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Saturday, 30 April 2016

It's Worrying Time!

So, I've finished my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course with IAPT! Just like my previous set of session with them, the lessons I've learned have been totally invaluable in terms of maintaining what is currently a pretty healthy state of mind for myself.

Where the first lot of sessions were assessing the root causes of my anxieties, the negative beliefs about myself that I'd internalised and how those all came to be, this set was more about ways to manage these issues I'd been dealing with before a small worry becomes a full blown panic attack. One of the most useful, but also challenging techniques was all about making time for worry.

How it Works

When worry happens. with myself as with many others, often times we get stuck within them. Part of it is our brains tricking us into thinking that somehow we I think hard enough we'll be able to solve anything, when all we are really doing is causing more frustration and panic. Other times, it will be that we spiral without realising. A worry about what to make for dinner tonight will turn into a worry about when to go shopping next, into a worry about how much time you have in the day to get errands done, to a worry about not being well organised enough and so on, when worry number 1 hasn't even been tackled.

For some it's a method of self-punishment ("if I'm feeling bad it's because I'm not good enough at fixing my problems, so I deserve it"), for others they feel like if they let go of a problem for even a second they will forget to rectify it late.

In a shocking turn of events, all of these reasons for holding onto worry create far more stress than they reduce.

At the same time a little bit of worry might be useful, might push us into working harder at something or help us remember something important. The point is not to let it overwhelm us, and a good way of resolving this is to set aside some time in the day, preferably a couple of hours before you go to bed so you don't carry your worries into bed with you and end up not getting enough sleep, to do nothing but worry. You might think this sound horrific! Nothing but solid worrying? My heart couldn't take it! But the point of it is to give yourself a break throughout the day so by the time it's Worrying Time you'll be prepared.

You feel a worry biting at the back of your brain on the way into work? Let yourself know "I'll get to it later." Feel yourself spiralling into a list of worries in the middle of class? Take a deep breath, maybe note those things down, and tell yourself "I have plenty of time to address this later."

It's actually quite a mindful practice, the concept of Worrying Time, because it allows you to be fully present in the act of assessing problems you may be facing. If you are halfway present in a worry, halfway scrambling for a distraction, it simply drags the worry out for longer and dulls your engagement in the thing you're using to distract yourself. This method means you can pay closer attention to the things you want to think over. It may even allow you the space to realise that some of the things aren't even worth worrying about.

In the Moment

ChecklistSo it's evening time, you're sat down somewhere comfortable and peaceful, no distractions, and it's now time to worry. A good trick to make this time more valuable is first to note down all the things that you want to think over as they crop up during the day. Don't beat yourself up if you can't get through everything, just do what you can and save the rest for tomorrow. How you then process the worries in that time is whatever seems most comfortable for you. Some people might talk out loud to themselves, some might write down or type out the concerns and their feelings. Some people might start to write out a game plan for tackling each worry that they can tick off (we love checklists on this blog, seriously). Some people just like to sit and think, some people might want to doodle to help them focus, it's all up to you. Personally, I prefer the talking or writing methods, because rapid thoughts are much easier to decipher when they aren't swimming around in my mind. Also, saying something out loud or seeing it physically in front of you can give you a new perspective. Maybe you didn't need to worry after all? Maybe now a plan comes to mind to fix your worries and you feel better for it!

How to Stop


The annoying thing about worries is that they continue. Whether they spiral into more, or hit you again and again in aftershocks through the day. We're often trying to actively stop worrying, tensed up against it and ready to cover our ears and block them out. So, when we open the flood gates and allow ourselves to really feel it, how do we close them up again?

1. A Mindfulness Bell

We've talked about the concept of "Mindfulness Bells" a coupe of times before, (see: here and here) but to quickly explain the concept is a word, action, image, or anything you can use in your regular everyday life that reminds you to be mindful and present in the here and now. We can apply this technique to Worrying Time, and use some kind of sound or gesture to remind you that now is the time to stop. Maybe a deep breath, an alarm on your phone, or opening your eyes after being deep in thought. Whatever you are able to associate with calm.

2. A Ritual

Give this moment a bit of a ritualistic, magical flare if that's your style. Maybe there's a stone/talisman of some kind you can hold, and for as long as you hold it you can worry safely. Once it leaves your hands, the worries cease. If you're writing the worries down, maybe once the time is up you can burn the paper so as to physically get rid of the worries. If you use the SAM App there is a feature which allows you to type out concerns, see them written on the screen, and tap them to basically blow them up. You see the worry destroyed before your eyes and know that it's time to let the thing go.

3. Go for a Walk

Getting up and stretching your legs can help to clear thoughts and focus your mind on another activity, whilst also encouraging you to stay active, get blood flowing, and stave off those low moods.

4. Leave the Room

Pick a particular room or space to worry in, and once you leave that space you actively chose to leave your worries there and not carry them with you.

These are just some options, it's honestly completely up to you how to frame this activity so it is most comfortable for you. For me personally I like to write all my worries in a notebook, and closing that notebook signals the completion of worrying time. The last thing I'll say before I end is just give it a go. It may sound difficult, probably because it is, but it's also very rewarding once you get into a routine and gradually becomes easier. If it doesn't work for you that's absolutely fine, and there will be other techniques available for you, but do at least test it out before deciding its effectiveness.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Update Part 2 - Progress and Maintenence

EDIT: Holy crap, it's been a long time since I posted and all I can do is apologise to you lovely readers. I was in a flurry of work changes and a bit of personal stress and so I've been neglecting this blog a little bit. Things are, however, beginning to settle and so my commitment and my motivation to write are both back in full force. Since starting the post below, I've had a bunch more setbacks as well as making a bunch more progress so the information below is a little outdated. However, it is still probably valuable to some so I thought it would make sense to post it regardless.

I do ask that you read through and see if any of what I've said below can be of use to you, but just know that I have so much more to share!! I'm really excited, because I've learned a bunch of new things!

Okay bye, enjoy the rest of this post!

Read part 1 HERE

This is part two of my personal update, with a little insight into how I'm doing coupled with some advice for how you can attempt some self-improvement in the same way I am right now.

Personal Progress

Around October last year there was a situation in which I was very late to work. I had taken extra hours but one of the shifts had completely slipped my mind, so I ended up being around two hours late in. Anyone would be horribly embarrassed, of course, but I was distraught. Getting dressed, leaving, and going into work I cried the whole way. I was shaking, panicked, and to calm myself down I just wrote out exactly how I was feeling in my phone so by the time I got to work I was okay. I'm not going to repeat what I wrote because it scared me a little once I was in a better frame of mine. For a simple mistake to wreck me so seriously, and make me speak about myself in such an ugly way, was a frightening experience. That was pre-IAPT and while I was moving quite slowly with this blog.

Since then I had a similar situation, being late for work because of a personal fuck up, and I was...okay. Embarrassed, apologetic, frustrated, but okay. There was no beating myself up, no tears, no shaking. I dealt with the emotions in a way that made me proud, and when I told people who were familiar with my anxieties they were proud of me too! The minute you can start to see physical evidence of improvement when you start to make personal changes, the motivation is pretty incredible.

In fact, meditate on that whenever you get the chance. How it felt the last time you saw tangible progress from making changes to your daily life, or what it might feel like if you don't know. Use it as motivation for all your next steps, something to work towards.


Maintaining the Progress

Now, I've made this wonderful progress but I've also had some scheduling issues that mean I've not had regular therapy sessions to top-up and reinforce these good habits.

So, instead, I've been using cork boards to help me keep on track with a healthier state of mind and keep me focused on progress.

I have two cork boards up in my room with important information listed on them to keep my mind on track. I have a bunch of important, interesting things on them to both make me happy and keep me focused:
  • My work timetable, for practical reasons
  • Two prints, from the wonderful xSkyloft Etsy Shop, with quotes that inspire me and help me challenge my big anxieties
  • Pictures/text reminding me of my goal this year which is Travel, Living in the Now, and Progressing in my career path
  • A Value Elicitation Sheet for times I need to make big decisions
  • Tickets from events I've recently been to/journeys I've been on that help to keep me on track with the whole travelling goal
  • Images that are just aesthetically pleasing
  • Fairy Wings, because duh
  • An envelope entitled "What To Do When I'm Not Okay" with a list of emergency self-care techniques I can use whenever I'm in a dark place
  • My Two Big Lists (we already discussed how important lists are last time, remember?)
One of the lists is in an envelope, so I know it's there but I am unable to fixate or obsess over it, and that is my top 5 goals for the next two years. The second list, which I'm going to talk about in another post (because I am the queen of multi-part posts, I guess) is a Daily Routine. It's full of things to do on a day-to-day basis to maintain a balance of productivity, happiness, and a sense of being present in the here and now.

This is one of many new techniques that are really helping my organisation skills and to make my often frantic thoughts much easier to cope with, the first of which was listing. The next few posts are all going to be about different activities and exercises I've been using, all leading up to another multi-part project similar to the Eight Weeks of Mindfulness I did last year! There, I've said it so now there's accountability if I ignore my promise.

I won't though, because I'm really excited, and hopefully you'll all be able to share in this excitement with me!