This week is mental health awareness week in the UK. The week is an opportunity for all of us to focus on achieving good mental health. It has acted as a catalyst for me to write this blog and for Yoga West to write a social post on anxiety.
In the last week about 17% of the UK population had a common mental disorder (CMD) with about 6% having a General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (1). We still have many archaic ideas about mental health so this is probably an under estimation. It’s a huge number of people.
Mental Health Awareness Week has acted as a catalyst to describe my relationship with anxiety. There are a number of reasons for me to write this article. I’ve only recently realised that for years I have had regular periods of anxiety every few months. These used to be debilitating and very difficult to manage but for some time they have been somewhere between unpleasant and not great but manageable. It’s funny it’s taken me so long to become aware of this as I'm normally pretty aware. There are a few reasons this has happened:
Firstly, my discussions with Jess Leitch a yoga teacher who does a lot of work with people and yoga teachers on anxiety. Jess was teaching regularly at the studio pre lockdown and teaches a pretty regular anxiety workshop for us and I’ve spent some time working on this with her. Jess has a really cool way of framing our relationships with anxiety which makes anxiety and feelings of anxiety feel fine and no big deal. It feels a really healthy way to relate to anxiety.
Secondly, my brother who also has anxiety has become much more open about it after a long period of suffering in silence. If I hadn’t been spending time discussing his anxiety with him, I don’t think I would have made the (in many ways very obvious) leap to realising that what I go through from time to time is also anxiety. Speaking to both Jess and my brother about anxiety really helped me to better frame and manage it.
As I mentioned earlier, I Used to find anxiety debilitating but now find it somewhere between unpleasant and not great. I felt it might be therefore useful to other people to share how I manage it, with the caveat that I imagine everyone has to find their own approach. I’ve found a number of strategies to help manage anxiety:
1) A regular yoga and meditation practice: OK, so probably not much of a surprise for me to say this. When I feel anxious it’s often most pronounced when I wake up. I practice yoga and meditate every morning before my family wake up. This allows me to shift from being very mental (mind full of thoughts) so gradually changing my focus onto breath and movement, which means the thoughts gradually fall away and are less incessant.
2) Routine: I stick to a pretty strict routine Monday to Friday getting up at the same time and practicing yoga and meditating before planning my day. It’s sometimes unpleasant but the unpleasantness of discipline is much less than the unpleasantness of lying-in bed mind whirling but not getting up.
3) Being OK with not being OK: I used to spend so much energy trying to rationalize with anxiety to make it go away. It only made it feel more omni-present. Now I accept I may be less energetic or decisive but am aware it will pass. I don’t try to fight it; I get on with life as well as I can and it gradually evaporates.
4) Talking to people: The more I talk to people about my anxiety the less it seems like a big deal, more like having a sore hip or a broken light bulb. It feels less and less like a big deal.
5) Sleep: I used to try and run away from feeling of anxiety by going out, drinking and staying up late watching TV/ being online. Now when I feel like that I generally get to bed early and keep away from electronic devices once in bed.
I hope this blog post has been helpful to other people who have sometimes have similar experiences. If anyone wants to chat and share experiences feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time to speak.
Before I sign off, I just wanted to reiterate the importance of talking about anxiety. It’s part of life and part of who we are. Who knows how other people feel anxious but I would imagine and know from friends that all of us have anxiety to some extent? I wonder whether a lot of the seeming ‘differences’ in people’s levels of anxiety are less about levels of anxiety and more about people feeling comfortable speaking about the anxiety and others for many reasons not being able to talk about it. The more I talk about it, the less it feels like it matters and I’d encourage everyone to try and do the same. I know it can feel hard but please try.
- 1. McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf [Accessed 5 October 2016]