5 powerful ways to manage anxiety and banish your inner critic 

There is probably nobody on this planet who has never experienced anxiety in some shape or form. Anxiety, which is often a response to stress or fear, is normal. Even babies go through it and learn how to deal with it. But as much as it is a natural response, it can become overpowering and significantly affect our wellbeing (1). That’s when help is needed.

Severe anxiety does not have to be caused by big things. Often it is the small stuff that gets our minds spinning.

You might be facing a test at school, a medical appointment, you might feel stuck in a difficult situation with a friend – or like me right now, you are writing this article. 

Where does the mind go in these situations? It finds ways to worry and spread doubt about your choices, which can completely paralyse you. For many of us anxiety comes with that inner voice feeding us doubt. It compares us to others, it shows us worst case scenarios in vivid detail and if that voice is loud enough, we might opt out of doing things we were initially excited about. Anxiety wins. 

Although I have suffered from anxiety for many years (and still do), thanks to therapy and research I can genuinely say that anxiety does not define me anymore. I learned that the key is to recognise the signs early on and to have some straight-forward tools to manage it. 

Here are some very simple things we can do to prevent our minds from spiralling. As always, mental health is a personal matter and only you know what works for you. 

No two minds are ever the same.

The Power of Breath

The first method you can try when anxious thoughts are flooding your mind is to breathe consciously. The importance of the breath has been the centre of many cultures across the centuries but somehow our western world seems to have forgotten this a little. Yes, we all breathe in and out usually 20-30 times a minute when we are awake, but we don’t give it much thought. Initially, I was reluctant to believe it would have any real effect. I dismissed it as some yogi method at a time where I did not appreciate meditation or mindfulness. So, I’m totally with you if you feel sceptical. But there’s no harm in trying to focus on your breathing when thoughts get messy, right? You can do it wherever, whenever. Simply inhale deeply and consciously through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Counting from 1 to 4 or 5 helps the mind truly focus on breathing – and not on anxious thoughts. There are a vast range of breathing exercises out there, but this is the most basic one and I personally feel when my thoughts spiral, I need simple instructions (2). 

 The Power of Acceptance

This is more of a long-term goal because you need to practice this a little. I am still learning how to master the art of acceptance (7), but I am getting there and it does help. Unfortunately, like with most emotions, anxiety gets worse when you fight it. The more you tense up, the bigger its playground becomes. Actively accepting that you might be in an anxious state can already ease the feeling. In order to do so, remember ‘This too shall pass’. Anxiety is a temporary feeling and it will not last. When it’s most intense, it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel, but that does not mean there is no light. A trick I did about a year ago was to write a letter to my future (anxious) self while I was feeling very good: It was a sunny day and I sat down on the terrace with a cold drink, some nice music and began to reassure myself. It went a bit like this “Dear Mari, I know you are feeling very low right now. But I am here to remind you that you are strong. That you are beautiful. And that you have a lot to give to this world. Whatever it is you worry about right now, will resolve itself. It always has…” I then went on listing challenges I overcame in the past. I listed things I enjoyed. I asked my anxious self to get up, lift her arms high in the air and jump around. But above all I told her that she is enough and worthy – even whilst feeling anxious. This letter has become a lifeline for me. Numerous times I have pulled it up on my phone and read it over and over again, often with a torrent of tears running down my cheeks. There is something truly comforting in being told by a happy version of yourself that things will work out. 

The Power of Social Media

The critical voice in our head might be hard to mute but it is you who decides what to feed it. We are influenced by a world of fake perfection. Despite knowing full well that social media posts are lying to us, our little mind still sees the same images and holds itself accountable to those ludicrous standards. Many therapists suggest that it’s beneficial to go off social media and I agree. But if you are like me, this is not a realistic approach. Instead, I consciously changed what I feed my mind on a daily basis. I have always had body confidence issues and seeing size zero models (or just my gorgeous high school friend pouting) on my feed every day made it worse. Watching how the whole world was seemingly doing super-well while I still struggled to achieve the most basic things, broke me one post at a time. I went through it with a fine-toothed comb and chose to actively feed my soul realistic images. From body positivity to celebs that don’t shy away from sharing their mental health issues accompanied by images that proof they are as human as you and I. Social media can, in fact, be empowering and comforting – it just depends where you look. Changing my daily image intake had a profound effect on my mind. I subconsciously started seeing things differently. I connected with other people suffering from anxiety who became my strongest support network. When it comes to social media the choice is yours. Make it a conscious one.

The Power of Exercise

This one is really not new but as a passionate gym-hater, I wish I would have understood it earlier. I am all about loving myself the way I am and not running to the gym to please society and its extremely flawed beauty standards. But it turns out real exercise is not about that. Moving your body and getting your heart rate going not only occupies the mind naturally, it also lowers all the body’s chemicals related to stress and anxiety. When we have a fight or flight response (3), we produce a range of stress hormones and our body prepares itself to take action. But facing a difficult situation at work or at school usually means the tornado of emotions takes place inside your mind. You do not get up and run a mile when you get a bad grade or a rejection for your dream job, although that would certainly help with releasing the stress hormones. We often hear people say that they run every day ‘to clear their head’ and that is exactly what exercise for mental strength is about. 

The Power of Distraction

Neurologically our minds cannot fully focus on two things at once (4). Distracting yourself can significantly ease the intensity of anxiety (5). If you temporarily engage the mind in a different task it often takes the edge off. If you are in a busy environment, you can simply sit down and list everything you see around you. Focus on the objects in sight. Name them all, one by one. Another trick when anxiety hits is to stimulate your other senses. When I used to get panic attacks, I always carried a small piece of dark chocolate with me and when I felt the anxiety rising, I ate the chocolate and focussed on its creamy texture and sweet taste. It calmed me down – at least enough to get myself somewhere less hectic than in the middle of London’s Piccadilly Circus. Maybe the right thing for you isn’t chocolate but some wasabi peas but the idea is that a strong stimulation of your taste buds can cause the mind to temporarily focus on something other than your anxiety. Having the chocolate also gave me a feeling of being prepared for a panic attack which reduced the fear of it and hence the likelihood for it to happen.

 There are many more techniques that can help ease an anxious mind. It might be worth making a list of them so when you find yourself trapped in your thoughts you can try them out. Sometimes a tiny adjustment to how we think does miracles. 

 As always, remember you are not alone. In 2017, the World Health Organization (6) estimated that 260 million people are living with anxiety disorder and bear in mind that is just the data for those being diagnosed. There is no need to suffer in silence and with many online platforms focusing on mental health, there are great ways to become part of a community that sincerely supports each other through it. 

This article was first published on  www.sossafetymagazine.com

This article was first published on www.sossafetymagazine.com

5 ways to help a traumatised loved one - for SOS Safety Magazine

First things first, what actually is trauma? The medical world agrees that there are different types of traumatic stress. According to trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk there is a difference between reacting to a single incident or being exposed to long-term stress such as growing up in an abusive environment. 

From accidents, sudden illnesses and emotional loss to natural disaster, sexual or violent assault – the list of what can cause trauma is long but fundamentally centres around helplessness, feeling unsafe and trapped. 

Trauma can sneak in through the backdoor or it can hit like a tsunami. However, it is important to keep in mind that it is a perfectly natural response to events that are simply overwhelming. Sometimes trauma is quiet, sometimes loud but it’s certainly always a tough ride.

In his book ‘The Body keeps the Score’ van der Kolk summarises: “Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.”

Put simply, trauma turns the world as you know it upside down. 

For the purpose of this article we will define trauma as a psychological response to a deeply disturbing experience that is causing a lasting impact.

Short-term traumatic stress can develop into a long-term mental illness called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, short PTSD. We often associate veterans with it but PTSD is far more common than we often think. It is a very blurry transition from traumatic stress to PTSD and you can find a list of symptoms here.Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for PTSD available today such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or the fairly new Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) to name but a few.

Having witnessed an extreme and unforgivably random act of violence myself, I’m talking from my own experience of what has helped me the most when things took a dark turn.

If you know someone going through trauma, here are some tips for how you can help. 

1. Help them get therapy

No friend’s or family’s support can replace professional help. They are two different things, and in my opinion, both are crucial. Getting psychological help straight away can make the difference of traumatic stress turning into PTSD. When I experienced trauma, I completely disconnected and was unable to grasp the scope of what had happened. Friends gently suggested to seek help but initially I didn’t think I needed it. Thanks to my friends, I eventually agreed and I am so glad I did. Asking for help (especially when we are most vulnerable) can be incredibly hard and on top of that, it is a big task to research what help is available - one that’s often too much for victims. That’s where you come in. 

2. Allow their emotions and listen

This one seems like a no-brainer but believe me, it’s not that straight-forward. Traumatic responses aren’t one-size-fits-all, they come in all shapes and colours. From numbness, panic and guilt to rage, depression and shame, trauma can trigger emotions that on the surface often don’t appear to be connected to the event itself. For example, if your friend suddenly lashes out, remember that this is quite possibly connected. I exploded regularly during the aftermath. This was very out of character for me, but I was unable to recognise that and thought I was perfectly fine. So, what can you do? As long as their behaviour isn’t harmful, simply allow it and please don’t take it personally. Be the shoulder to cry on when the amour comes off, the ear to listen to rages about tiny things or the friend who never pushes when they don’t want to talk. 

3. Be aware of their triggers

Of course, triggers can be extremely subtle, but the big ones are usually blatantly obvious. Think of anything that has (even remotely) to do with what happened to your loved one. Those are subjects, places or activities you should avoid unless your friend seeks them in their own time or it is done under the supervision of a therapist. Never ever confront a victim with a trigger as this can re-enforce the trauma. When I was the key witness in court, I had to listen to my emergency call whilst on the stand - without prior warning and for the very first time. It wasn’t fun. My therapist wrote an angry letter to the prosecutors for putting my mental health at risk and I’m glad she did.  

4. Help them reconnect when the time comes

After a traumatic incident, victims often go through emotional stages.They may not be linear but at some point, victims typically try to reconnect to their world. Help them pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. You have seen them in their most vulnerable state without judging and your presence, now that they are integrating back, is of big value. Be there and make it easy for them to return to some form of normality.  

5. Look after yourself

Trauma is no joke and supporting someone you love during those times is exhausting. It’s normal and okay to feel that way. That’s why it is crucial that you find ways to release your own bag of emotions. Being in nature, practicing mindfulness, exercising and talking to someone about your feelings can help you cope. Above all, rest assured that your support is invaluable but your well-being should never be sacrificed along the way.

Think of the oxygen masks on airplanes – yours goes on first. 

This article was originally published at  www.sossafetymagazine.com

This article was originally published at www.sossafetymagazine.com

Struggling around the globe: travel with anxiety

Struggling around the globe: travel with anxiety

I suffer from anxiety, which for me is always accompanied by depression and after having been a victim of a violent crime I added PTSD to my mental health plate. It has become a fun little mix.

None of those mental health issues usually prepare you well for solo travelling. In fact, they are great at blocking it all. Adventure and anxiety? Just the thought of taking a leap of faith into the unknown used to send me into a mental abyss.

With many of my peers suffering from similar issues, I have been asked a lot about how I manage this journey. How do I not fall apart in every new place?

The frequency of L.A.

The frequency of L.A.

Right now I am sat on a plane to Vancouver. I have never been to Canada. I don’t know anyone there. And in all honesty I don’t even remember why I was determined to make it one of my stops in the first place.

After packing my bags in London and embarking on a floating-around-the-globe adventure, I spent a month in Los Angeles, with a pit stop in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. 

My mental health wake-up call: A cuppa with the cops

My mental health wake-up call: A cuppa with the cops

Over the past decade I have pretty much read every self-help book this planet has to offer. I have fallen deeply for Oprah and Tony, I have turned spiritual to ask the universe for help, I have tapped into various religions and I tried a tonne of goal-setting journals. It would be a lie to say that nothing has worked. A lot of things stuck with me but I learned that my depressed and anxious feelings will always find me. There have been temporary victories at times but everything started to change more fundamentally when I asked others for help, and by that I mean actual people - not youtube videos.