Navigating your way through heightened anxiety

anxiety crisis

You most probably, in fact certainly, know somebody with mental health conditions. Some people mask it well. Others may have a meltdown right in front of you.

Everybody is different, but for me, heightened anxiety can quickly lead to depression if it’s not kept in check, and it’s very difficult for other people to understand. That’s why, having lived it, I feel it’s important to share, because you may recognise some of the content of this post in someone you know or even yourself.

It manifests like this:

1. One problem comes along, then another and then another. These are not minor things; they are generally serious life problems e.g. bereavement, relationship breakdown, legal issues such as divorce or separation. Sometimes, these things come along all at once, and that one thing tips you over the edge. Your brain can’t cope any more.

2. The tendency for somebody going through an anxiety spike, is to default to worst-case scenario in everything. That can be really frustrating for the people around you who may see it as irrational.

3. You seek reassurance and that may make another person feel that they are not being listened to. Because they answered your question, and then you went to a dozen other people to ask the same question and came back with the same answer.

‘I already told you this, why do you need other people to tell you before you believe it? You don’t listen to me!’

It’s definitely not a case of not listening. Anxiety feels like you are bouncing off the walls and you are desperately seeking reassurance, from anybody who will listen.

4. Somebody close to you, a friend, partner, business partner etc may start to back off because it’s overwhelming. So you panic, and you message and message and message and make things worse. Anxiety is great for driving people out of your life. It also has benefits. Because the strongest stay and it’s those people you need in your life.

5. Your behaviour changes. The once calm and focused person, or the vivacious bubbly person gets teary very easily, snaps or just seemingly behaves in ways that you wonder who they are. Drastic changes in behaviour are also a strong sign of depression… drinking, smoking and other risk taking behaviours may manifest themselves.

What you need to know:

1. It’s a snapshot in time. It may feel like it’s never going to get better, but it does. I do not believe that heightened states of anxiety are a reflection of who I am. Rather I feel like I’m buried beneath the erratic thoughts and behaviour somewhere, and that eventually I am going to come to the surface again and be stronger for it.

2. The stop technique works wonders. For somebody who is personally close to you, when that worst-case scenario stuff comes out, try this:

Place a firm hand on either shoulder and say STOP. Tell them to breath, close their eyes and count to ten. Then, when they open their eyes, say ‘it’s going to be ok’ and give them a hug. If you are on your own, try closing your eyes, think STOP in your mind and count to ten. Then take a reality check of the situation.

3. When you come out of it and reflect, it’s like waking up after a heavy night of drinking, where you think ‘uh-oh, did I really do that or say that?’ Unfortunately, there may be a digital trace of your meltdown on social media, in text messages or emails etc. Everything you said and did was a cry for help, but now there’s no taking it back. And whoever has read or seen or interacted with the contents of your broken mind may now have a distorted impression of who you actually are as a person.

Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Remove what messages you can and then explain it in the cold light of day. Politely asking somebody to delete anything said in the heat of the moment or during your period of crisis may also  be a good idea, and anyone who understands that you were in a freefall of sheer panic will do that for you.

4. If a friend goes quiet or cuts themselves off for bit, they may just need to work through it, or they feel too anxious to step out into the world. Don’t take it personally. They just need time to sort themselves out.

5. There will be fallout. People may have left your life. You may have lost business. Take a step back, recalibrate, focus and rebuild. Probably you’ve done it before and can again.

If you know somebody who is manifesting signs of anxiety, hopefully there is something here that is helpful. And if you are that person, you’re not on your own. It’s a lot more common than you think, and you will be ok, whatever happens. Hang in there… there’s light at the end of the tunnel.