Navigating the anxiety of change

‘There is nothing permanent except change’ – Heraclitus

It is a time of change right now, as we contemplate moving from the breezy warmth of summer into the throes of September. For a lot of people the only certainty we know is that life is about to change whether we like it or not. For some people this will seem an exciting concept and for others it may fill them with anxiety and fear. When change is not what we wanted we can feel like the passenger on a train that is screaming out of the station with us on board. We try to slow the train down, grasping tightly to the handrail, with our heads bowed, not wanting to look where we are headed. We try to control situations, grasp tightly to people and fight the one realisation that the train has left the station, and we are on it whether we like it or not.   When we try to control the uncontrollable we bring anxiety, stress, tension, fear and yes sometimes panic into our minds and our bodies. And in extreme circumstances this can play out as frozen panic, where we refuse to get out of bed or in the sad contemplation of ending a life because it is all too much.

We may not be able to change the unchangeable but we can discover new ways to manage our behaviour, our thoughts and our feelings about the change. As Nikos Kazantzakis said “since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality”.

MY SURVIVAL GUIDE TO CHANGE

TIP 1

ACKNOWLEDGE the fact that when you keep saying “it shouldn’t be happening’ it is akin to asking the sun not to set or the moon not to rise. Consider this, “I may not like this situation, but right now I am in it even if I don’t like it”. Yes, this can be hard to contemplate but can ultimately lead to less blame of yourself and a relaxation of some of the tension you have been carrying.

TIP 2

WHAT’S THE WORSE THAT CAN HAPPEN? Contemplate the worst and the best of change. What is controllable and what is uncontrollable right now? And start from there.

TIP 3

CONTEMPLATE THE POSITIVES – is there anything about this situation which is positive, either now or for the future? What is happening can seem very daunting at first and with contemplation and a little trust it may lead to a better outcome. Just contemplating any positives might help shift some of the anxiety and fear around the situation and as Nido Quebein once said “change brings opportunity”. Are you willing to look?

TIP 4

MANAGE YOUR ANXIETY AND STRESS

Change can create anxiety and stress; it is a common reaction to an unfamiliar situation. Take a breath, slow down and evaluate your situation. Write an emergency self-care list that you can go-to whenever you are feeling overwhelmed. It might be a good idea to compile your list with a professional who can help you pinpoint tools and strategies that will work for you in times of stress. On my emergency self-care list is music, meditation and breathing. What’s on yours? Look for healthy ways to sooth yourself and then implement them. This is your emotional life line which needs to be pulled out whenever you feel the fear or panic of change taking hold. Keep the list in your wallet or handbag so that it is always accessible. Just looking at your list can help you to feel more reassured.

TIP 4

TAKE ACTION

Look at the change objectively, mind dump all of your hopes and fears about the change then actively look at how you can manage the situation. Set goals and then break these down into manageable steps which help you to bend outwards, motivating you towards the change.

TIP 5

SEEK SUPPORT

As Rona Barrett said “The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it”. Invite your friends and family to support you and seek professional support when the going gets tough.  A professional can help you to develop your own strategies and confidence to deal with change.

TIP 6

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” –Socrates. Are you ready to take the first step?

Anxiety

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith” Henry Ward Beecher.

Anxiety can feel like butterflies in the stomach when approaching a doctor’s examination, or feeling sick when speaking in public. Physically your heart can start to pound and your stomach can feel in knots. These are normal reactions to the fear and worry that these types of situations can provoke. Soon the event is over and the mind and the body return to their normal rhythm. It becomes more of a problem when daily events in life lead you to feel high levels of anxiety that leave you feeling overwhelmed and terrified by what might happen or what has happened. You can feel so out of control that you begin to implode right there on the spot. This level of anxiety may feel like a heart attack; where your heart starts pounding, your breath shortens and you feel like you might pass out. The mind/body has gone into overdrive and the fight or flight instinct has kicked in.  Both Johnny Depp and Kate Moss have admitted to being afflicted with it and and Amanda Seyfried, has said “it just stops your life”.

Why is it a problem?

When the body and mind are in a constant state of high alert and you are regularly being bombarded both physically and emotionally it can tax the mind and place enormous pressure on vital organs of the body. And if this is happening on a daily basis it can leave you feeling drained, hopeless and out of control. This can lead to self-harm in various forms in the hope of releasing the tension or to a need to block out what is happening through drink or drugs. This constant anxiety bombardment can have serious implications for your physical and mental health that may go further than the original anxiety you were battling.

Anxiety checklist

If you have been suffering from one or more of these symptoms on a regular basis, you might be struggling with anxiety:

  • Feelings of panic, fear or uneasiness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Not being able to be still and calm.
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Managing Anxiety

Admitting you have anxiety is a huge first step and being able to talk about it can really help relieve some of the pressure. A counsellor can help you to see your situation more clearly and help support you as you work through your difficulties. Indeed the NHS recommends talking therapies like counselling can help you to cope better with your anxiety.

Breathing exercises

When you are feeling anxious, deliberately breathing more slowly can help your body and mind to calm down. Try this – allow a pause between each in and out breath, counting to 5 when you breathe in, allowing a pause and then counting 5 as you breath out. As you concentrate on the breath with your counting you are re-directing the mind and calming down.

Distracting the mind

When we distract the mind with another activity, we stop thought about the subject which might be causing our anxiety. You are deliberately shifting your focus and can reap the benefits of feeling relaxed and more at ease. Try it for yourself: spend 10 or so minutes listening to some favourite music, doing a Sudoku puzzle or any other activity that you like to spend time doing. It can help your mind and body to relax, to let go of some of the tension and later, may provide some clarity and insight into your situation.

Physical exercise

There is lots of research which says that exercise releases beneficial chemicals which help to soothe your body and ease your mind.

Keeping a ‘mood’ and ‘food’ diary

Keep a diary which tracks your daily mood and anxiety levels. Look at your daily life and list situations where you have been anxious. See if there are any patterns to your anxiety. As you begin to understand some of your particular triggers you will have a better understanding of what needs to change or what you need to put in place to support yourself. You are the best expert on what your own unique triggers are. Add your food intake to your daily diary. Look for patterns of anxiety which might be linked to the food you are eating. It is a well known fact that a high calorific diet, with lots of fat and sugar can have a detrimental effect on our bodies and our minds. As a starting point if you would like a blank copy of my mood and food diary then please email me.

Relaxation

For me it is yoga and meditation, for you it might be patting your dog or playing a game on the computer. Whatever makes you feel happy, restful and calm can help put your mind and body into a more peaceful place.

It’s now up to you …

All of this info can help you to manage your anxiety and it is up to you whether you are willing to give them a go.  Remember you are not alone, one in five of the population will be dealing with anxiety or will have dealt with it.  Help is out there if you are willing to try it or find it.

Eurovision – a story of family diversity and of acceptance

It is the month of May and on the 23rd of this month the wildest, wackiest family will hit our TV screens in the shape of the Eurovision Song Contest.  This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the contest that brought us Abba, Bucks Fizz and the bearded lady Conchita Wurst.  It has had me musing about ‘family’ and the many characters from the Eurovision Song Contest which can be seen as reflections of the characters that make up our own families.   As Amos Oz has said “I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world”  and this feels particularly relevant to the family of Eurovision which has spanned six decades and given us over 1400 songs.

When I relate Eurovision to my own family I am reminded of the differences between the people that have made up my family landscape and the various performers that take to the stage each year in the competition.  In my own family I have struggled to find my own sense of identity and my own sense of belonging.   I am reminded, as I watch the Eurovision Song Contest that my struggle to accept myself, reflects a wider struggle that human beings often experience as they strive to feel accepted and acceptable to their families and to themselves.  This is played out in the many countries, costumes and songs that make the Eurovision Song Contest what it is and the human strive to be seen as acceptable to others. These situations are played out both on the concert stage and on the stage which is our daily lives.

Growing up within my family, I experienced a feeling of being different, surrounded by people that I thought were more creative, colourful and confident than me.  I often felt like the ugly duckling, longing to be the beautiful swan that I felt must be somewhere inside me.  When I married I still felt this sense of not belonging, as I was now surrounded by an even larger number of clever, creative people.  It has taken me a long time and a period of reflection through counselling, for me to realize my own uniqueness and the contribution that I make to my own life and that of my family.  I am reminded that these are common themes that are played out in the Eurovision Song Contest, when countries get together to showcase their own unique style.  It becomes an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness and the creativity of each country and a reflection of all of us as valid, acceptable human beings.

It can be a challenge to accept our differences and it can become easy to compare ourselves to other family members and find ourselves lacking.   When I accept that I am okay just as I am and that I am just as worthy as other family members, I feel a peaceful exuberance flow through me.  And as I embrace my differences and the contribution I have made to my own family I can love myself and love my family and this opens my heart to the possibility that we are all okay, exactly as we are.  And as Conchita sings “rise like a phoenix”  I would concede that the Eurovision Song Contest has embodied this sentiment since its conception in 1956.

Changing Seasons

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance” Alan Watts

As April springs forth her light filled days the lambs and rabbits that I see dotting the landscape are frolicking in the sunshine.  I can feel happy at this time of year as I celebrate the newness of the season and optimism of fun days to come.  It has not always been like this for me and like the transition of the darkness of winter to the lightness of spring, change has been a challenging endeavour for me over the years.  It can be really difficult to feel joyous and light-heartened when situations in our lives are generating feelings of unsteadiness and uncertainty.  Then it can be a challenge to stay on stable ground and we can feel unsettled and out of sorts.  When life is feeling uncertain and broken, or out of control I myself can easily dip into feelings of inadequacy and despair.     I am reminded of some wise words from William Wordsworth “Life is divided into three terms, that which was, which is, and which will be.  Let us learn from the past to profit by the present and from the present, to live better in the future”.

Learning from the past

As we think about the past, we begin to realise it is over and we cannot change it because it has already been lived.  What we did in the past was not right or wrong, it just was what it was.  You can see your past as a set of circumstances that you had to go through and you can either learn something about yourself from the experience or you can continue to beat yourself up about what you did or didn’t do.  I choose to believe I am not the sum of my past and I did the best that I could with the knowledge and the experience that I had at that time.  I am now a new person and I can learn to forgive the past so that I might move into my future with grace and love and understanding.  It can be difficult to let go of our past and sometimes we need someone independent, outside of the situation to help us to see things differently.  That’s what happened to me, it took me a while but I learned to accept the past and move on in my life.  Are you ready to do the same?

Profiting by the present to live better in the future

As Bill Keane so rightly puts it “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift”.  We only ever have the moment that we are living right this minute now.  You can spend your life feeling guilty about what has gone before and worried about the changes in your a future that might not ever happen.  Or you can choose a new way, that is to savour the moment that you are living right now this very second.   Yes, that’s right, this VERY moment is the only moment we will ever have access to.   I find it helpful to stop for a minute and watch my breathing.  As I breathe out I silently say to myself “past” and as I breathe in I say “present”.  This physical act gives me the opportunity to live in the moment and this helps me to ‘profit by the present’ so that I might generate a brighter tomorrow.  Why not give it a try and see how this simple act can help you to navigate change more easily in your life.

In celebration of the ‘good enough’ Mother

As March gains momentum and the daffodils are beginning to adorn the landscape, the theme is ‘celebrating mother’s day’ as proclaimed in a shop window I passed this morning. It has given me pause to reflect on how I can celebrate myself as a mother this month and the high standards that often prevent me from joining the party.

The ‘Perfect Mother’ Trap

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Leo Tolstoy  

When I became a new Mum I put pressure on myself to be the ‘perfect mother’ and to ‘get it right’.  Sound familiar?  There was a lot of ‘should be able to do this’ and ‘ought to do it like this’ running around in my head and a littering of failure as I strived to live up to the image of the perfect mother – a trap that I had inadvertently set up for myself.    I wanted to be good at breastfeeding, I wanted to be the only one who could soothe my baby to sleep and I wanted to be perfect at it all without fail.  I set some very high standards, and at all costs I was going to magnificently cope in my new role.  As the pressure grew, and standards slipped, I became overwhelmed, angry and more disillusioned as I could not live up to the image I had set.  I viewed myself as a complete failure and slowly but surely spiralled down into feelings of helplessness which resulted in post-natal depression.

Being ‘Good Enough’

Over time I realised that I was unconsciously putting pressure on myself to be perfect and that this resulted in feelings of extreme anxiety that fuelled a need for acceptance within me.  As I gained more insight, I learnt to challenge my belief that ‘I should be perfect’ and I have learnt that I may shoot for the moon but it’s also okay to be good enough and just reach the sky.  Learning to question my high standards, to evaluate what is realistic, what really matters and what is humanely possible has often helped me to relax my tight grip on wanting everything to be perfect and has still enabled me to get the job done to a standard that is adequate and acceptable, even to me.  As Rebecca Wells so eloquently writes “Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” So today I’m in celebration of the good enough mother, a role that I will proudly embody on mother’s day and beyond, what about you?

Romancing with one-self

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”  Oscar Wilde

The shops are full of valentine messages and a postcard has hit the mat informing me that I could demonstrate my love by sending flowers.  As February rolls round and the message I keep hearing is “love” I am reminded that if I have no love or appreciation for myself, then how can I possibly love anyone else in my life right now?  I’m talking about a love that offers kindness to our selves whatever situations are playing out in our lives.

Self-talk

As you walk around today, listen to your inner self-talk.  Often the harshest critic is the one sitting in our minds.  I call my inner critic ‘Sydney’, and she is very good at telling me “You are not good enough”, “You should have completed more” or, “You ought to have tried harder”.

When Sydney goes off on an inner rant I often thank her for sharing and then I explore how I might be feeling in the moment I started criticising myself.  Am I feeling frightened, overwhelmed or even scared?  Listening to our inner critic can tell us much about how we are feeling.    Often the answer is quite surprising and gives us a clue as to why we’ve been criticising or judging ourselves so harshly.

Self-discovery

When you begin to uncover the feelings associated with the internal rant, some compassion and acceptance often appears and this can enable you to speak some inner words of kindness to the part that is hurting.    Often asking yourself how you would speak to a friend who was feeling scared or overwhelmed, helps us to connect compassionately with ourselves.   Ironically we often have better relationships with our friends than we do with ourselves.  As Louise Hay says “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Self-love

When I’m being kinder to myself I feel compassion, warmth and a connection with the world and this helps my heart to open and for me to love others.  Why not give it a try?

Fresh start

January seems to be a time to focus on losing weight and physical fitness.  What about emotional well-being too?. Here are some tips for emotional health that can complement our physical well-being this month.

  1.  CONNECT – See if you can reach out to a friend for a chat or play a game with your family. Relational contact with others can create a feeling of warmth and a sense of belonging. During a chilly month like January it’s pleasant to feel emotionally warm even if it’s cold outside.
  2. KEEP LEARNING – have you yearned to learn holiday French, or to knit or play a musical instrument? Perhaps these things are not to your taste and it might be something else that you yearn to do. Listen to the whispers of your heart as learning something new takes up concentration, reduces thoughts about worries and can help you to relax.
  3. GIVE TO OTHERS – Perhaps you can say a kind word to a friend or a thank you for a job well done. Or perhaps de-clutter a cupboard and give to charity. This can give you a sense of contentment at having perhaps made a difference to someone’s life by your words or deeds.
  4. TAKE NOTICE – Pick a time of day perhaps when brushing your teeth or taking a shower and utilise that time to stay present rather than letting your thoughts wander off into past and future. Stay present! You will be surprised what thoughts you will become aware of that you didn’t know you were thinking. Are these thoughts serving you?