I am a naturally anxious person. First day at a new job, going somewhere I am not 100 percent sure where it is, hospital visits, not knowing exactly what to expect, you name it, I will worry about it!
Therefore, I didn’t really relate anxiety to MS specifically at first. However, after reading comments and posts from other Instagram accounts I follow, I started to realise that anxiety is a common knock-on effect of living with a chronic illness.
Anxiety is described as: tension, worried thoughts, uneasiness caused by fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown is heightened dramatically by a chronic illness as we are constantly living with ‘unknown’ factors. The feeling of having lost control of what is happening to you is awful and I am not sure I will ever get used to it.
When will my illness get worse?
Will I be able to get through my tasks today?
Is today the day that a relapse will hit me and change my life forever?
Add in insomnia, the fear of letting people down, your friends being cross that you have had to cancel plans with them last minute when ‘you looked fine yesterday?’ I mean, no wonder we can be anxious!!
Having your body fail on you is the ultimate betrayal. And there is a lot of anger that comes with that. At the end of the day, the good Lord put us on this Earth with the ability to think and a body to sail the journey in and one of those is letting me down. But if these negative emotions are not dealt with properly, they will send us down a road that we don’t want to travel. The thought of anxiety taking over your life is scary, but I find the thought of all the things you would miss out on if anxiety wins scares me even more.
I feel like my diagnosis has brought out the rebel in me. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? What I can and cannot achieve? I never know who I am saying that to: the Doctors? My immune system? My own head? I have no idea 🙂 but it makes me feel like I am taking back control.
Writing my 30 before 30 list really helped me to focus my energies on experiences I wanted to have. I felt the sense of achievement when I completed each task and it really boosted my confidence in myself. All the disruption that COVID has brought has helped me to realise that I never want to waste time again. I want to make the most out of every single day for the rest of my time on this Earth.
That doesn’t mean I want to go hell for leather when things are back to normal (back to the whole failing body issue), but I want to do something meaningful for myself every day, even if it is just having a drink and reading a chapter of a book.
All this talk about attacking the day and being meaningful all happens on good day. But when anxiety hits, all this goes out of the window. Practically, sometimes you just have to sit quietly and wait for the storm to pass but there are a few things you can do to help it along. These are just a few of the things that have helped me in the past. Sometimes I do one of them and I start to regain some calm. Some days I do all four and then have a good cry. Hopefully this might give someone reading this a few ideas in their time of panic.
We all know the feeling: stomach in knots, breathing gets quicker, you feel like your head is in a goldfish bowl, knees go weak…. Please give these a try:
- The classic breathing technique. Breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and breath out through your mouth. Wait a few seconds and do it again for as long as it takes to regain composure.
- Tell yourself you are excited. Repeat it over and over again: ‘I am so excited, this is going to be amazing, this is exciting…’ again and again. The hormone released when you are panicking is similar to the adrenaline you experience when you are excited, so the theory goes that if you keep telling yourself the things you are feeling are because you are excited then your brain starts to associate sweaty palms, butterflies in your tummy etc with a positive emotion, meaning happy hormones will be released instead of panic.
- Think about the facts. What do you actually know about the situation? And which bad thoughts are being fuelled by your panic? Separate what is a fact and what is you overthinking the situation. For example: your train is delayed on your way to a job interview. The facts: The train is delayed. You left yourself more than enough time to get to the interview for this exact reason, if the train was late. You know how to get to the office once your train arrives. You have the office number to ring ahead if you are going to be late. Thoughts driven by over thinking: I am not going to get the job if I am late. They are going to think I am an idiot, unprepared, inadequate for the job. If I am flustered, I will never find the office and I will look stupid. Focus on what you know for sure, the facts. Think about them and don’t give time or energy to the things you are overthinking.
- When the world feels like it is closing in around you, sit down. Take a deep breath. Count 5 things you can see. Deep breath. Count 4 things you can touch. Deep breath. Count 3 things you can hear. Deep breath. Count 2 things you can smell. Deep breath. Count 1 thing you can taste. Deep breath. Repeat and repeat if needed until you regain some calm.
Be kind to yourself. Dealing with a chronic illness is hard. It is relentless. It is happening all the time and you get no break from it so make time to look after yourself. Take things one step at a time if that is all you can handle. Because that is enough for today.
One step at a time.
Keep moving forward.