Escape from a Vicious Circle
2 years ago I was at work (very busy, dealing with the public face to face and on the phone, had the usual red faced, heart pounding, high blood pressure day) when I started feeling strange. Breathing in felt very cold, I felt extremely dizzy and "out of it". I felt sick, agitated and a feeling of dread. The strange thing was that when I was due to finish work that night, I was going home to help pack up the car to go camping up the north of Scotland for a fortnight - I should have been excited, I should have actually enjoyed work that day as I had always done when I knew I was getting away from it for a while (the only time i enjoyed that job). Our usual holiday routine of packing at night and leaving at 7am the next morning went out the window - I phoned NHS (National Health Service) 24 thinking I had a virus, was told to take Paracetamol, I went straight to bed and spent the first 4 days of my holiday at home panicking and not understanding why I was feeling so overwhelmed. I felt like I wasn't quite there, my heart was pounding constantly even while resting, my vision was blurry and spaced out, I could get to sleep at night without problems but always woke up at least an hour before my alarm went off. We finally went on holiday, up north to quiet campsites mostly on the beach, spent time reading, wandering about, walking, etc, not exactly stressful. Still felt completely physically and mentally overwhelmed - couldn't understand why and worst of all, didn't know if the feeling would ever go away. The holiday came and went and the feeling never dissipated the whole time. I wish I could tell you that this gradually went away but it didn't, it ebbed, waned, flowed continually for 2 years - I constantly had a red face, a feeling of pressure in my chest and throat, sweaty palms, etc. All very disconcerting when in a busy stressful environment and the worst feelings are the mental ones.
Fast forward 1 year - myself and my boyfriend take a week off to build a patio to enjoy a summer at home in the garden. Once completed, I woke early the next morning (still had a further 4 days off work) and decided to leisurely wonder out and have a cup of tea on our new patio on a sunny day. From then on for a period of approx 3 weeks I felt absolutely nothing. I had noticed that I wasn't particularly excited about the project while doing it and had adopted the autopilot approach. It was only while reading a book on anxiety that I realized I probably had a very mild form of depression - I couldn't get excited about anything, didn't have any opinions, worst of all I felt nothing for my boyfriend, friends or family.
My take on anxiety and depression:
Just a note, I studied tourism for my degree, not psychology (don't even know if that's how its spelt) so the following is only MY opinion and not based on anybody else's-
Evolution tells us that all species evolve very gradually to adapt to the changing environments and habitats and that this takes thousands of years - we can assume this to be true regardless of whether you believe in the big bang, the bible, evolving from aliens, etc. We're here and we keep changing. Slowly. What on earth makes us think that our bodies, instincts, and our nervous system can adapt to the sudden changes in our environments and lives of the last couple of hundred years when small physiological changes take thousands of years. We can't be expected to absorb, retain and utilize all the information thrown at us when all we really thought about was shelter, safety, security, food, etc. until recently (a bit of a simplistic picture but you know what I mean). We did lead relatively simple but labor intensive lives, sometimes with a lot of hardship, until 100-200 years ago. Our bodies, minds and nervous systems are still designed more for that than our fast paced lives now. All people are different and some cope better than others obviously. The other aspect of this is that although you may think you are coping emotionally and mentally you may subconsciously be giving your body signals that your not coping and subsequently your body may show signs and symptoms of stress. These signs may take you by surprise if your not aware that you are actually stressed, this in itself causing stress, the worry of why your body is reacting as it is. This is a self perpetuating problem - the vicious circle. And the more this cycle takes over, the more super-sensitive your body, mind and nervous system become. If you are on this site then the chances are that you have already trawled the internet trying to get an answer to how to sort this or thinking that there is something else wrong. You will have heard of the whole fight or flight thing, the effects of the subsequent surge of adrenaline - my whole understanding and tips to help are all based on this as to me it all feels like common sense if you agree with what I have written so far (I obviously spend too much time thinking inwardly, I need to get a life).
What I do to help myself:
Depression - I was lucky only to have experienced this for a few weeks and never again, its not the sad feeling that I assumed it would be, its not feeling anything at all. My way of feeling better was simply to surround myself with the things I remembered I enjoyed-liked-loved even if they didn't appeal to me at the time. I would play my favorite music in my car, potter about sowing seeds in my garden, make an effort with my appearance, try new foods/recipes, hill walking, cycling, plan the next holiday, keep busy but don't push yourself. I used autopilot while at work as it was the only way to get through the day while there but remember I hated my job, hopefully get some enjoyment at work and it may even help as you have something to take your mind off of how you are feeling. Also, as someone who admittedly watches TV for the majority of the evening, I found that reading a book or magazine was much more helpful than TV as its not as easy to zone out and think about bad things or focus on how your feeling without realizing it - I did and still do find that I do that a lot when watching TV.
Also, give yourself a break, try not to focus on what your feeling and try more outward than inward thinking.
Lastly, you have to base the level of effort you put into the above on how your feeling physically, if your very fatigued, even reading a book can be tiring. If you want to sleep after reading just one page, do it, go to sleep. You automatically set yourself goals and tasks and feel a failure even for only managing to read one page of a book, that's the thought process that you have to fight whilst and feeling depressed and/or anxious. STOP IT!!!
Anxiety - where to start. First of all I would say that the tips for depression apply here also. I don't think I would have suffered sudden out-of-the-blue depression if it wasn't for the years of anxiety. For me, in hindsight, it was a warning that I had run out of the resilience needed to bounce back from negative or even just tiring feelings and thoughts. Take it easy. That sounds like ridiculous advice for anxiety and stress - of course you have tried that. But, I mean it literally. When you get up in the morning and brush your teeth, don't go autopilot and start thinking about what you need to do that day while quickly brushing, actually think about and concentrate on what your doing. Do the same with making and eating breakfast, slow down (not just for the sake of your stomach). I know being busy might make this seem a luxurious waste of time but please trust me, you will find that slowing down routine things in your day and not trying to put the world to rights in your head while buttering your toast does actually make a difference to how you feel - you are training yourself to operate at a more sustainable speed.
Retraining your breathing - you may not realize it but the chances are you have always breathed shallow or at least since the onset of stress or anxiety. Please look up deep breathing on the internet as I cant recommend it enough - don't look at it as an exercise you must make time for - learn to do it properly until it actually becomes natural - this was what the respiratory system was designed for, breathing from the abdomen and not the chest. Shallow breathing with your body sends stress signals to your brain and it can escalate from there. Shallow breathing is what you begin to do when you are about to panic or stress yourself.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy - look it up on the internet or buy CBT for Dummies. This is retraining your mind to think positively and is becoming more and more highly regarded as a way to change thinking. Its not airy-fairy psychobabble, again its common sense.
I am actually now pretty much free from anxiety. I am a naturally anxious person and still worry about social occasions, interviews, etc. slightly more than average but the unexpected and unexplained stress and anxiety symptoms are gone. If I'm anxious I always know why and can deal with it now.
Good luck x