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Words are powerful things especially when it comes to anxietyPanic attacks and high anxiety is often perpetuated by the ongoing dialogue we have in our minds about what the anxiety symptoms might be, or what might happen, or what we should have done, or what we should be doing.  Often we are beating ourselves up with words; calling ourselves names.I have used words in my head to do all of these things.  If I ever said them out loud and people disagreed with me, I would just continue the dialogue in my head with “but you don’t understand…” or “but you don’t see the truth..” or “but you’re just saying that…”

However, the fact that words are so powerful in a negative way means they can also be powerful in a positive way.  One of the ways you can tap into this is affirmations.  I know, they are often portrayed as being said by high flying business people who already have an inflated ego but they really did help me!

I didn’t just pick a phrase and say it though, it needs to counteract the negative things you are already saying.  The first thing I did was spend a week catching all the negative things I said to myself.  This can be easier said than done because sometimes we don’t even know we are doing it and we can also do it a lot.  But I wrote it all done in a notebook.  At the end of each day put them into categories and by the end of the week you should have some themes about what you are saying.  Some of my negatives were: “I not good enough”, “It is my fault”, “I’m always going to be like this”.  There was also lots of ‘should’ statements and the biggy was that I didn’t deserve to get better and live normally.

Once you have these you can start making counter statements for them.  You need to at least partly believe them so begin to look for evidence that these statements are not true then write a positive statement.  For example to counteract “I’m not good enough” I wrote “I do the best I can every day.  This is good enough for the important people in  my life.  The better I get, the more I will be able to do.”  This may not seem the most positive statement ever but at the time it was the most I could believe.

I did this for about 20 different statements.  I then copied them out every day for two weeks and after that read them.  If I heard myself arguing against this, I tried as much as possible to find evidence to prove my positive statement.

It did get easier, particularly as I felt better and I recommend that if you are struggling with anxiety you give it a go.  It alone will not stop it but this, along with other things I have talked (more…)

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English: Black bear in the Canadian Rockies

A program like Planet Earth Live is not one that would normally appeal to me; I find the cruelty that is the circle of life difficult to watch.  However, being in the right place at the right time meant I happened to catch some of the action.  The program mainly focusses on young animals and the struggles they and their mother’s face in order to survive.  Whilst I did find this difficult to watch, I was also left with an air of optimism that some of the struggles we humans face as mothers are natural and part of life rather than due to just being inadequate and lazy – feelings which probably underlie much of my anxiety.

During one of the episodes I watched, a black bear mother, relatively new to her role and therefore inexperienced, was seen allowing her babies to climb trees in the snow.  Even I could see that they needed to be warmed up as they were visibly shivering.  When they eventually descended, instead of wrapping them up close to her, the mother seemed to walk off.  It became clear later however, that she was finding a suitable place for them all to curl up for the night and by the morning all three bears were well and warm.  My immediate reaction after seeing that sequence of events was the realisation that being a parent does not all come naturally.  Now, I know that we are told this, but the underlying message that many mothers actually get is that it should be natural.  On the surface all the advice that you are given about feeding and  sleeping are there to help mothers who are inexperienced, yet the sheer amount of conflicting advice between experts seems to actually suggests that you will know which advice is best for your baby!  What if you don’t? Seeing this family of bears made me realise that generally even if you get it wrong to begin with, eventually you will figure it out.

This lead me on to my second eureka moment with these bears: little mistakes will not have a profound impact on a baby forever.  Again, writing this now, it seems logical, but we are so used to people telling us the problems we have are due to our childhood that I have become obsessed with not making a single mistake incase my little boy becomes a ‘damaged’ adult.  Actually, it is not going to have a lasting effect on him if he is too cold between the car and the house or hungry while dinner is cooking or doesn’t get up and go to bed at exactly the same time every day.

Anxiety is a funny thing because it makes you believe things that, logically, you know are not true.  This is because instead of thinking thoughts, you feel them.  When my sons ‘routine’ is disrupted I don’t consciously think “this is bad” but I feel it because I feel sick or tight in my chest.  Through CBT I have begun to learn not to associate these feeling with negative thoughts but it is hard.  So the actions of the mother bear provides evidence to help me prove what I logically thin; helping me to be that little bit less anxious.  Thanks Black Bear and Planet Earth Live!

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Ireland

Ireland (Photo credit: Trent Strohm)

Recently I took a trip to Ireland with my family to visit some of my husband’s relatives, and throughout our stay there were numerous enquiries about people’s general health, ongoing health issues and recent operations.  Yet how my battle with anxiety was going was never mentioned.  Not because they weren’t interested or didn’t care, but because they didn’t know.  There was plenty of opportunity to bring it up, and in fact no reason that they didn’t know already  – irish people love to know everything they can about everyone – I’m sure they have asked after me during several phone conversations.  Yet I nor anyone else refered to it, even though every night I filled out a panic diary as part of the CBT I’m having, and had to battle daily with some sort of anxiety.  It wasn’t until I was on the ferry back that I wondered why? Why am I ashamed? Why is it such a taboo?When someone has a physical condition, people naturally sympathise, even if they haven’t had that condition, everyone has been in pain or felt sick.  But, the same could be said for anxiety; everyone has felt nervous at some point.  So why do I think that people won’t understand?  Maybe that’s the problem: because everyone has felt anxiety at some point, they think they do know how it feels and it’s not that bad.  Also, for most people, there is generally a reason for it which makes it more manageable – again, it’s not that bad.  So I’d have to explain why this is different, worse, debilitating, to people who didn’t really get it. Would they even believe me? For the most part I can hide how I am feeling inside or I can make a reasonable excuse to leave so people don’t see me at my worst.   Would them knowing make the anxiety worse?  If they knew,would feel I was under constant surveillance for signs of anxiety?  Would I simply regret telling them?Of course the answer to these last questions is no.  In other areas of my life, such as work, I have needed to be very open and generally it has helped.  They may not have understood but then they don’t need to offer some support.  Actually, I have found that more people than I thought do really understand as by opening up they have confided that they also suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and I have felt able to support them.  I have one friend who is have CBT the same time as me; a fact I would never know if I hadn’t confided in how I was feeling.  It is said that anxiety of one kind or another will affect one in three people at some point in their life, so by opening up and sharing stories with the people we know we can raise awareness of this taboo subject and help each other in the process.

Next time I go to Ireland I’m just going to mention it – see what happens.

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