I’ve lived with anxiety for 3 years.
While I manage it a lot better now, I still have good days and bad days. I’ve tried CBT and various self-help techniques which have provided me with a bank of coping strategies.
Anxiety has many symptoms and each person’s experience will be different – mine include stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, migraines and insomnia (or sometimes over-sleeping).
Commonly, intrusive thoughts are associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, these types of thoughts are a universal factor that underpin a wide range of anxiety disorders and that most people will relate to.
To some extent, everyone in the world has ‘intrusive thoughts’ sometimes. Though unpleasant, it’s perfectly normal and in most cases, the thoughts just pass. The problem is when intrusive thoughts manifest, repeat or worsen and begin to have an impact on day-to-day life.
One of the worst things that my anxiety causes me to do is ‘catastrophise.’ This is a type of thinking distortion whereby I have an intrusive thought and then, in my head, I escalate it to the worst-case scenario. This can be very overwhelming and debilitating.
I’ve accepted now that I cannot control the intrusive thoughts, but I can control how I deal with them.
The first thing I do is remind myself that these thoughts are just that – thoughts! Just because I’m thinking about something bad that might happen, does not in any way mean that it will.
I back this up with evidence. Real-life evidence. I think of all the other times I’ve had intrusive thoughts and convinced myself something terrible was going to happen as a result, but actually, it never has. Anxiety makes me think illogically but this strategy helps me to try and rationalise.
A study by Harvard University found that trying to supress and get rid of intrusive thoughts is counterproductive and can actually make them worse. This is difficult though because it’s human nature to try and get rid of them! Instead, I now accept what’s happening and this doesn’t allow the thoughts to get out of control.
When it comes to catastrophising, I try to answer my ‘what if’ questions with ‘so what.’ Even if the things I think are going to happen (which are often very irrational) do, then so what? Is the worst possible outcome as bad as I’m convincing myself? Often – the answer is no. I know that in some cases this method wouldn’t help but it does for me, due to the nature of the thoughts I have.
The final thing I do is to distract myself positively, maybe by listening to music or engaging in a conversation with people around me.
Of course, sometimes, even with all the techniques I apply, I cannot get rid of the thoughts. But, by learning and applying these coping strategies I’ve been able to get a hold of my anxiety and live the best life I can.
Bethany Smith is a freelance writer and mental health blogger from Hull, UK. She writes openly about her own experiences of living with anxiety in a hope to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness.