How mindfulness helped me embrace anxiety

P.S. Has mindfulness worked for you? Let’s talk about it below! :)

I have been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for over 18 years now, and while there are a lot of different therapies that seemingly work wonders for some — therapy has never really worked for me. At least long-term, anyway.

I’m now 29 but when I was 17, I had my first therapy session — psychotherapy. I didn’t tell any of my friends I was going. Although the sessions were OK and filled me with that positive ‘I can do this’ attitude, the attitude slowly dwindle and like a candle in the wind (Elton reference — you’re welcome), I was left in the darkest deepest anxiety pit.

I’d pretend everything was better — because I felt admitting that I still felt highly anxious and had panic attacks left, right and centre was me admitting that I had failed. If a doctor of psychotherapy couldn’t fix me — I had no chance!

But, over the years, I realised. There are many different people in the world and funnily enough, not everyone benefits from the same kind of therapy. So, if you’re having therapy and it just isn’t working — don’t give in to anxiety — you can feel better just keep trying different therapies.

Over the next ten years or so I tried cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for months — did nothing. I tried hypnotherapy — this also did nothing. But then over the last few years, I have tried mindfulness.

To me, mindfulness had always been something that was a little obscure and — how can I put this politely? A load of crap. I can’t sit still, I can’t relax — I certainly can’t relax when I know someone is watching me so, as you can guess by now — I wasn’t filled with an overarching sense of positivity going into my first session…

I went after work for the appointment and we sat in a cosy room opposite each other. I was told to close my eyes and she wore a headset and gave me a pair of headphones. Unusual. She spoke softly through the headphones and at first, it was a bit strange. I couldn’t relax or listen to her voice because all I could think about was how she was staring at me.

After a few sessions, I plucked up the courage and told her that I couldn’t relax with her staring at me — so she turned my chair around and it was so much better. It was as simple as that! I then enjoyed each session — I never looked forward to them I’ll admit, but when I was there I felt at ease and was always glad I’d made the effort to go.

What I learnt from all my different therapy sessions

Find a therapist you gel with

Particularly drawing on my experience with my CBT therapist, I just didn’t gel with her. She set me on edge, she was not offering a comfortable experience for sure. This is something I wasn’t after, I wanted to feel like I can be open and honest with my therapist and sadly, for me, she was a little abrasive.

Don’t be afraid to tell them it isn’t working

If you tell them how you’re feeling and why you feel it is or isn’t working, this is the only way they’re going to help you. If you just sit there with a smile and profess it’s the best thing since sliced bread — you’re only doing yourself a disservice. They want to help you.

Don’t be afraid to be an emotional mess

I’m quite an emotional person — I cry at sad things very easily — TV adverts, films, a nice story I read — you name it, I cry. But when it comes to talking about my personal issues, I hold back a lot when talking to other people and restrict my crying to when I’m at home alone. I very much make light of every situation, laughing it off as though nothing bothers me. Which is fine and probably necessary at work — who wants someone crying at their desk for 15 minutes? But when you’re visiting a therapist it’s important to be able to show your vulnerable side otherwise they don’t necessarily see how much something is impacting your life. Plus, let’s be honest, probably most people who sit in that chair cry their eyes out — there’s a tissue box there for a reason — it’s not just you.

Don’t get disheartened

When you feel something isn’t working after trying it for months it is easy to get disheartened. I understand this isn’t something you can simply switch on or off, and at times, it can be overwhelming. Believe me, I’ve been there. 18 years is a long time to feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.

All you need to do though is to keep trying. People tackle issues and overcome things all the time and you could be one of them.

How mindfulness can help anxiety

Most therapies give you breathing exercises to act out when you feel yourself panicking and this one was sort of similar. She led me down a garden path in my mind and together we assigned colours to different emotions. The approach of the therapy differed from all the other therapies in that this one focused more on relaxation and became almost meditative — I felt at ease and trance-like.

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says,

“Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience, and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.

“This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us.”

It’s this approach that has stayed with me and kept me on the path to effectively managing my anxieties. Being able to breathe away the panic has helped me embrace my life in a new way.

Read more about mindfulness and how it could positively impact your life on the NHS website.

Has mindfulness worked for you? Let’s talk about it below! :)

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