Meet Anxiety aka Little Miss What If?
Yesterday I had to drive to the nearest town to have my car MOT'd. Its about an 90 mile round trip. I have driven it many times but not so often in the last 6 months. In fact the last time was back in early June.
I did all my usual prep for the journey and had an audio book downloaded to my phone should I want something to listen to.
I got in the car, got comfortable and set off down the road.
Are you driving on the right side of the road?
What ? oh yes of course I am
Are you sure?
I concentrated on where I was going and noticed a couple of cars behind me when I checked my mirror.
You're annoying them
The people in the cars behind you
I shouldn't be. I'm doing 58mph on a 60 mph road
What if they don't want to be behind you. What if you 're making them mad?
Oh shut up for goodness sake
I could feel the tension in my shoulders and realised I was constantly gritting my teeth.
What if they think you're being far too careful around the bends . They''ll be tutting every time you brake or slow down.
Right I'm gonna shut you up!
I pulled over at the next layby and let the other cars pass by. Ironically one pulled off the main road almost straight after and the other, far more powerful car, sat at 50mph for the rest of the journey.
It was during this journey,after dealing with Little Miss What If's rude interruption, that I realised I hadn't written a blog describing anxiety. I'd covered Sludge(depression) and Rage but not anxiety so here it is.
The above situation gives you a tiny insight into the chatter of anxiety as do several other blogs such as Mayhem but I want to say more about the experience of anxiety.
I used to describe anxiety as feeling like someone had plugged me into the mains meaning thousands of volts would be running through my body. I would struggle to be physically still as my mind bounced around like pinball. I couldn't focus on any one thing without being distracted by another. Endless chatter fills your head and the majority are 'what ifs'.
Here's a few examples from my experience over the years;
My alarm goes off and its time to get up -
What if I can't get up?
What if I'm too tired to get through the day?
What if I cant get my daughter out of bed in time for school?
What if I haven't got anything in for her packed lunch?
What if she's unwell and I cant go to work?
What if I cant eat today?
What if I vomit?
What if I panic and make a fool of myself?
What if I panic in the car and have an accident ?
What if I don't have a car?
What if I cant get to work?
What if my colleagues hate me?
What if I cry at work?
What if I'm no good at my job?
What if I lose my job?
What if I lose my mind?
What if.................... you see what I mean?
Another common scenario was at the end of the day -
I hope I did everything right at work today
What if I didn't?
What if my boss is unhappy with me?
What if my colleagues don't really like me?
What if they just tolerate me?
What if I get the sack and they are relieved?
What if I can't find another job?
What if this anxiety stops me working and I have to live on benefits?
What if my daughter thinks I'm pathetic?
What is my parents are ashamed?
What if my relationship ends?
What if I never cope?
What if this is my life ? Constant fear?
What if I end up in hospital again?
What if I'm being too sensitive?
What if I am too soft for this world?
What if I AM a reject?
What if people tolerate me but actually dislike me?
What if I cant sleep?
What if I cant focus?
What if this is all my fault?
You see, it's unrelenting. Once Little Miss What If gathers momentum she wont stop. Exhaustion or a major distraction was the only thing I found put that chatterer back in her box.
Over the years I practised various ways that would shut this babbler up and some were more successful than others.
Something else that helped with racing thoughts was to change the way I moved around. I would scan my body for areas that held tension eg shoulders, jaw and sometimes my stomach and I would stretch gently while slowing down my breathing.
If you've read any of my previous blogs you will know I am a great advocate of 7-11 breathing where you practise breathing out for longer than you breathe in which signals the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and calm the body down. Its worth Googling.
Let's get back to movement. Learning to slow your movements down also helps you to calm down. Instead of pacing around the room in some kind of anxious trance, staring at the floor I would correct my posture, raise my eyeline so I was looking in front of me and then walk in a slow confident manner. Sometimes I would imagine I was walking like a superhero with strength and certainty and other times I was a graceful lady gliding along. To be honest this often made me smile because I realised if my neighbours could see me they would wonder what the hell I was up too. I soon put paid to any curiosity they may have by practising Power Poses on my balcony, much to the embarrassment of my daughter.
So there you have it. Anxiety is like being on a ride you cant get off of until you learn where the control panel is.
If you are troubled by constant anxious thoughts or struggle to slow down and relax, please reach out for help. Don't be afraid to approach your GP/doctor and explain how you are feeling. Sometimes just confiding in a trusted friend can ease your worries. Anxiety doesn't have to mean medication, if that worries you. This doesn't have to be your normal. It can get better.