Learning to love my anxiety

Anxiety has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s only recently that I’ve come to accept that it always will be.

I was raised by a mother who had ‘bad nerves’ – which we both now know means she suffers from severe anxiety and depression. She, in turn, had to tiptoe around a mother who was always ‘on edge’ and was punished if she put her ‘on a nerve’.

My jury is still out on whether anxiety is a chemical imbalance (perhaps hereditary) or a learnt behaviour – I believe it’s a bit of both. Perhaps some of us are predisposed to anxiety and environmental factors bring it to the fore? But does it really matter, because once you’ve got it, it ain’t going away that easily?

In small doses, and at the right time, anxiety is very useful. It’s a bi-product of our primitive fight or flight instinct, one that causes a surge of adrenaline and gives us the strength to flee from danger or stand and fight. Thankfully, we don’t live in a such a dangerous world anymore but no-one seems to have told our brains.

To have an almost constant surge of adrenaline pumping through your system is horrendous – you shake, you can’t breathe, your heart feels like it’s going to burst out of your chest, you feel restless and you’re filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. An anxiety attack, for me, could last from 10 minutes to two hours.

I’ve fought my anxiety hard over the years and tried many different things to make it go away.

There are some great tools and therapy to help us cope with anxiety: medication, therapy to support us in exploring the environmental causes and learn new ways of thinking, and grounding exercises, physical exercise and mindfulness and meditation to manage the physical symptoms. In the end, it was a combination of several strategies that alleviated my anxiety and now enable me to keep it at bay – therapy, exercise (especially cold water swimming), meditation and medication when I need it.

Years ago I wouldn’t have publicly acknowledged that I needed medication to manage my anxiety. I’m a therapist; surely with all my knowledge, training and personal therapy I don’t need medication? I’ve tried to come off the meds, several times, but it seems that my anxiety is hard-wired. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was – I rarely have anxiety attacks now, rather than most days. And now they only last for a few minutes.

I have come to accept that anxiety is a part of me. I can’t ‘cure’ it, but I can manage and learn to live with it.

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