. The post natal anxiety I experienced with Ethan was quite full on and debilitating. It’s funny how when you’re panicking it feels like you have a neon sign flashing PANIC ATTACK above your head, but in reality, the other person a lot of the time doesn’t even click that there’s something wrong.
    You nailed it with your tips and I definitely found that meditation and breathing techniques helped me interrupt the spiral.
    My hope now is just that I don’t have the same experience with baby #2. But even if I do, I feel slightly more prepared this time. Sending so much love to you and all the other commenters xo

    1. This is so true Naomi – I’m pretty sure the nursery worker in Sainsburys was none the wiser.

      I think half the battle is being prepared for it, so whilst baby #2 may not be a walk in the park, you’ll experience the warning signs and know what to do about them this time round. And know that there is a sympathetic ear here if you need me when the time comes!

      I meant to include a link to your previous post about anxiety because it’s such a good un. Here we go, better late than never 😛

      http://rockmystyle.co.uk/6-things-to-focus-on-when-youre-feeling-overwhelmed/

      xx

  12. Thank you for sharing this Lisa – it’s so great to have mental health discussed in public.
    Like you, I’ve always been a worrier but as a coping mechanism I’m a planner. If I have a plan then on the outside I’m a laid back lady! However a combination of things happening in my life in the months before Christmas really knocked me – I was overwhelmed and then came the constant feeling of being anxious. My heart was racing, I felt nauseous, I couldn’t sleep properly, I started everyday filled with dread although I didn’t know what I was dreading and I just wanted the day to be over so I didn’t have to face anything else. What I didn’t appreciate previously was how exhausting it can be being constantly on the edge all the time!
    I’m feeling much better, with just the odd day where I feel a bit wobbly. I put this down to a combination of things; I now swim every morning which I find helps clear my head mentally for the day. I used breathing techniques regularly and try to have a few minutes of deep breathing at the end of every day.
    I’m definitely going to look into the Headspace app – and would definitely be open to some sort of counselling or CBT techniques if it were to become really difficult again.
    It’s great to have a discussion and realise that this affects many people, with a variety of different reasons. Sometimes you can feel very alone and you aren’t! X

    1. Sian it’s like you read my mind. Especially the bit about being filled with dread even though I didn’t know what I was dreading! Such a strange experience. It’s massively inspiring to hear how you got through it. xx

  13. I used to suffer terribly with depression and anxiety, from my teenage years onwards. What worked for me in the end was a mixture of medication and therapy. I was lucky enough to have a great GP who somehow managed to quickly arrange ongoing weekly sessions until I didn’t need them anymore. So I guess the first step is to go again and see a different doctor if you don’t feel that you’re being taken seriously. I was also terrified that they would take my son away from me if I admitted how bad things were, which of course never happened. Another thing I found really useful was using the website/app ‘moodscope’, to track how I felt every day and build up an idea of my average levels and what was happening during peaks or troughs.

    I am now lacking in confidence and nervous but I wouldn’t describe myself as anxious anymore. I can remember bursting into tears when I had built up the courage to go to a toddler group and somebody spoke to me. I still have to force myself to leave the house to some extent, but I can chat to people and am a lot less hard on myself afterwards – analysing what I said and how stupid or weird I sounded. I try to judge myself by the same standards I do other people. I don’t sit around afterwards picking apart things people say to me, and usually assume they didn’t mean it that way if things come out a bit wrong. So I doubt that people are judging me that way, either.

    I’m so glad that people are more able to discuss these things openly now. It looks likely that my eldest son is going to be diagnosed with a mental health condition and is currently receiving treatment for anxiety. Seeing him go through this is heart breaking, but I am so glad that we are now in a time where there is non-judgemental help available to him.

    1. Jade, I want to give you and your son a big hug. However it sounds like you’ve got your head screwed on and the fact that you’ve got experience of it may help him. How brilliant that you were able to have weekly sessions pretty quickly – you’re right, it’s always worth getting a second opinion if you feel you’re not being taken seriously.

      Sending lots of love. xx

  14. Thanks so much for sharing Lisa! It’s a cliche but it does always help so much when you realise you’re not alone. I don’t have the excuse of the stress of tiny ones but I’ve always been a bit anxious – at my best I’m always hiding under big scarves, regardless of temperature, and at worst really have to force myself to leave the house. No idea what causes it – I have a lovely husband, very supportive kind family, good friends, my job has improved in the last few months but it’s currently manifesting in anxiety around eating at work. Apparently everyone is going to see me eating lunch and judge me terribly for it, even if it’s a salad. Going to get a fork from the kitchen downstairs requires about 30 mins of internal motivational speaking. God help me when babies come along and I have real problems to deal with! xx

    1. It’s such a strange thing isn’t it. I do understand the whole anxiety about eating at work thing though – and just take heart from the fact that chances are, you’re not the only one that’s had to internally motivate themselves to make that kitchen trip! X

  15. Hi Lisa – only just got around to reading this but didn’t want to not comment. Thanks for sharing your experience – and to all the commenters sharing theirs. I’m lucky to not suffer with anxiety, and I hope that will continue. However my mum and brother do (alongside depression) and although until you experience it yourself you never really know, supporting them and understanding their techniques for combating it makes me much more aware of signs in other people. I will often pick it up before my mum does that she’s on a downward slope and kick into action on the key things I know will help her out. Seeking help is absolutely the way forward and no one should ever, ever be ashamed. xx

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I believe my friend is suffering from postnatal anxiety and/or depression. I don’t want to diagnose her but I’d like her to see her GP, but not interfere or upset her. I’d love to hear any tips for helping someone who perhaps isn’t ready to accept they need help!

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