Why having snacks in my handbag keeps me calm (and other strange habits of an anxious mind)

anxiety habits

I wouldn’t say I’m a homebody, but for some reason being far away from my house for an extended period of time makes me nervous. Maybe that does qualify me as a homebody. I’m not entirely sure.

Oh and by the way, when I say ‘extended period of time’ I mean anything over eight hours. My mind starts working overtime and I often get a tension headache because I’m so tense in my unfamiliar surroundings. I prepare for these scenarios the only way I know how; by calling on my extensive toolkit to help me in my time of need.

If you have anxiety then I reckon you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then let me fill you in on some of the strange habits I’ve developed to cope with my anxiety disorder.

The Mary Poppins bag

To ensure I have everything for any possible scenario my handbag is always full. I carry painkillers (paracetamol and ibuprofen), anxiety medication, something to read (more on that later), pens, lip balm and snacks. Always with the snacks.

For long days I’ll have my breakfast, lunch and a Clif Bar on hand to make sure I don’t get hungry and have a low blood sugar freak out, which is unfortunately standard behaviour for me. I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.

I book ahead

If I can pay for something in advance then you can bet I’ll do it. Why risk turning up unannounced when you can secure your place ahead of time? I have been known to book train tickets six weeks in advance just to feel slightly more at ease as the journey approaches.

I’m also keen on booking gym classes, networking events and tables in a bar if I’m meeting more than one other person. Having to make a group decision about what do to when you can’t find enough seats is not worth thinking about.

anxious habits

Being early is essential

On the rare occasion when I haven’t been able to pre-book a train ticket I’ll make sure to arrive in plenty of time. If I can be at the train station 45 minutes – an hour is better – before the train is due to depart then I’m happy. To be honest, I normally spend that time buying more snacks and painkillers to add to my emergency handbag stash so it’s time well spent if you ask me.

I’m generally the first to arrive at a party, assuming that the start time on the invitation is non-negotiable. I actually enjoy the calmness of an empty room before all the awkward chat begins with people I’ve never met. It also means I can find the seat nearest the door to ensure a speedy exit.

If I’m meeting friends in a pub and I’m arriving alone then it’s tricky. I want to be early but I don’t want to have to enter the pub alone, so I often find myself wandering around aimlessly peering into shop windows long after they’ve closed for the day. Anything to avoid sitting at the bar alone for 40 minutes before the rest of the gang make an appearance.

I use my book as protection

I do love reading, but not quite as much as I love being alone. I don’t enjoy talking to strangers, so having a book to use as a shield when someone tries to start up a conversation is perfect. I can just cover my face and ignore the shit out of them.

I can also highly recommend the book technique as a great way to send the ‘NOT TODAY’ signal when you’re in the break room at work.

anxiety habits

There’s nothing wrong with hiding in the toilet

This might sound like a desperate last resort but it’s actually become quite common for me, and it’s really just my way of finding a safe space when I’m feeling anxious in a social situation.

If I feel emotional I generally just have a little cry in the nearest bathroom and take a few moments to gather my thoughts. I’m making it sound sad but it’s really a good thing, I promise. It’s a private spot to for me take a few deep breaths and call hubby for a chat if needed.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Do you have any little habits that help ease your anxiety?

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Why learning to ignore my anxiety is having a positive impact on my mental health

ignoring anxiety symptoms

As I sit here on a half-empty Virgin train waiting to leave Glasgow Central, I doubt anyone around can tell I’m trying to stop myself from having a panic attack. I’ve put my luggage away, started typing on my laptop and even exchanged a few words with the woman opposite about seat numbers and how busy the train is.

I’ve secretly popped one of my beta-blockers to slow down my heart rate and I’ve avoided caffeine all weekend to minimise the chance of feeing twitchy and anxious. However, I can’t deny I’ve noticed the little hints that something’s not right.

I’ve been biting my lip, twisting my wedding ring and have visited the bathroom more than usual this morning. My jaw is locked shut and I’ve been grinding my teeth since the early hours.

But still, I’m the only one who knows that a panic attack could be imminent. In recent months this fact has started to comfort me. Like most people with mental illness I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling isolated. I have a constant internal monologue whereby I talk myself out of doing any social activity that makes me nervous.

The voices inside tell me I’m worthless, boring and stupid and should avoid talking to others. Why risk making a fool of myself when I can stay home alone and overthink everything I’ve ever said and done? The voices have won the fight more often than not.

anxiety mental health blogger uk

Generalised anxiety disorder doesn’t always display physical symptoms. It chips away at my confidence day by day, making me feel sick from the moment I wake up until I manage to fall asleep at 3am the next morning.

It’s often irrational. It doesn’t appear to be connected to anything particular, and things that I normally do with ease – like visiting the supermarket – can all of a sudden be too overwhelming to contemplate.

Many girly nights out have involved me hiding the bathroom of a club, silently crying and building up the confidence to go back out and pretend to be OK. I’ve burst into tears and had to leave the gym, the one place where I usually feel so at home.

So sitting on this train knowing that no one suspects the terror I’m currently experiencing is somehow, a good thing. I guess it’s a feeling of control.

I used to feel like I wasn’t in control of my body. I couldn’t stop myself feeling anxious, depressed and physically tense. I couldn’t stop myself running for the nearest exit as soon as it all got too much.

I still can’t control all of my physical symptoms – like the lip-chewing and incessant bathroom trips – but they no longer control me. I can sit here happy in my own thoughts, acknowledging each habit like an old friend. They pop up now and again, sit beside me and we have a polite conversation. “Ah it’s you again” I think to myself, and I get on with my business as they sit peering over my shoulder.

And that’s where the magic happens. In the acknowledgement of these habits. I can acknowledge them, and move on. Feel them, and rise above them. I don’t have to react to them or let them take over. I can just let them be.

Before I know it, the train has departed and I’m an hour into my journey. I’ve written a few blog posts and enjoyed the scenic views as I watch Scotland fade into the distance.

I look over my shoulder and realise that the symptoms have gone. I know they’re still lurking, waiting to make an appearance at a later date. But I’m ready.

 


 

My top 10 self-care tips for quick and effective anxiety relief

mental health blogger UK self care quick tips

Finding time for self-care can be a bit of a mission. I know after I’ve done a day’s work, a sweaty gym session, scribbled down a blog post and done the fastest food shop in history I rarely manage to do anything other than flop onto the sofa with a bowl of leftovers for dinner. I’m often a jittery mess and find it hard to fall asleep at night.

I’m trying to make a conscious effort though, to stop and take a few minutes out of my day to slow down and check in with myself. If like me you get easily stressed and overwhelmed, then you might find these quick self-care tips easy to fit into your day.

Drink some water

Aaaah, the solution to all life’s problems. Got a wound? Chuck some water on it. Feeling faint? Splash on that water! Annoying boss? Dunk ‘em! In all seriousness though, I find my mood is greatly affected when I’m dehydrated. I get tired, anxious and cranky and it’s so easily avoided by simply drinking enough water!

Have a shower

I have a love/hate relationship with showering. When I’m depressed or anxious it’s the last thing I want to do. It feels pointless, a waste of energy and frankly just too much to handle. But when I do muster up the strength to jump in for even a minute or two, I have to admit that I always feel better afterwards.

mental health blogger UK self care

Listen to your favourite song

Music can have such a profound affect on our mood that you should really try incorporating it into your self-care routine. Start by creating a playlist full of uplifting songs and add to it whenever you find a new tune that makes you feel good. My current favourite are Thunder by Jessie J, Moments by Tove Lo and Dancing On My Own by Robyn.

Write stuff down

Sometimes we don’t realise how much is going on in our subconscious everyday. Whether it’s remembering to call someone, make an appointment or look for a new job; these thoughts can play on our minds without us even noticing. Try doing a ‘brain dump’ regularly. This basically means writing down everything that’s on your mind. It’s NOT a to-do list (although it could be used to create one afterwards). Instead just a way to get your thoughts on paper, freeing up your mind to become a little more relaxed.

mental health blogger self care

De-clutter your space

I love to set a timer for 10 minutes and go around my flat with a bin bag. I throw out all the rubbish, empty the bins and fill a basket of dirty washing. Before I know it I’ve got a wash on, dishes done and I’m dusting and sweeping the whole flat. When my space is cluttered it often plays on my mind and I procrastinate because I just hate doing housework. The 10 minute trick is just enough time to get the basics done and make me feel a little more organised.

Change your bed sheets

For me, good personal hygiene goes hand-in-hand with effective self-care. I love the feeling of getting into bed when the sheets are clean, and it’s even better after a long bath. I try to change my bedding once a week but you can do it more frequently especially if you have pets who like to snuggle.

Read an inspirational blog post

When I feel lost and worried, I like to read about how other people are coping and what they’re doing to learn more about themselves and their mental health journey. I love this post by Grace called Accepting Who I Really Am and this one by Emily on The Pressure of Happiness. Somehow knowing that I’m not the only person with anxiety makes me feel better.

Phone a friend

Living away from home has made me appreciate how important it is to have the right people around you and on call when you need them. I try and surround myself with positive, creative, can-do people who inspire me to do better. It only takes a few minutes to call a friend and catch up, and talking to someone who really gets you can remind you of what you want and what you believe in, things that we often forget when we get caught up in daily life.

mental health blogger UK self care

Get some fresh air

We all know that getting moving outside is good for our mental health, but so many of us just don’t make time for it. I honestly think that just 20 minutes outside everyday can give you a noticeable boost in energy, especially if you work sitting down in an office for most of the day. I also find it improves my creativity and helps me think through problems without distractions.

What quick self-care tips can you recommend?

How talking on the internet helped me overcome social anxiety disorder

social media mental health recovery uk blogger

Did you know that February 2nd is Time to Talk Day? It’s a great opportunity to start conversations about mental health all over the UK, from schools to homes to workplaces.

About Time to Talk Day

Sadly, many people who suffer from mental illness feel ashamed to talk about how they feel and this just simply shouldn’t be the case. It only takes one small step to ask for help, and just a quick chat with someone who understands can have a huge impact.

time to talk

If you know someone who might be suffering, or if you have a mental health issue yourself; I urge you to use today as a chance to open up about the real issues surrounding mental illness and help end the stigma surrounding the subject. With that in mind, I wanted to share my own personal story today.

Many of you already know my history with depression and anxiety, but what you may not know is how social media has helped me overcome social anxiety in the past few months. Don’t get me wrong; it took me years of therapy and medication to get to this place, but every piece of social interaction online added up to help me along the way too.

Snapchat

If you follow me on Snapchat then you’ll know what I’m about to say. I LOVE TO TALK. Not to other human beings of course – that would be way too much interaction – but to myself on my mobile phone.

When I moved away from Glasgow I realised Snapchat stories was a great way to keep my friends updated with what I was up to everyday, as we now live hundreds of miles apart.

Whilst everyone else is pouting whilst using the puppy dog filter (OK, I do my fair share of that too) I’m giving my viewers the low-down on my mental state as it changes. Sometimes I’m laughing about haggis in an American drawl and other times I’m just talking about my low self-esteem.

It’s a great form of talking therapy, and lots of people have told me they find it helpful to see that other people are going through mental health issues too. It’s made me more open to talking about these subjects in social settings and basically owning my mental health problems instead of pretending they don’t exist.

twitter logo mental health blogger UK

Twitter

Tweeting was not something that came naturally to me. I’m not quick-witted enough to construct jokes that fit into the strict character limitations and my spelling has let me down on more than one occasion.

In 2016 I started using it to promote my blog, and before long had been sucked into various communities (mental health, blogging and Birmingham) and was having conversations with total strangers on a daily basis.

I’ve used it to find new friends, decent WordPress training and a local social media seminar that I would otherwise never have known about. It’s made me go out and make real-life connections with people I’m met online, and without that initial meeting online I honestly don’t think it would have been possible.

I’ve also created my own chat on Twitter where we talk all about body positivity. Plucking up the courage to do all of these things has been a total revelation for me after several years of avoiding social outings and talking to new people.

Instagram

I spent a lot of time taking photos of my food before I realised it’s not really the best use of my Instagram account. I have a history of disordered eating and was obsessed with food for about two years whilst I ate a very restricted diet to lose weight.

I still love food and taking pretty pictures of my salads (I’m a blogger, it’s basically compulsory) but I’ve loved using my Instagram as a way to showcase random thoughts and emotions that happen throughout my day. I’ve tried to spread positivity through my account and that’s had a knock on affect on my mood, meaning I’m generally a little happier thanks to the interactions I make online.

I’ve conquered my fear of talking to camera thanks to Instagram stories and I even did a live stream a few weeks ago. This has made me more confident about talking about mental health in public and I genuinely think I could talk to anyone about it now!

social media for anxiety mental health blogger UK

Blogging

The most powerful tool in my quest to shake the shackles of social anxiety has ironically been the thing that I do all on my lonesome. I sit quietly in bed, at my desk or in my local coffee shop and tap away on the keys of my laptop writing for no one but myself.

During this time I feel free to say what I want. I can explain in detail how I feel about the world, how depression has affected me and how painful yet important my journey has been.

I can do all this from the comfort of my own space; without worrying about how I sound to others, stumbling over my words or trying to maintain eye contact whilst I divulge my deepest and darkest thoughts. I can express myself on my own terms and although it may seem like a one-side affair, it’s really not.

I regularly receive comments and private messages from women who understand exactly how I feel. It’s a wonderful, comforting feeling to know that we are all struggling in our own way and that we’re not alone.

The process of exposing myself online has given me the fearlessness to say many of the things I write about on here in real life. I can now introduce myself as a mental health blogger without the fear of ridicule, because I’ve successfully created a community of supportive people online who I know resonate with what I write about.

The chances are that many of the people I meet in real life will also understand so now I can proudly state who I am and what I stand for, and that is a wonderful privilege.

Have you found an unusual way to overcome social anxiety? Head over to Twitter and use Time to Talk Day as a way to share your story with me!