A study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2014-15 revealed 4 million Australians reported having a mental or behavioural condition with anxiety related conditions being the most frequently reported.
Women reported to have higher mental and behavioural conditions at 19.2% compared to men at 15.8%. Stats like this tell me, people living with anxiety aren’t alone and there’s much work to be done in reducing the stigma attached to mental health conditions.
I’ve been delivering talks all month in workplaces for mental health awareness. It’s inspired me to get a little vulnerable and share my experience, here’s the essence of it:
Anxiety can be crippling, many people who live with it don’t talk about it for fear of stigma and see it as a failing. I believe the real failing isn’t in having a mental health condition, it’s in our lack of understanding, how we deal with it as a society and the stigma attached.
I’ve lived with anxiety for most of my life, as a child I didn’t know what it was, it wasn’t something we knew much about back then, let alone talk about. I’d have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’d done something really bad. As a teenager I’d get terrible headaches, wasn’t able to concentrate and acted out, A LOT.
In 2004 when I was going through an ugly divorce my anxiety levels hit their peak and panic attacks began to take over, I was unable to work at the high levels my business demanded of me and it was affecting my relationships. A brief admission to hospital confirmed it was time to do something about it.
Back then I didn’t have a name for what I was doing I just started doing things to get me out of the hole I was in and back to a functioning level. I’ve since titled it “My Wellness Toolbox.” I’ve been anxiety free for over a decade and carry my toolbox with me wherever I go.
Here’s my top 10 toolbox tools that helped me beat anxiety. It’s important to understand I didn’t do all of them at once. It was a gradual process with a willingness to explore different things. I recommend starting with one or two things you feel are achievable and build from there.
Talk to people & seek help
Talking about how you’re feeling and trusting in others can be a huge help. For me it was a combination of talking to family and friends and seeking professional help with a psychologist. What I found most helpful was the unravelling of my thoughts and emotions, in the beginning everything was like a tangled ball of wool. During my sessions I was able to pull the threads apart and create a sense of order.
EatWELL, SleepWELL, MoveWELL
Deep down we all know what’s best for ourselves but when our mind is spiralling out of control, we make poor choices. When I was at my worst I was drinking heavily, eating poorly, staying up late and going through cycles of punishing myself with rigorous workouts then feeling totally depleted. I knew I needed to make changes. This included cutting out alcohol and replacing it with water, going to yoga in the evenings, preparing healthy meals and getting quality sleep. In the mornings I’d go for long walks in nature.
Find a routine you love, plan your meals in advance to avoid quick fixes and make sure you get 6 – 8 hours of quality sleep at night.
Set firm boundaries
Setting boundaries can be awkward and confronting. There was a time when I’d say yes to things I didn’t want to. This ranged from taking on commitments in my business when I’d scheduled time off, to going to events and doing things I had no interest in. I created the mantra “it’s ok to say no.” Once I became comfortable in saying no it created space for doing things I wanted to do and for much needed time out. Over time I started to feel in control of life rather than life’s events controlling me.
Forgive yourself & become your own best friend
Now this was hard, really hard. I had mothers’ guilt, business guilt, wife guilt, daughter guilt you name it guilt. How I spoke to myself was awful, I’d berate myself from the time I woke up to the time I’d crash and burn at night. I read many books that helped me to forgive myself and began reframing my inner dialogue until it became nurturing and encouraging. A fantastic book to help with this is Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson.
Listen to your body
Learning to tune into your body is an ongoing practice, so often we push when our body needs rest. Other times we numb out in front of screens when our bodies need to move. By tuning into what your body needs and doing what is best for you, you’re able to function at a higher level. I used to think a good day’s work wasn’t done until I was completely spent. Today I believe it’s a behaviour to be avoided at all costs. Life is like an ultra-marathon to travel the distance it’s important to go at a steady consistent pace.
Spend time in nature
Nature soothes the soul and has significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, reduces heart rate, blood pressure and stress. Even if you live in a high-density area you have access to nature. Look up to the sky, find a park, aim for once a week to get into nature with no devices and just be amongst it.
Journaling was something that surprised me in how beneficial it was. I was never great at sitting down to write growing up. At first my journal entries were just bullet points of events or highlights in my day. Over time they became a great source of downloading and processing things. I’d have many ah ha moments while writing and was able to make sense of things that I was having difficulty in understanding. This progressed into writing things I was grateful for at the end of my entries – this was a game changer.
Humans are biologically predisposed to negative thinking this is aptly named “negativity bias” research has demonstrated that it’s something we’ve developed to help us avoid danger. While this was extremely useful in prehistoric times in our modern world it’s become a hinderance and a great source of unhappiness.
The great news is we can strengthen our neurological pathways to focus on the positive instead of the negative. By spending a few moments at the end of everyday thinking about what I was grateful helped me in so many ways. To begin try thinking of 1 – 3 things you’re grateful for.
I had an “on again, off again” relationship with meditation for more than a decade before I implemented it as a daily practice. One day I attended a yoga class and as I lay back to meditate thoughts came flying into my mind. The instructor gently cued for us to imagine thoughts drifting down the river. As I watched each thought drift away, I surrendered into the most blissful meditation. My chaos became calm and I left feeling a new sense of peace. There are many forms of meditation and it’s important to find one that works for you with the knowledge that mediation is like anything else – some days its great and others not so much.
Spend quality time with those you love
It’s easy to disconnect from family and friends when anxiety is running high but it’s when we need support the most. I found talking about how I felt and letting people know how they could support me was really helpful. It helped them to understand where I was at and as uncomfortable as it was it allowed me to work through what I needed.
Self-care isn’t selfish it’s an act of love for yourself and those around you.
Download a copy of My Wellness Toolbox here
I deliver a range of workplace wellness programs to help the people in your organisation live and lead happier, healthier more productive lives. If you’d like to have me speak or present at your workplace, please get in touch.