The Truth About Anxiety.
When we think about anxiety most of our minds will typically think about someone feeling worried, nervous or on edge. This is true but there is so much more to anxiety than just a feeling and once we learn this it helps us to help others.
I have always been a worrier and I have always been an over-thinker and I guess that's why I feared the worst from the moment we had a worrying and vague scan. My husband however, is the complete opposite. He is steady, constant and a rock (a great match to even me out!). The first thing I felt is sickness and that gut-wrenching feeling where your heart drops into the pit of your stomach, I felt like I was going to throw up. Unfortunately, that feeling hasn't left me. The truth is that there are still things now where I get this exact same sensation. Sometimes it can be a beautiful bump which relates to my stage of pregnancy, seeing someone push the pram I chose that is still vacant or even the mention of Christmas! Unfortunately, anxiety isn't just for a moment, it is something that we must work through.
Anxiety is often wrapped up in guilt. I found myself analysing every single moment of my pregnancy and every decision I made from what exercise I did to what food I indulged in. I consistently felt guilty that I had outlived my child and there is nothing that I could have done for it to end any differently than it did.
How to help? Remind people that their outcome could not have been any different. Remind them that they did everything for their child or for their loved one. Remind them that they saw them enough, they spent enough time with them and that they cherished whatever moments they were blessed with. I love when people ask me what it was like to hold my son as even though it was a difficult moment, I see it as a really beautiful one too.
It is so draining. When we live with anxiety every little decision is a big one. Things that used to be such little steps like going to the shops or seeing a friend can become a huge deal. For me, I really struggled and sometimes still do to sleep throughout the night because that's when my thoughts conveniently spin around my head! I didn't feel like I was making any progress because I wasn't able to add anything onto my usual routine but for me, just showing up was a huge effort.
How to help? Recognise the little things. Acknowledge someone when they achieve something. That could be going to get shopping on their own, seeing their friends, being in a social situation, sometimes it's even about showering or eating well. The anxious don't recognise their steps as big ones because in their previous season they were just normal.
Avoiding Social Situations
This is and was a big one for me! As a natural introvert I do not thrive or feel my best when I am around a lot of people. I don't naturally pick up conversations as my head is always one step ahead of me for what I am going to say next to fill the silence! Grief is still very taboo in our society and people don't know how to react to the bereaved. I found that every response I had from someone came from genuine compassion and a good heart but were often extreme. Most people would avoid eye contact with me as they didn't know what to say or it'd be the other side of the spectrum of being too interested to the point where I was uncomfortable. We don't expect you to get it right and we understand that things can be clumsy, we just appreciate you including us.
How to help? For most people with anxiety a social situation can trigger a lot of things. As mentioned before, I often see things that remind me of Zachary or being pregnant and I feel like I've taken three steps back! I appreciate when people recognise that being in a social situation is difficult for me and that it is also a big step. Speak words of life and recognise that person is uncomfortable but that it's a huge step in their healing process.
The Physical Stuff
Unfortunately, when anxiety becomes severe or combined with depression or PTSD it becomes even more complex to handle. Along my journey I have and continue to suffer with panic attacks, gut-wrenching moments and honestly times where I feel I'm going to throw up all over someone! I have started to recognise when I am out of my depth and need to take time out and in doing so I am able to recover, remind myself that I am doing well and get myself back to a calm stage.
How to help? Anxiety can come out of nowhere and for me, panic attacks can come on at really inconvenient times. For example, a simple trip to IKEA saw me gasping for breath and quickly wiping away my tears as I saw a baby boy in the pram I chose! Luckily, I am blessed with great friends and family who I was able to contact and calm myself down. Try and look out for the physical symptoms that someone is spiralling out of control, here are a few of my 'symptoms' which may help you: Looking around for places to be on my own, fast breathing (both shallow and bigger gasps to catch my breath), playing with either a bobble/an accessory/nails/skin and obvious things like tears. When you can sense that someone is overwhelmed a simple look and nod can really save a situation and if you feel comfortable offer to take that person out of the situation even just for a moment. Often we just need someone to be with us and then we can be okay
Anxiety is complex and you will not be able to fix it, but increasing your awareness will help you to help others. As the bereaved, we also have a responsibility to look after ourselves. Find people that you can speak to openly so that in every situation you have someone that you can go to if things get too much. Learn what is a stretch and what is a break. Cheer for yourself when you have taken a big step! We are just as responsible for recognising our own achievements, we can't rely on others to do this as everyone has their own things going on too.
I hope this helps you to support someone with anxiety or to help yourself. I am definitely still on this journey but I am learning that there is hope and that I am going to be okay and you will be too.