One way we can try to overcome anxious thoughts and feelings is to look away from them and focus on positive things whether that be in nature, a craft or hobby or watching something calming.
It is important to bear in mind that how we act and react to things can have an impact upon those around us. Sometimes we just have to learn to sit with difficult thoughts and emotions and let them pass and try to focus on something beneficial in that moment.
Our worries and anxieties can get the better of us until we don’t do anything at all, but even if you don’t know the big picture think of something positive you can do or give in this moment.
Maybe it is as small as a kind word, an encouragement, writing a blog post to help someone or distracting yourself with something that could benefit your mind. Try just one small thing in this one moment and see where it leads you as you focus upwards and outwards rather than holding on to your troubling thoughts.
This moment. This moment I am protected by God. I am safe at home with my family. There is some sunshine. I can see the trees waving in the breeze. I am cosy at home with a blanket on my knee. I am alive and well.
Sometimes we need to take the time to remind ourselves of the good things in the moment because as human beings we are prone to worry. You are not alone if you have thoughts about the past or worries about the future or uncomfortable things going on in your mind.
It can be a challenge to bring ourselves back to the present and where we are at. To look at what is in front of us and simply do the next thing. What is in front of you right now? Focus on that and try not to worry.
It’s another sunny day here as I isolate again in my flat. I can see the city skyline and my window is slightly open with a bit of a breeze coming through. I’m curled up on my couch writing again.
I’d like to encourage you that if you are feeling at odds with your own brain, you’re not the only one. It can be easy for you and I to look around us and for it to seem like everyone else is coping or doesn’t have the same kind of weird or traumatised brain reactions to their day to day life that we might do. That sense of isolation can be scary especially if we’ve tried hard for a long time. Knowing that you’re not alone can be an important step in making progress or at least in feeling more human.
There is a lot going on and you’re not the only human being with brain health issues.
One thing we can do is to keep grounded. To notice and observe what’s going on around us, to keep a routine if possible and to plan out little tasks if things feel a bit much. We can engage in higher level thinking and we can do little tasks outside of ourselves. It’s normal in a broken world to have problems with our brain health and there are steps we can take each day to help ourselves.
In a pandemic and in times of isolation especially we might find ourselves contending with difficult thoughts. It’s important for you to know that you’re not the only one. There are so many people facing similar things even if on the surface it looks like they’re just gliding through this experience.
So that’s just a bit of an encouragement for us today to acknowledge that yes this is a thing we’re experiencing and that’s ok and there are steps we can take to help ourselves each day.
Mental health has certainly become more of a focus during the pandemic. It’s not a new issue for many of us who have ‘been through the wars’ as it were of mental health challenges. Some of you have had your fair share of difficult seasons when it comes to your mental health, and if you’re familiar with my blog then you’ll know that a lot of the good advice I’m able to give comes directly out of personal struggle, suffering and overcoming challenges.
So, with that being said, I have a new insight to share with you. It may not be new to you, but it is something that I am finding help from. If you’ve ever suffered with complex PTSD, PTSD, or even from anxiety, OCD, intrusive thoughts or some other unwanted thoughts that cause you distress, you may find yourself investing a lot of mental energy in trying to overcome them. Sometimes incidents from my early high school days come into my mind and cause me distress. They used to come back as severe and painful flashbacks when I was re-experiencing childhood trauma as if I was still a child and still in those situations. I Thank God that those difficult times when my mind was reprocessing things have passed. I still have mental intrusions that are less intense but still upsetting and I can get into a fog of rumination or trying to ‘fix’ and make sense of what’s in my head.
Over the past few days, however, I came to a realisation that actually, my childhood brain withstood a lot of assault on it, my young adult brain persevered through anxiety and depression, and my brain in more recent years has also withstood the tests of PTSD and complex PTSD and I have accomplished things despite all of that, even to the point my doctors were surprised that with what my brain went through and what I went through as a child that I had managed to come so far. So if I’ve overcome all of that, then it goes to show I do have a strong and resilient brain, and I believe that God has created all of us to have brains that can cope, survive and go on to be renewed and form new connections and ultimately hopefully to thrive.
I’m not separating you or I from our brains, but it does help to think about things a bit differently from time to time. You may not be ready or able to say of yourself ‘I am strong’ but there’s no doubt about it that your brain is still intact and keeping you going even if it has taken a bit of a battering along the way.
So, when I do get those unwanted thoughts or memories, I can now say to myself, ‘It’s ok, my brain is strong enough to deal with this’ and instead of focusing on what would otherwise upset, confuse or distress me or draw me into my inner world of childhood trauma, I can instead be that little bit more focused on what’s going on around me and take comfort and strength from the fact that my brain is strong and resilient. Yours is too. We can barely comprehend just how much our brains do moment to moment, day by day, by the Grace of God keeping us alive and functioning.
We do need outside help sometimes, so be sure to ask for help if you are in a place of need or of distress because just as much as our bodies need attention and care so too do our minds and brains.
Yet, if you have been struggling through this pandemic with mental health issues, remind yourself that you have a strong and resilient brain that can and will survive whatever you are facing. It might just help to take the edge of negativity off things, and give you a bit of confidence to persevere.
Three cheers for our strong and resilient brains! 🙂 x
It can feel like we’re caught in a stormy sea at times. Our vessel may be tossed up and down on choppy waters and sometimes we won’t know whether we ourselves are up or down.
For those of us with underlying health problems and perhaps particularly mental health struggles, this can be all the more unsettling.
For Christians, the sure and steadfast hope we have in Jesus Christ, our Eternal Great High Priest Who intercedes for us, is the ultimate ‘anchor for our souls’ (Hebrews 6:19).
However, even when we are eternally secure, we can still experience feelings of insecurity in living life in this world. This applies to all of us regardless of belief because the human experience can be tumultuous.
Yesterday at ‘online church’ the person teaching spoke of how he had visited Lindisfarne and learned of monks who had to cross an expanse of watery land to get to their place of refuge and worship. They often had to do so when there was thick mist and it was a dangerous venture. However, there were tall poles at regular intervals across this vast expanse and although they couldn’t see them all at once, they knew that if they walked keeping their eyes on the one ahead, eventually the mist would clear enough for them to see the next one, and in time with perseverance, walking by the certain faith in what they had seen before and knew was tangibly there even though they couldn’t see it in the moment, they would safely get to the other side. And each time, they did.
This was an illustration of walking by faith and not by sight – but not a blind faith – a faith based in Reality – and ultimately those of us who are Christians walk by faith in Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, Who will give us directions as and when we need them, and more than that Who Is always with us.
Today I have had moments when I’ve felt that I was on choppy waters. For those of you who have had mental health challenges you may know what I mean. I spent some years overcoming intense complex PTSD, depression and anxiety, and although on the whole I have come a very long way since then, from time to time things resurface, perhaps especially as my brain and everything going on internally reprocesses things and as I go through a ‘healing’ process. I can be sitting in a perfectly peaceful room and begin to experience inner tempests.
I have the sure and steadfast hope of my soul’s Anchor in Jesus Christ, and there Is and can be nothing more dependable and secure than a life hidden with Christ in God, regardless of external circumstances. However, it got me thinking that sometimes we need ‘guide posts’ in our day to day life, just as those monks of Lindisfarne had.
They may be merely signposts to our ultimate Truth and destination and soul’s refuge, but they can be helpful.
They are not THE Anchor, but they are helpful points in our journey through our days.
Some of the things that can ‘anchor’ us in the moment, if we are beginning to struggle, whether from symptoms of complex PTSD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, bad memories, or stress and worry about the pandemic or our daily living in general can be things that ‘ground’ us in the moment.
I’ve talked before about the importance of paying attention to our breathing, to the five senses, and things like that.
But what about when the we need something a bit deeper to help with the things that are bothering us or that threaten to knock us off course?
Our brains are wonderful and complex things, and can both help and hinder us. Sometimes we need to give ourselves anchors and guideposts to stay a steady course.
For example, if feelings arise that are linked to negative self talk perhaps from lies said over you in childhood, do you have something to hold to in your mind to counter this and help you take the next small (or big) step forwards? Can you keep handy some positive affirmations?
When depression threatens to weigh you down and render you immobile, do you have a ‘go to’ task that you can use as an anchor or guide post in your day to get you out of that immediate slump and help you to steer a more positive and healthy course?
If you are finding it overwhelming and need some reassurance, do you have the number of a friend, family member, or support helpline at hand that you can turn to in your distress?
If you are tempted to give in to some addiction, have you prepared a healthy alternative so that you can go to that instead and begin rewiring your brain from negative patterns and habits into positive?
What tools and techniques do you use to get yourself through those choppy waters? Do you have any temporary measures that you use that you can continue to build upon? And do you know the ultimate security of the only True Anchor your soul can find refuge and eternal salvation in, in The Person of Jesus Christ?
Wherever you are today dear friends, know that no matter how bad it might feel, it won’t last forever, and that you can use your different tools and techniques to get you from one point to the next, even if you can’t quite make our your destination just yet.
We walk by faith not by sight, yet our faith is not blind faith but based on ultimate Reality.
And in a lesser, smaller scale, but also important to help us make our way forward, we can figure out our own temporary ‘guideposts’ and ways forward for when we do get into those unsettling and choppy waters.
If the pandemic has left you feeling stuck, jaded, confused and anxious, then perhaps it will be helpful to create a mental road map forwards.
This is something that can be helpful in life generally. I think perhaps we are often if not always evaluating and re-evaluating our way forwards in life. Sometimes people get stuck and drift along in life, but even then there are certain things that keep them moving forwards, even if those are unconscious or not particularly helpful. Maybe their moving forwards is actually going backwards….?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move forwards mentally, perhaps because I have been through years of complex PTSD where past and present are terrifyingly intermingled. Even after the worst of that passes and healing begins, my mind is still looking to re-establish reference points from the past, to make sense of things in order to move forwards, and a central part of that is developing and realising my true identity.
I’m learning to replace the lies that broke me with the Truth of Who God says I am that rebuilds, heals and sets me free. This is crucial to me for mental strength and for things making sense as I move forwards.
Throughout our lives we will face questions that we will need to answer for ourselves regarding our core values, our faith, our identity and what matters most to us in life. Many of the most important choices we go on to make will stem from our core values and these deep things in ourselves.
Yet at other times, we just need to try to keep moving ourselves forwards through life, even when nothing makes sense, even when traumatised, so as to survive.
How do we create a mental road map forwards when we don’t know what’s next?
Some of us have key building blocks that we have developed in the past. Building blocks such as faith, values, resilience. Some of the things that help us through uncertain times have been developed in previous ‘fiery trials’ in our lives. Those who have gone through tough times before may find that they are more resilient now.
In terms of a mental road map forwards, I think this is a very personal thing. Something you’ll probably need to figure out on your own in quiet, reflective moments, when you ask yourself those deep questions about your core beliefs and values and if you honestly seek for Truth as you move forwards.
But what kind of stepping stones can we put in place mentally as we move forwards?
There are things to do with our values, and things to do with our practical concerns and responsibilities.
We could list the main elements of our life, or we could choose to simply drift along and see what happens.
In an earlier post I talked about the idea of establishing new habits and discussed how we can effectively maintain these. Our choice of new habits are often underpinned by some core values that we have previously thought about or explored. The outworking of these deep values are in the things itself, the practical choices.
These can help us to continue with our road map forwards.
In creating a mental road map forwards, I’d like to encourage and challenge you and myself with a few key questions:
What are my core values, do I need to re-evaluate these, and how do I define what is most important to me?
Can I list some practical ways I can live these values out in my day to day life?
Have I drifted away from these in the pandemic, and if so, do I need to seek a way back to The Truth and what matters to me?
What kind of accountability can I seek that will help me live out what is most important in my life?
I think these questions can apply to many areas of our lives. We can consider each life area as a key stepping stone in our mental roadmap. And we can diligently apply and evaluate these on a regular basis so that we stay on track.
I’ve done this kind of self-reflective work for myself in the past, and established key life areas. From these I have distilled some actions that I can take to keep me living these out in practical ways in a day to day basis.
The following aren’t specifically the ones I have for myself, but to help you get started, some of the core things that we all may have as important aspects of life could be:
Faith / belief / purpose / overall reason for being.
Wellbeing – mental and physical.
Goals / dreams.
Learning / skills / hobbies.
What would be on your list and how can your reflections help you to establish a road map forwards through this pandemic, and through the next phase of your life?
Anxiety can leave you feeling pretty small. If you battle against anxiety, you know that this ‘nemesis’ can leave you feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, backed up against a wall, cowering in a corner with your hands over your face, wishing it all would just go away. But guess what? You lived to fight another day. And if you stay in training, one day you will find that you have the courage to step away from that corner, lift your head high, tell anxiety who’s boss, and win the battle as you take the next step to accomplish your goal however big or small that goal might be. Don’t get me wrong, anxiety like most opponents doesn’t give up easily…winning one battle doesn’t mean that you won’t face others in the future, but as you stay in training, build resilience and learn how to use your ‘armoury’ then you will become increasingly stronger and better prepared so that it doesn’t continue to overwhelm your every day life in such a debilitating way as it might be doing just now.
You’ll probably realise, and if you’ve read my previous blog posts on related issues then you’ll know, that I speak from years of painful experience in this regard. However, I have learnt a fair bit in this difficult journey, it certainly has been a battle against a persistent foe, but as small as we might be feeling when experiencing anxiety, panic attacks and related conditions, we can become ‘superheroes’ in our own way as we overcome our own battles, and use our increasing skills and strength to help others.
You are not alone
I know how debilitating living with Generalised Anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, etc can be. My heart goes out to you if you are overwhelmed by these things just now. I’d love to share with you some of the things I’ve learned that help me make progress on this journey. It continues to be a daily challenge, however, it does get better the more you understand. Actually, the reason I started writing this was prompted by almost having a ‘meltdown’ this evening because I couldn’t find an address that I needed, but I was able to ‘talk myself out of that corner’ that I felt backed up against.
Quick tips for your training to become a ‘superhero’ in your fight against anxiety.
Arm yourself with knowledge – know your opponent.
You can’t really win this fight if you don’t know what you’re up against. I know the fear of feeling that your head and heart are about to explode, hyperventilating and feeling that you will be sick (or in my case, actually being sick a couple of times), collapsing physically in a heap, feeling dizzy, stressed, and worrying that you might be going crazy because of the relentless and unceasing bombardment of thoughts firing at you like arrows from all sides.
Knowing that these are ‘normal’ symptoms of a condition that many people share was one of the first steps for me for making sense of things and lessening the fear that something far worse was happening to me. So find some recommended resources – there are plenty out there such as MIND in the UK https://www.mind.org.uk/ but there will be plenty of others that can help explain to you what’s going on in your body, brain and nervous system. You’re not going crazy if you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks – you are in fact incredibly brave as each small thing that may seem easy or effortless to other people, is a monumental task for us.
2. Get support from a professional.
I am so blessed and thankful that living in the UK I have free access to health care, including support for mental health conditions such as anxiety. I had to face in myself the ‘stigma’ that I felt in reaching out for help but things had got to such a point that after years of stress my body was overloaded with stress hormones and I physically and mentally couldn’t cope any more. I needed support, and actually reaching out to get that, as scary as I felt it was at the time, and as reluctant as I was, is one of the best things I have done in my recovery.
Work at getting rid of and overcoming any stigmas you might have about getting help for mental health. Just as you wouldn’t feel ashamed about getting help for a broken arm, for diabetes or migraines or other physical conditions, you and I have no reason to feel ashamed if the chemicals in our brains, our hormones, nervous systems and consequently our thoughts are ‘not working properly’. Nor would you sit at home trying to repair your own broken arm, or at least I hope you wouldn’t, so learn from my mistakes of trying to get through things on my own for so many years, and losing out on quality of life and suffering more than necessary, by getting help from someone who knows and understands what is going on. If you live in a country where you have to fund your own health care, try to find out if there are charitable groups with a strong background in mental health that can offer you some support, phone a related helpline and ask if someone can help you understand what’s going on, access online resources, including YouTube videos such as those by licensed therapist Katie Morton – she is lovely and explains things very well. But don’t try to go it alone when you don’t need to. Even ‘Batman’ has backup, so why shouldn’t you?
3. Friends, family and a support network.
Related to this, share with trusted friends and family members and try to build up a support network. You might not like the sound of this at first, but you won’t always be what you might feel is ‘the needy one’. You are strong too and can reciprocate help. Having friends and family involved to supplement the support from professionals, rather than feeling like you are overburdening people who might not have the resources to help, can be a big part of your recovery, and your training on your ‘superhero’ journey Just knowing that you have someone who is aware that you might need a bit of encouragement when you both are walking into a crowded room, or going out with friends, or that you might need a bit of extra time as ‘leeway’ when leaving the house to meet them because anxiety can strike when you’re not expecting it, can help build and preserve understanding within these relationships. You might find that they also struggle and that you can be sources of mutual support to each other.
4. Breathe, breathe, breathe!
You and I really need to practice this regularly and stay in training. This is one aspect of becoming resilient that we cannot afford to neglect. Breathing properly is essential for life. It is also essential for quality of life. When we panic, we hyperventilate, we breathe short, shallow breaths, sometimes ‘gulping’ in air, or holding our breath, and we can breathe erratically and too frequently. Everything speeds up! We send our bodies and brains into fight / flight / freeze mode, adrenaline and cortisol go up, we might start pacing up and down, looking for a ‘way out’, sweating, crying or facing a melt down. An inevitable response is that we then have to contend with racing thoughts, mostly negative and self-deprecating, or ‘catastrophising’ about the situation and imagining the worst which means our anxiety goes up rather than coming under control.
This is why breathing properly is so essential. I know, I know, ‘it’s easier said than done’, right? That’s true, but it’s also not as hard as you think. You’ve seen in films how someone panicking might be given a paper bag to breathe into, and gradually the pace and intensity of their breathing calms down. You don’t need a paper bag, but you do need to breathe in a more helpful way. Try this – breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, breathing so that your belly rises on the in breath, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. There are different variations on this for the amount of time, but the main thing to remember is breathe in through the nose, hold, and breathe out through your mouth, allowing your tummy to rise and fall with the in and out breaths, and making sure that you exhale for just a bit longer than you inhale. This helps to regulate the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system, calms the nervous system and get you out of the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ state into being more in control of your body and mind.
We need to keep practicing this though, daily. Start small, for a few seconds at a time if that’s all you feel you can manage, and then just build from there and keep going – it works wonders! At first I felt frustrated when doctors kept on at me about the breathing when I felt I needed something more to help me, but simplicity is really the key sometimes, and just trust me they know what they’re talking about when they prescribe ‘breathing’ properly as the medicine you need! Sometimes, as the saying goes, the best things in life really are free!!!
This is a very personal journey, so ask for advice, information and guidance from healthcare professionals. Tell them what your concerns and symptoms are and consider whether taking medicine to help with anxiety, might be a helpful option for you, even if just in the short term to take the edge off things.
6. You are what you think?
Be transformed by renewing your mind. Challenge and intercept your negative thoughts, and grow in understanding of the connective cycle between thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions. You might need help with this at first, but it is essential, and as with breathing, it is a daily and lifelong training we need to maintain. Initially it feels impossible to rise up from the onslaught of negative thoughts incessantly bombarding our minds, and they seldom turn up alone. But if you can address and intercept your thoughts then you can gain mastery over your physical, mental and emotional reactions.
Stay in training even on good days, because if out of the blue anxiety strikes you will be better placed and practiced to talk yourself down into a calmer more rational state of body and mind, as I was this evening when facing a potential ‘meltdown’.
For example, if you have to walk into a room full of people, you might be indulging in negative self-talk such as “I’m so awkward, everyone’s looking at me, I can’t do this, I need to get out of here” etc. This leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, self-consciousness, fear, shame, awkwardness, distress, low self esteem, and so forth. You then might react with a racing heart, hypervigilance, wringing your hands, keeping your head down, avoiding eye contact, clenching your fists, while experiencing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, pain, etc. This leads you to take the actions of walking quickly to where you’re going, avoiding eye contact with others, or seeking an exit (don’t worry, I do this often but I’m working on it, and getting better gradually and you can too) or make excuses to leave. Alternatively, you might have a ‘fight’ reaction and snap at someone, become agitated in your movements, or you might ‘freeze’ like a rabbit startled by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, which is often what anxiety can feel like.
See how powerful a thought is! So, instead, focus on your breathing, arm yourself with new, positive and affirming thoughts such as ‘I can do this’, and keep practicing these and see how much better you come to feel over time. Basically, you need to learn to ‘be your own best friend’ in all of your self-talk and thought processes – it takes a lot of hard work, but we all need to keep at it to see the benefits.
7. Five, four, three, two, one.
A simple and helpful ‘grounding’ technique has been so beneficial to me, so please do try it yourself and keep practicing even on good days to train your mind. Observe 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three that you can touch, two that you can smell and one that you can taste. This really helps get us out of our own heads, grounds ourselves in reality and helps us feel safe.
8. Brain training
You’ll be amazed at how much your brain is capable of when you put in the work to take care of your mental health. Brain training is a good and enjoyable way to start, and this might take the form of puzzles, cross words, card games, mind challenges, riddles, touch typing, learning a new language or skill, etc.
9. Exercise and Nutrition
Just as we need to exercise our brains for health and well being, physical exercise, even starting small at first for 5 minutes a day if you are not used to it can boost our endorphins, our ‘happy hormones’, lift our mood, help our bodies, brains and nervous systems and regulate our emotions, while fuelling ourselves with healthy and nutritious foods and water can boost our mood and also help us feel calmer and more balanced.
10. Sleep – Zzzzzzzz!
Good sleep is something I struggle with and have to keep working on. Often I feel anxious before going to bed and can’t settle, or my sleep might be interrupted. I need to work on this, we all do, but little by little, step by step we can make improvements so that we can reap the healing benefits of sleep and rest. Even if we can’t sleep, we can practice stilling our minds, and disconnecting from the overload of online information and chatter, so that we are in a more restful and rejuvenating state.
So that’s my top 10 for now. No one said it is going to be easy, but you and I deserve a better quality of life than we have with anxiety, and it is possible…we are superheroes afterall! x