In the Autumn Winter issue of GLAMOUR, I discussed how my OCD, anxiety and panic disorder is something I’ve battled for longer than I can remember. And while I know mental health to be an inherently personal experience, there is undoubtedly a collective crisis, with more people than ever reporting experiencing distressing symptoms. In fact, 8% of people are currently experiencing anxiety and depression, with 75% of young people not receiving treatment.
Mental health disorders in any capacity or any level of severity needs to be address, and the sooner we open up the conversation, the sooner societal attitudes will change for the better, hopefully expanding treatment opportunities and support networks.
For those who are experiencing feelings of anxiety, or perhaps you just don’t know where to start, here’s a list of a few of the things I found useful when experiencing panic attacks. It’s also important to seek professional help but perhaps most importantly, to remember that you are not alone in this.
In the midst of a panic attack, my mind races and my apocalyptic thoughts take over – but it’s totally irrational. Puzzles are a fantastic way to alleviate the panic by refocusing my mind on something purely logical. It doesn’t matter what puzzles; I used to carry around a Rubik’s cube at all times when I was at university (yes, even to nightclubs) but now I prefer apps on my phone. Peak is a great brain training app that provides 30 games covering memory, attention and mental agility. Or, I use Candy Crush (yes, really) – it’s basic enough to be manageable in the grips of panic but challenging enough to require your full attention.
Mental health disorders can be painfully isolating, at least, it was for me. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed about what was happening and convinced that no one would understand, or would think I was crazy, that I simply didn’t tell anyone. This led to avoidance behaviours and ultimately, made the problem far, far worse.
I’ve now adopted what can only be described as an ‘over-sharing’ approach. There’s nothing I won’t tell you about my past experience or present mindset. And it’s indescribably liberating. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how many people around you have had similar experiences.
While I don’t find it useful to involve anyone if a panic attack has already set in (saying it out loud seems to exacerbate the fear), it’s great to be able to say to friends and colleagues “my OCD is really bad at the moment”, so if I have to disappear for half an hour to have a panic attack, I don’t worry that they’ll think I’m slacking off or that they think I’m weird.
This term is thrown around a lot at the moment, but I find that taking care of yourself is one of the most fundamental tools when suffering from a mental health disorder. Anxiety and depression can make you feel very down on yourself, angry at your mind and embarrassed about your behaviour. A little self care goes a long way to show your self a little appreciation and kindness that you definitely deserve. For me, self care comes in the form of a bath. A really indulgent bath with bubbles, a face mask, a book and a cup of tea.
Simple and free acts of self-care to try if you’re feeling anxious
I’m a huge advocate of sleep and refuse to accept our society’s damaging association between sleep and laziness. In my opinion, it’s our negative attitude towards sleep that led to a whole host of our epidemic health problems. Sleep is key not only for physical wellbeing, but mental too. Prioritise it.
Establish good sleep hygiene with a reasonable bed time and enough time to wind down beforehand. And if you need a nap, you need a nap (just don’t do it too late in the day).
Perspective is a wonderful thing when you’re deep inside your own mind and even an hour of volunteering a week is a great way of bringing your thoughts back to the world around you as well as making you feel proud about something you’ve done. Ok, so it may not be totally selfless, but everyone’s a winner. Find out where you could be needed here.
It doesn’t need to be a stereotypical feelings journal, but writing things down is a great way of offloading all those negative thoughts onto the paper. I usually end up making lists of all the things I’m worried about, followed by a to-do list of all the tasks and chores I need to alleviate the underlying stress. The exercise in itself helps me to process the thoughts rather than allowing them to circulate indefinitely in my head.