Here is the text of a piece I did with http://www.healthizmo.com and AXA PPP’s site; the text is by the lovely Chloe Nichols (with bits from me!) and thank you to Trio and to AXA PPP. AXA doesn’t endorse my book and nor do I have any policy with them, but I would note that their online well-being material is full of useful things and available to all.
A film follows. It’s all about anxiety and in it I talk frankly about my experience and offer a few tips. This is only part of my story – and I hope it helps and interests.
Anxiety – Anna’s story
Although it can be common to have feelings of anxiety, people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) find that everyday worries may have a negative impact on their life. Mother of three Anna Vaught shares how she has dealt with anxiety for 35 years and how it can be managed as she balances a successful career and being a parent.
Anna was always considered to be a nervous child by family members. At school, she had irrational thoughts about people dying, teachers in particular, and feelings of extreme panic – experiencing palpitations and sweaty palms.
‘When I felt extremely anxious, I just wanted to run and hide from everyone for no apparent reason. I would stay awake crying all night.’
These feelings continued during her teenage years. During her GCSE exams, she would suddenly have overwhelming feelings of panic, such as heart palpitations and a fear of fainting or being sick.
‘I went to see my GP, but simply said I’d been sick so a note could go to the exam board to explain my performance on the paper.’
Anna remembers her school days with clarity because her feelings of worry and panic were so overwhelming. However, she didn’t realise it could be treated.
She kept her anxiety hidden from friends and family. ‘Because I internalised my feelings of anxiety, I started to self-harm which I thought would bring relief from the overwhelming panic.’
Her anxiety continued at university, and these feelings intensified in her first year when her father died, followed by her mother passing away after she graduated.
During her childhood and teenage years, Anna’s family did not recognise the signs of her condition. This resulted in her not getting the support she needed until her mid-twenties, when she opened up to her GP after a severe episode of depression which co-existed with her anxiety. When told her feelings of hopelessness and depression were linked to an anxiety disorder, she felt relieved.
She was offered various treatments, including four different types of anti-depressant medication to help with the anxiety, but none felt right for her. Although they can work for some people, the medication made her sleepy and unable to function well during the day.
‘I was also offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) (a treatment which works by changing how you think and behave) but I didn’t feel this was right for me as I would pick apart the therapy straight after receiving it and return to being anxious.’
The doctor then suggested CAT (Cognitive Analytic Therapy).
‘My doctor told me it uses some elements of CBT – they aimed to look at the root causes of my anxiety and the patterns I had fallen into.’
Anna found CAT treatment life-changing – after years of feeling anxious, she finally felt this could help her cope.
Ongoing impact of anxiety
Despite learning to cope, anxiety can still have an impact at times. For example, she might misinterpret a look from someone and overthink the meaning of this, often for several days.
A critical voice in Anna’s head reminds her of an uncomfortable social situation from the past which will shape how she interacts in the present. This can have an impact on her friendships, as she is constantly analysing conversations.
Coping with anxiety
Anna has developed ways of coping with anxiety attacks. If she feels overwhelmed by panic and anxiety, she will imagine her feelings as the “anxiety train” – ‘I don’t boot the train off the track, I will get the train running alongside it and sit with the feeling.’
‘There are things in my life I would like to have done but felt held back because of my anxiety. I now feel I can do what I want to do, knowing I have coping mechanisms if I start feeling uncomfortable.’
On becoming a mother, Anna recognised the importance of keeping her anxiety under control. She believes it’s important to be open with your family if you have or think you might have a mental health condition. Anna talks openly with her husband and three children so that they see mental health can be managed.
•‘Anxiety is a perfectly rational response to a number of things, however when it becomes irrational, make sure you find your strategy of coping.’
•‘If you are anxious about an everyday situation, try to imagine the worst possible scenario, and realise it’s not the end of the world if that happens.’
•‘The feelings always subside. Although this is something you may have to cope with occasionally, realise it’s just a blip and you will have good times too.’
•‘I always say to myself, don’t take today’s feelings into tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.’
•‘I’ve developed a sense of humour over the years which helps me to deal with the condition.’
If you want to find out more about generalised anxiety disorder, read our informative factsheet or visit our dedicated mental health centre. Do you have a question about anxiety and mental health? Ask one of our experts.