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Mental Barriers: Health Anxiety

1 in 4

will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England

39.9%

people receive treatment

6 in 100

people suffer with general anxiety disorder

Mental prison

I have lost count on the amount of times that I am absolutely convinced that I have an incurable disease or some illness. And today is no different I read just one line of an article on social media and now my focus has switched to that illness. Speaking to people, a lot of people will laugh it off and make light of your paranoia regarding your health but it really is not a laughing matter. Going through this experience can be very isolating and crippling mentally. You end up living in a permanent state of panic which becomes a deep underlying fear that affects every aspect of your life. 

I decided to start writing about my experience with anxiety as it can be quite therapeutic during the worst times when my mind is in overdrive and my thoughts unraveling. Once I finish an article, I tend to feel quite relieved and a bit calmer to carry on with the day. Yet saying that, I don’t have the answer for the best approach in dealing with health anxiety specifically as I have yet to master it. But I’ll give you some examples of the types of statements that go through my mind: 

  • Oh I’m extra thirsty today, does this mean I’m ill. 
  • That feels like a headache, that’s odd I don’t usually get headaches. Could it be a bleed on the brain or something else. 
  • Is that a lump, mole, skin cancer etc 
  • WHAT IS NORMAL!!!! 

You hear these kinds horror stories that happen to a friend of a friend. Or some freak health story that you read in the news or social media. These stories are the ones that stay etched into your brain like a mental stain. You can always jump to the worst-case scenario whenever a physical symptom pops up. 

Now I have entered a new phase of my life, going through pregnancy. This should be a happy joyous time in my life but often I just feel overwhelmed with the weight of the worry on my shoulder. It’s one thing worrying about myself but to worry about the health of my child is a nightmare. I do sit and wonder, do other women go through this level of fear. I’m 21 weeks now and this morning I was awake at 5am reading health pages regarding your baby’s movements and when to track them. On this occasion, my google exploration did provide me with some comfort. Once I had read enough information to rationalise my thoughts and convince myself that there was nothing out of the ordinary happening I was able to close down the tab and go back to sleep. Which raises the question, does google help or is it a trigger point? 

In my experience, googling symptoms can sometimes help and more times put the fear of god into you. But I have yet to figure out what is a good replacement without having a registered GP on speed dial to talk me through my symptoms. Many anxiety disorders are very similar to the behaviour you often see in OCD sufferers. You develop repetitive behavioural patterns which can keep you trapped in a box and it is these repeat actions that only feed into your anxiety more as it takes away your control. This is the prison that you are stuck within. 

I have often spoken about my experience with CBT therapy and meditation. Luckily for me I have grown to be able to recognise my triggers and understand when I am in a high state of anxiety which allows me to put strategies in place to reduce my stress and anxiety levels. But at times I fail to put these strategies into action and end up suffering for longer than necessary. I always recommend mediation to people as I feel the positive affirmations helps to build confidence within yourself and to maintain a constant state of calm. At my most stressful times I will try: 

Meditation before bedtime 

This helps to offload the worries that I carry throughout the day. I am able to pull them from me like rubbish and dispose of them for that day and I have found that I always sleep better if I meditate before bed. It’s a great support for insomnia (however pregnancy has derailed that lol) 

Mediation in the morning 

This can really help to protect your own mental space as you get up ready to attack the day. Especially if you are about to do something that you know is a difficult task. I work with children so I often meditate to ensure that I can save my energy for myself. And draw on extra positive energy to feed into my students. This way I can leave school at the end of the day without feeling drained of all emotional energy. 

A healthy bedtime routine 

Preparing for bedtime and having a daily routine is something that drastically changed my experience with insomnia. However, this is something that I am not currently doing so I’m not surprised my anxiety levels have been increasing as my sleep has been quite bad recently. 

Exercise 

Now I know that leisure facilities have been closed throughout the lock down and this has affected my level of exercise as I find it hard to motivate myself at home. I did start lock down getting the yoga mat out every day, doing a little bit of yoga or a live class on Instagram but that quickly failed lol. When I am training in the gym, my mood for the rest of the day is just great. You can really feel the endorphins release as the day progresses and this really does help to manage my anxiety on a longer basis. 

This specific form of anxiety can be relentless and tiring but you are not alone in your struggles, there are more of us than you think!

What are some of the techniques you use to help you through this nightmare? Or how have you been able to overcome this issue? Drop a comment below

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Anxiety battles and Weed addiction

The sigh of relief when you reach your destination and all irrational fears go out of the window. Every journey I make fills me with Dred, the buildup to leaving the house that at times feels like a ton of bricks on my chest. Just smile and wave I tell myself, it won’t be that bad today. That is me trying to build myself with inner confidence to attack the day as a ‘normal’ person.  

The issue with an anxiety disorder is that it is invisible, no one can see that your suffering or that you may find it difficult to complete specific tasks. No two experiences are the same and everyone has their own different triggers. I felt that I had a good grip on my anxiety and that was certainly the case for a while. I had completed a course of CBT therapy and the tools I had learnt allowed me to start expanding my comfort zones and managing my reactions when placed in challenging circumstances. Then I messed up! I decided to start smoking weed again, which initially started as a recreational habit. I would have a little here and there, then it became a little every day, then I would start to buy my own and within the space of 3-4 months I was fully back into my addiction. It took me a while before I even realised that I had relapsed and that this habit had now taken its toll on my life. I started to decline social events more often as I was too high to be bothered to go. I became content with being by myself getting high and just chilling out. Now this may seem like a dream to some however, the problem with smoking was that it was affecting my social confidence, I began to feel uncomfortable standing alone in a queue in the supermarket, the general anxiety had begun to creep back in. On top of that I was eating a lot of sugary foods which was wreaking havoc on my digestion which in turn, also had an impact on my IBS which was linked to my anxiety.  

After recognising the negative impact it was having on my life, I decided to go cold turkey and quit. I had been sober for 3 years so I knew I had it in me to stop and I haven’t regretted it since. My experience smoking weed has been an interesting one and it has made me realise that for some people weed can be a dangerous substance to consume. Especially when you are a young teenager. I sometimes wonder to myself, would I have developed an anxiety disorder if I did not smoke weed. I understand that not everyone goes through this same experience however, in my particular case when you mix childhood trauma with poverty and intense weed consumption, you can get a really bad outcome.  I came to understand that it is not just about smoking weed, it is about self medicating in any format. It becomes a process of brushing your symptoms under the carpet to be dealt with another day. But this coping mechanism can become very unhealthy and will only contribute to toxic behaviour patterns in the long run. Addiction is a form of self harm and it doesn’t have to be a substance that you are addicted to.

I see so many young men who are suffering with a form of undiagnosed mental health issue and suffering alone in silence believing that the problems they are experiencing is just part and parcel of life. Suffering with a mental health disorder can be very isolating at times and it is always best to try and reach out to others to discuss how you are feeling. Personally, it has helped me to rationalise my thoughts and to understand that I am not going crazy, this is a part of me that I have to accept and learn to live with and manage. It can be very draining at times which is why I tend to write about my experiences as I know that someone out there can relate. If you feel the same way or have been through similar experiences, drop a comment below to share your story. Or if you would like to see any similar posts about different aspects of mental health… let me know. 

And we must plod along lol xx