So I recently completed a 30 day Anxiety Challenge on my Instagram account
The aim for me was to challenge myself but also try and reach maybe a handful of others who could benefit from it too.
I would have anxiety since I was small, I think as a child I was quiet, I had a fear of being lost, I remember quite vividly being finished a piano lesson on Patricks Hill in Cork I would say when I was about 9 and I had to leave as the next student was there so I came out and no one was there to collect me. I knew my mother was coming but it was sheer panic as she was not there, I started walking down the hill and I think I got upset and someone stopped me and waited with me until she came but the level of panic going from 1 to 100 very fast is frightening.
I hated the unknown, the unpredictability of people freaked me the fuck out as a child, I was terrified of meeting drunk people on the street, I would cower behind my mother or my aunt as we used to walk into town and plead to beg to cross the street for fear of what they would say or do or if they made a sudden movement or staggered towards me I would lose my life.
As I got older in school I was terrified in case a teacher singled me out and asked me a question, so I always made sure I was a good student so they would assume I knew and glance over me to ask someone else. If you had to read in class and take turns, I would be skipping ahead to see roughly where I would have to start so I wouldn’t fuck it up. The thought of public speaking, doing a project or talking out loud made me go bright red and made me feel physically sick. Id not take a lunch some days as I was too self conscious about eating in front of people.
As a teenager then the social anxiety kicked in, Id avoid social situations in case I was embarrassed, humiliated or judged. Id be okay in a friends house with my friend but if she left the room or one or two family members of hers came in I didn’t know and started speaking to me I would die. It would sit with me then for a day or two after about how I could have replied to that question properly or why I shouldn’t have said that. I would over think things constantly, I would play it out in my mind over and over again about how I expected something I was worried about to go. Some people assumed I was stuck up or odd but I chose to just be quiet as it was easier than opening your mouth and saying something stupid. In my late teens I had issues with girls, or should I say that they had an issue with me, I was probably one of the last ones to drink in my circle of friends, I would feel like I had to go to discos or be left out, I could pick up straight away on the vibe of a person and it didn’t do me any favours it only contributed more to feeling anxious as I anticipated there to be an argument or for there to be trouble.
When I hit my early twenties then I wouldn’t dream of meeting someone inside a pub, if we agreed to meet then they had to come and meet me outside, I hated crowds and very rarely went to concerts as I fainted anyway but again crowds of people made me anxious. I chose not to go to college as the prospect of dealing with more school shit and people just terrified me. I went straight to an admin job after my leaving cert, I spent my lunch breaks on my own, the prospect of sitting in a staff room just freaked the shit out of me and I couldn’t cope with it at all. After awhile I came around and went out for lunch once a week when the girls I worked with did but I still didn’t eat in the staff room in fact I often offered to work through the lunch break everyone else took so I could take my lunch at a later time when everyone else went back to work.
After the birth of my first child I had my first panic attack, it wasn’t anything specific at the time that I can pinpoint as triggering it but at the time I lived alone with her and I chose to stay in a lot and again I didn’t do well with groups of people and cliques. I had my family, the few friends who really knew me and those that called to me. I went out now and then but I had to take medication in preparation for leaving the house. At that time I was seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression.
I decided to do a course online and at Waterford Airport for a time and I got myself a diploma in International Travel. This period of time frightened the shit out of me at first as I had to live with three other girls I never met before and share a room with one. Never did I consider that I would build friendships and enjoy myself, get top marks in my exams and also be approached to work for some airline companies.
As I got older I wouldn’t say that the anxiety just disappeared, it was like a tide, ebb and flow dependent on the situation. My relationship with Ian and our marriage helped tremendously as it cemented a partnership there that I didn’t have before, I knew he had my back regardless and we did everything together so suddenly a lot of things I found daunting weren’t as much anymore. It wasn’t just me on my own anymore, it was a partnership and I would say this was a huge turning point in my life.
I put off driving for ten years even though I had a licence as I was terrified of the road. Now if you put me in the front seat I would calm any driver and tell them what lane they were meant to be in and help them no problem but I completely panicked when I had to do it myself. It wasn’t as if anything had happened to solidify the fear as being authentic as such it was just a collection of scenarios I had built up in my head of all the things that could go wrong so I just didn’t drive.
It wasn’t until we moved house and we were suddenly in an area where you had to drive in order to get the kids to school where I had to face one of my greatest anxieties in life. I bought an automatic car and I was a nervous wreck for a while but I did it because I had no choice and I had to. I planned out my route, I avoided certain hills or areas and it worked for me. I still got from A to B, I still did what needed to be done and I also was building the confidence I didn’t know I had all along to drive. It was my fear and anxiety that prevented me from doing this for over ten years. I still drive an automatic car, I don’t give a shit, people will say you should drive a manual, people can say what they like at the end of the day, my life, my car, a huge achievement for me that I am proud of and people will always have an opinion on everything, at the end of the day if something makes you happy and you content, do you boo!
I think the accumulation of events over the last few years, the loss of two babies, Bodhi’s diagnosis, trying to deal with anxiety in your children when you can identity but sometimes struggle to deal with it yourself. Buying a house, renovating it, paying for it, suddenly two more children need assessments, fight for a school place, the death of my cousin six days after the birth of my daughter, Indie displaying traits of autism. The having to fight for the kids to get their assessments, appointments, then my 11yr old up and down to Dublin with a cyst on her brain. It all takes its toll on you mentally, you have six individuals who all need to be parented in a unique way, you have six loads of appointments and things to chase up on and stay on top of, you lose your own identity, you are trying to deal with grief and you have one thing after another fired at you constantly and before you know it you are having a full blown panic attack and are at the doctors needing help.
I felt when I discussed my situation on my Instagram stories that it resonated with a lot more people than I anticipated. It was actually something I was never going to talk about but just happened to let it slip one day and thought fuck it. So this in turn is what led me to doing a 30 day challenge to hold myself accountable and also to help others in the same boat.
I was blown away by the response, not just to the daily tips but to the amount of people out there who could identify with what I was describing. I even had one young girl reach out to me and explain how her mother (not on social media) was following me daily to help herself.
Throughout the month, I think three women contacted me to say that they had gone to their GP to ask for help after following my stories. The fact that those three women are now on a path to helping themselves is just amazing to me and what I can call a successful 30 days.
I have been able to manage it throughout certain parts of my life to the point where I was doing public speaking as part of a marketing team and it was my job and I was fucking good at it too. I was self employed and ran my own business, I did sales for a magazine and sold something like €20,000 in advertisements in a very short space of time. I never gave myself a chance when I was younger, I presumed I would be shit at stuff because it scared me, never once did I consider the possibility that it scared me because I could actually be good at it.
I consider myself to be confident in myself now in my late thirties but it took me a long fucking road and time to get to this point.
For those of you not on Instagram, I promised I would put it altogether in one place so that you could maybe save it or come back to it and make a note of a few things that could help you. If you do find it beneficial, please let me know as I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.
This is the order in which I did the 30 days but you can choose from any order that suits you as some days will be easier to tackle than others.
- Comfort Box – basically you are creating a go to box (whatever size suits) which is full of all things that comfort you. There is no wrong or right way to go about this as all of our comforts will differ. You ideally want something for each of the senses, so for example, a favourite album to listen to, a really soft blanket, favourite perfume or candle, chocolate, a photo album or collection of things you like to read. These are all examples but you want a little go to box full of something you can touch, taste, hear, see and feel which are all a means of distraction when you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
- Listen to your Favourite Song – go and find the one you haven’t listened to in ages and play it up loud, in the kitchen, the car, headphones in and off you go. Music is renowned for helping us to switch off, creating some good endorphins and relaxing us.
- Make your bed – it has been proven that making your bed in the morning can be one of the most productive things that you can do. It sets the tone for the day and also if you make your bed you are less likely wanting to crawl back into it if the day gets particularly tough.
- Motivational Quote or Affirmation – so I asked people to find one that stood out to them, to save it on their phone as their wallpaper or on their desktop. The more you read something, the more it resonates with you, the more you believe it and put it out there, there are affirmations for everything, my aim was to start believing something positive to eliminate the negative self talk which can trigger the anxiety, the expectation of things going wrong is an invitation for it to. Its like getting your hair cut or wearing a nice dress and you meet someone and they notice and pay you a compliment and you feel a little nice about yourself. Then you meet a second and a third and a fourth person throughout the day who also notice and by the end of the day you feel really good and start to believe, Jesus I must look well. This is the kind of place I am trying to get you to be operating at. The belief that you look well, its just I don’t want you to have to wait for others to tell you, I want you to start telling you.
- Colouring Book – pick up a colouring book, a swear one, an angel one, a childs one, an adults one and markers, whichever draws your eye and start using it. You can become absorbed for an hour or two and it is so relaxing and helps you switch off and to be honest is a welcome distraction from the phone and social media. I used a swear one in the hospital recently when my daughter was there for a few days and it was the best thing I did in a long time, as a parent we just don’t make the time for ourselves or if we do its the phone we automatically reach for but Im telling you there is no greater satisfaction than picking colours for the words “Fuck Off”.
- Breathing Techniques – so when you feel particularly anxious or especially at night if your head, like mine, can be like a Whirlpool washing machine it is hard to switch off. There is a 4-7-8 breathing technique which has been proven to reduce your heart rate and help you to relax and be calm. I have tried it, I find it works for me especially if I feel things spiralling. So you place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breath in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds and blow out through your mouth for 8 seconds and repeat. Try it!
- Enter a building first instead of getting someone else to go in ahead of you. It sounds pretty straight forward but for a lot of us it is a big deal. We rely on others to kind of walk ahead of us as we don’t want to be the first to walk into a place or a room where any attention is put on us especially if the place is unfamiliar and we aren’t sure of the layout, crowd, vibe or area. So I was asking people to just try it even once, go first, it may not be as bad as you envisioned it, if so you may try it again, building your confidence each time.
- Pick up the phone – one of the best ways to tackle anxiety is distraction, so I asked people to pick up the phone and not text or message someone but to actually ring someone they have been meaning to call. Making a call can be very daunting when you have anxiety, you would rather go without the appointment sometimes then pick up the phone and ring and speak to someone you don’t know. This is speaking to someone you do know and isn’t new to you and you will feel really good afterwards knowing you made the effort.
- Social Media Declutter – I want you to go through your social media and unfollow those who drain the fucking life out of you or who you just don’t get anything positive from. This can be Facebook groups you have been added to, maybe it could be one or two Facebook friends who don’t even speak to you in the real world, it can be an “influencer” who constantly posts photoshopped images of how this product and that product helped her achieve her post partum body when we all know money, surgery, a personal chef, a stylist, a hairdresser, make up artist, nanny and personal trainer help her have a very relaxed lifestyle. If you don’t feel confident enough in cutting people completely, you always have the option of unfollowing instead of removing as a friend or you can mute their posts on your newsfeed which means they have no idea you aren’t seeing their stuff and you are still friends. If you are feeling down and anxious then you don’t need to feeling worse, so the idea is to cut the bullshit and anyone that contributes to that on social media.
- Attend one Social Gathering that you don’t want to – look at the calendar for the month ahead and make a commitment to attend something you really don’t want to. I want you to get out of your comfort zone, even if you aim to attend for 20 minutes you still have gone, you have still attended and this is what I want you to aim to do. Tip for this one which is great is maybe attend with a talker, someone who would talk for Ireland as it helps let them lead in a social setting where you may initially feel awkward.
- Sit somewhere in a pub, restaurant or place you go that you wouldn’t normally sit. We all do it, we are creatures of comfort and prefer to sit in a particular seat. We maybe base our whole social outings on going to the same place, where we know the staff, we know the menu, we don’t have to be embarrassed about ordering something we either don’t want or cant pronounce, where we are unsure where the toilets are, if they accept card, we don’t know the prices, will we have enough money, all these things that just go through your head and sometimes prevent you from going. Now in this instance you know and have all of the info as this is a place you frequent so you are not doing anything only changing where you sit, just doing one thing that you wouldn’t normally do and challenging yourself so you know you can do it.
- Write a list of ten things you are good at – I want you to get a little notebook and have it with you, just like you would your phone, purse and keys. I want you to write a list of ten things you are good at in this notebook. Then everytime you feel anxious or overwhelmed, I want you to take this notebook out and read those ten things and flip your train of thought to thinking positive things about yourself.
- Watch your favourite film – there is nothing better than to be absorbed in your favourite movie with those characters you love. It is a simple way to de stress and release any anxieties even for a little while. If you can get away with it, do a weekend with Netflix and put the phone away, being transported into a world where you love to be is one of lifes simple pleasures and one we don’t make time for enough.
- Print some of your favourite photos and frame them. There are loads of ways to do this, so you have the chemist who prints photos from your phone or you have websites like snapfish who do great deals. The idea being that we now live in an age where we take snaps on our phone and everything is digital yet we have no physical photos in our hands, there are no albums anymore, there are no dates written in old handwriting handed down from your mother or grandmother. Having your favourite photos at hand or in frames around the house or in a place where you frequently stand or spend a lot of time at can be something very beneficial to your well being as it stirs up some nostalgia and memories of happy times.
- One random act of kindness – doing an act of kindness for someone can set the precedent for the rest of not only your day but the day for quite a few people. Its like a chain reaction. If you don’t believe me then let someone cut out ahead of you in traffic, now watch as they drive ahead of you and proceed to let someone else do the same ahead of them and so on. If you drove on, you would more than likely think fuck could have let your man out, your man is thinking, what a bitch and drives on and as someone tries to cut out in front of him, hes now adamant they wont just because he was short changed. Make sense? Your actions can have a ripple effect more than you know and it can make you feel good about yourself, open the door for someone, ask an elderly person do they need a hand, if you have a spare voucher at the till in Dunnes that’s no use to you pass it to the person behind you or leave it at the till for the cashier to pass on. The aim is to go about your day feeling good about yourself knowing you did something positive that day. If you have kids and they watch you then believe me you are influencing them also
- Do a jigsaw – this is one of the best distractions ever, the focus, the using your brain, the concentration, its a brilliant way to reduce anxiety, I love doing them I find it so relaxing and methodical, you can also do it alone or with the kids or a few people.
- Share your story – I don’t mean go and get a megaphone and start walking up and down the estate or corridor in work telling all and sundry your deepest thoughts and fears. I mean share it with someone so they can hold you accountable. Normally friends and family aren’t the best ones to choose from as its a tricky kind of dynamic. You need someone who is going to follow through and has no agenda. So say for example you want to go to a gym or start a class but it scares the shit out of you. You have chosen a person to confide in and you want them to encourage you. So basically you need to kind of agree on a time and date that you will try. They will follow up and through with you. If you go to the car park of the gym the first day and drive away, that’s brilliant, because you went there, you didn’t come up with 101 excuses as to why you cant or shouldn’t go. You need someone who is going to push you and acknowledge the steps you DO take not the ones you don’t and sometimes those closest to us just don’t get anxiety and what it entails so by sharing it with someone like that it in turn makes you more bloody anxious for fear or their reaction.
- For five minutes I want you to sit with your legs up the wall. Sounds strange but when you are totally overwhelmed, panicked or worried and you know it will trigger or send you into a spiral or even a panic attack. Sit on the ground bum against the wall with your legs vertical. It has been proven to reduce the heart rate and be an excellent way to slow down which in turn reduces the dial on the anxiety.
- Social Media Detox – so we talked about the declutter but this is a detox. So I am not saying throw your phone away or cut the wifi cable. This is simply a reduction in the amount of time you spend on social media, say for example, when you wake in the morning, the first thing you do is reach for the phone. Stop. Push it out to not going online until 12. If you are on your phone until the early hours of the morning. Stop. Charge your phone or keep it in another room so you avoid the temptation. If you have any apps that take up so much of your time maybe uninstall them for a while or agree to only using them when you have gone for a walk, read x amount of your book or did something else that you have been meaning to do but never have the time for. If you have an hour or two to browse endlessly on social media then you have time to do other shit you are just choosing to not do it. End of story. Social Media has been proven to increase our anxiety as we are looking at photos and reading stories which are heavily edited to influence us the reader to buy into the bullshit as it is all a money racket, click bait and suddenly we are finding flaws in ourselves because we want that body, we would love those lips, we would love to travel there, we would love to have no wrinkles, we would love to have that job, we are conditioned to believe we need these things and we are constantly searching for shit we didn’t even fucking want or think about before we went online in the first place. You went on to post a picture you took of a family gathering and suddenly before you know it you are looking up prices for a tummy tuck in Narnia. You then come off line feeling shit about yourself and the point is to use it in a positive way, being online til all hours keeps us awake and buzzed, being tired the next day doesn’t help matters or the anxiety as suddenly you don’t want to do something you committed to doing, you bail, then you feel shit about yourself for the rest of the day and then the cycle begins all over again. Cut back and even trial it for a while to see if you miss it.
- Read a book – find your favourite one or start a new one, use this to replace the time you are on social media, a good story is great to get into and a welcome distraction which in turn reduces any anxious thoughts as you are using your brain to concentrate on the words being told in the story
- Say no – when you are anxious you sometimes are afraid of rocking the boat or being assertive and you just go with the flow but sometimes at a cost to your mental health. Delegate, say no if it doesn’t suit you, start putting yourself first and even try it once with someone who constantly asks things of you but never gives anything back in return. If too much is always being asked of you, tell them fuck off and do it themselves. I guarantee the freedom you will find it saying no will be massive and it will feel like a weight off knowing you don’t have to dread the commitment you signed yourself up to that you dread doing and now have that time for you instead.
- Treat yourself – think of what you find relaxing, we all have different things, some like getting their hair done in a hairdressers where they don’t have to be chatting, others like to go and get a treatment done to relaxing music, others may like going to get their nails done and listening to the nail technician waffle on and fill the gaps of a conversation you would normally find awkward. Whatever it is go and do that, when we are relaxed we are in a much better head space all round and less anxious.
- Seek Treatment – there is no threshold you have to reach in order to be justified to go and seek help from your GP or a therapist. So at any stage at all you feel things are just too much, you are having dark thoughts, very upset and not sure why, depressed and unable to function or just very off form and know you are not yourself and you cant pick yourself out of the place you are in. Go and talk to someone. Some people need medication and there is nothing at all wrong with that, there is no shame in asking for help and getting it. 1 in 4 people have mental health issues and we need to talk about it to destigmatize the issue, you don’t have to shout from the rafters about your personal issues but please discuss it with a professional if you feel that you do need help and also do NOT be afraid to go for a second opinion if your doctor is not very supportive about mental health issues as this may be the case in some instances. Some GPs are just old school and not trained properly in some aspects and you need to talk to someone who understands YOU, who is relatable, supportive and listens to what you are saying and also makes a plan that is suitable for you WITH you.
- Wear something you wouldn’t normally wear – if you are always in a tracksuit, try jeans. Always in dressy clothes, try a tracksuit. Try something you wouldn’t normally put on and get out of your comfort zone, feel good about yourself, there is no rule as to what you can and cant wear, try a bright colour, throw on bright lipstick, wear a dress, buy funky shoes, try something you always wanted to put on but didn’t have the balls to. Go for it, there is a huge sense of relief in being who you really are instead of what you think people expect you to be.
- Go a whole day out of the house without looking at your phone to pretend you are busy, get some theraputty if you find you need something in your hand as a coping mechanism, have your little notebook to glance at if you are uncomfortable, create a to do list, distraction is key but try and look up and around for awhile. Maybe list five things you can see, five you can hear etc before you go to your list of things to do to keep busy. The thing is to try something new and to have a bit more confidence in yourself, peoples heads are always in their phones and they miss whats going on around them.
- Plan a holiday – Im not saying run into Trailfinders and book a round the world trip but I am saying research a few places that you really want to go to and how much it is, when the best time to go is and make a plan as to how long it would take you to realistically save to pull it off and then go away and fucking do it. Life is short, you aren’t going to be handed any opportunities, if you want to visit places sometimes anxiety can be debilitating in a sense because you are too nervous to travel and you have an idea built up in your head about all the things that could go wrong and I get that I do. But you also have a world of possibilities as to how much you would enjoy it and love it. Growing up I always thought New York would be somewhere I would hate, too many people, too busy, Id get shot, Id end up down in Harlem not getting off the right stop and so on and so forth. One year I went with a group of women and I was blown away I have been seven times. Now I don’t ride the subway as that does fuck all for reducing my anxiety but I still get around there just fine and it is doable, if I believed all the things I built it up to be without experiencing it first hand I would have never went.
- Get dolled up – try a new place, if it gets too much and its not for you and you want out, tell the person, your partner or whoever you are there with beforehand look if I give this signal, code word whatever it means, I want out. Obviously don’t make this plan with someone who can be found doing 43 Sambucas at the bar and needs to be dragged out of a place by you to begin with sending your anxiety through the roof. Go with a goal of lasting an hour, then see how you feel, follow your own lead if you are finding it okay, maybe push it out for another half an hour and so on. You are just challenging yourself to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit and that is a huge thing to do.
- Take a walk alone – it is probably one of the best things you can do, procrastination is a motherfucker, I find sometimes I can come up with 101 reasons or things to do around the place to delay me from getting up and going but when I actually do it I feel proud of myself and in a much better head space for just getting out of the house for half an hour.
- Visit a new place – get in the car with no destination in mind and see where you end up, if you feel a little out of your depth have an idea of the direction or area but try and go a different route for a change, challenge yourself, you can always screen shot google maps as a last resort and be confident in knowing if you have no wifi or get lost you have that saved in your phone.
- Try and cut back on fizzy drinks, caffeine and alcohol – this is a tough one but a necessary call. I have only noticed recently that it is triggering my anxiety and sending my panic attacks through the roof. Now I realise that this is not the case for everyone and some people need a coffee to help them chill out and relax which helps their anxiety but for some it can be a trigger which is important I guess for people to be aware of. I can drink Coke a lot when I am emotionally eating its just something I have noticed I do and it does increase my heart rate. I also know that alcohol is a huge factor for me, not on the day of but in the days following, this is purely because I do the dog, I may not drink for weeks but then have way too much on one night out as an escape, yet I am in a fucking prison then for the week following so its trying to find a healthy balance and be aware of your limits. I know plenty of people need a glass of wine to help them relax and have no after effects, this will not apply to everyone. I am not saying quit it all but even to cut back if you feel that its not doing you any favours could do wonders for you and slow and steady wins the race!