Hangxiety

Like most, I love the way I feel when I’ve had a few drinks. Whether it’s a night in with some friends, a film and a bottle of wine, or a night out on the tiles with the girls, I always have a good time. I especially love the feeling of being out on the dancefloor after a few Proseccos. I love getting dolled up and dancing away whilst singing along terribly to the music, and I love the freedom in that moment, of not caring what people think, and switching off from all of the things I worry about normally. As a generally anxious person, I very rarely throw caution to the wind and let go, so it’s really quite a relief to step away from the everyday once in a while.

At the end of a night of drinking, dancing and general debauchery, I usually finish up the night feeling pretty good and on a high – everything is great. We’ve inevitably spent the night laughing, having heart to hearts and building memories to last us a lifetime. After a night of drinking and feeling on top of the world as a 20-something, I expected to wake up with an aching head, dry mouth and aching body parts from the shapes I was throwing the night before. What I didn’t expect, however, is the mental hangover that many of us experience, known as hangxiety.

Hangxiety refers to the feelings of anxiety, stress, worry or low mood that one might experience after a night of binge drinking. For me, it’s often worries about what I did, or guilt about something I said the night before. in reality, I haven’t done or said anything bad at all, I just end up needlessly worrying that I’ve looked silly or said something I shouldn’t have.

They’re often things that I wouldn’t ordinarily worry too much about, but my anxious, hungover brain rings all the alarm bells, which makes it had to relax and let the thoughts pass. Throughout the day, my anxieties grow, and they develop their own anxieties, and I eventually become a big ball of intense worry and panic.

I never used to experience hangxiety as a teenager, which is ironic because I was drinking a lot more. It’s only in the past few years that it’s come along. I don’t drink that often because of the fear of the repercussions the next day, but over the past few weeks I‘ve been on a few nights out – all in the name of science – to try a few different things. I’ve tried sticking to the same drink throughout the night, been on a night out people I work with, I’ve tried a laid back night out with some close friends, and I’ve tried a night out completely sober. All these have been really good fun; alcohol isn’t the key to a good night. Having said that, I don’t want the fear of hangxiety to mean that I miss out on having fun and doing something I enjoy – and I do really enjoy the feeling of having a few drinks; It’s just finding a way to do it that works for me. I’m still trying to find the right formula, but having read up about hangxiety and ways to get through it, I understand it more and things are getting a little better each time. I think there is certainly something to be said about the way that we feel before we drink – I find that if I’m feeling particularly anxious before I have a drink, the more anxious I feel the next day.

After talking to some friends, it became clear that hangxiety is quite common – it’s just not recognised. I also realised that not everyone experiences it… so then, why do I experience it? After some digging, I found an article from The Guardian who answered that exact question:

‘Hangxiety does not affect us all equally, as revealed by a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Researchers quizzed healthy young people about their levels of anxiety before, during and the morning after drinking alcohol. According to one of the authors, Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter: “The people who were more shy had much higher levels of anxiety [the following day] than the people who weren’t shy.”

– The Guardian

It makes sense – if, like me, you’re a more anxious person day to day, drinking alcohol, which we know influences the chemicals in the brain and affects the nervous system, it’s likely to amplify the usual anxieties when we recover from it with a squiffy brain. There’s a lot more in the full article about the science behind it – take a look.

I had a great time last night… but now what? If I’ve been out the night before, I clear my plans for the next day. I wake up, test the waters and depending on how I feel, will either go back to sleep for a bit, or get up and have a bath. I listen to my body, and hey, if my body wants chicken nuggets and potato smileys, that’s what it’s getting! I take my time and revert back to all of the breathing and mindfulness techniques I’ve learnt before now. Most of all, if I’m feeling a little wobbly, I have a chat with someone – it always helps.

As with everything in life, we all have limits and there’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to mental health. If hangxiety is ringing some bells with you, take small steps and be gentle with yourself while you find something that works for you. It’s all about trial and error, and ultimately, having fun! 😊

Stay with me here.

We need to talk…

What a day today has been! There’s been a real buzz in the air around mental health, all in aid of World Mental Health Day. It’s been nice and somewhat surreal to hear all of these conversations happening around me.

By starting these conversations and creating awareness of mental health, we can help to make sure that everyone has someone to talk to and somewhere to turn when things get too much. We’ve made really good headway with the awareness raised and conversations started today, let’s keep it going…

Let’s make sure that we are looking after number 1 – by making sure we are taking time out to look after ourselves and really think about our own mental health. Whether it’s a simple bubble bath and a good book, or a long walk in the country that will help you to unwind, try to make time and get back in touch with yourself, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

We all have mental health, whether it’s good or bad, and 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health condition throughout our lifetime. It’s important that we take care of ourselves to help us get the most from life.

What are you really good at? Do that! – It’s proven that doing something you’re good at and you enjoy will boost your mood and self-esteem.

With some good friends? Talk about it! – Spark up a conversation; you can divulge as much or as little as you like, but everyone has mental health and with 1 in 4 people experiencing some form of anxiety and/or depression, it’s very likely that everyone will have something to say on the subject.

Need a time out? Take it! – In a world that has become so fast paced, it’s no wonder that so many of us have been swept away into a whirlwind lifestyle. We seem to be busy all of the time, seemingly, without time to do the things we truly enjoy and love. We miss out on so many of the little things in life because we very rarely switch off from our everyday routines and stresses. Taking a time out will really help you to refocus and might even make your life that little bit easier.

Need help? Ask for it. – It’s perhaps the hardest form of self care, to ask for help. But it’s important that we recognise when we need that little bit of an extra helping hand. It might mean a visit to the GP, a call to a helpline or just a chat over a brew with a loved one. You’re not a burden or a failure for asking for a little extra support, in fact, you’re quite the opposite!

Make some time and make a plan. What are you going to do going forward to look after yourself?

Whilst it’s important to look after ourselves, it’s also important that we look after those around us. Start a conversation, smile at strangers, pay it forward – be mindful.

Stay with me here.

0-60 in 3.5

Picture this…

Cruising home in my little Fiat 500 on Friday Night after a long week of work.. and CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK. Uhohhhh. Flat tyre.

Ideal reaction:

  1. Pull over into a car park and check out the situation… tyre is definitely flat.
  2. Curse a little.
  3. Get started on finding the spare tyre.
  4. Change the tyre, trying not to damage myself or the car.
  5. Heave the old tyre back in the car and drive on my merry way.

 

My reaction:

  1. Start thinking about everything that could possibly be wrong with the car. “I broke it” “I’m a terrible driver” “What is that noise, is something hanging off the bottom of the car?” “It’s too late, all the garages are closing, and no one will be able to help me!” “I’m going to have to pull over… BUT WHERE?”
  2. Pull over into a car park and open the window. I can’t get out the car yet. I don’t want to look. It’s going to be really bad.
  3. Eventually get out of car… oh. Another flat tyre.
  4. What do I do? I don’t know how to do this! The garages are closed, I’m going to have to leave my car here… I don’t have any change… I’ll get a parking ticket.
  5. Oh god, another tyre… That is more money! I don’t want to spend any of my savings… that is my house fund! If I start chipping into that, I’m never going to be able to afford to get my own place.
  6. Starts crying.
  7. Calls boyfriend… no answer.
  8. Starts shaking and feeling dizzy. Get back in the car and sob.
  9. Boyfriend calls back! He’s on his way.
  10. “I can’t believe I’ve had to pull nick into this”. “I’m a terrible girlfriend”. “I don’t deserve him” “I always cause him hassle”.
  11. “I’m having a panic attack and I can’t do this”. “I can’t live life feeling like this”. “There’s no point”.
  12. Boyfriend arrives, gives me a cuddle and changes the tyre. What a hero.
  13. Drives home and feels ridiculous.

 

These worries were all so real for me when I was in that moment. I didn’t know how to think rationally and my world fell in on itself. In reality, it was a flat tyre. The spare is on and all is right with the world. There really was no need for the panic or the hysterics. Try telling that to my anxious brain.

Thanks brain. Humiliation number 214,547 complete. I went from “oh no, I have a flat tyre” to “I’m a terrible girlfriend, everything is my fault and I don’t want to live” all in about 15 minutes. 0-60 in 3.5.

I’m home, I’m in my fluffy socks and cosy pyjamas and I’m in a strop with my car. My stupid car.

Stay with me here.

 

 

 

‘On a scale of 1-10, how much does it hurt?’

‘On a scale of 1-10, how much it does it hurt?’

Zero, and that’s the problem. I don’t feel anything.

Sometimes I think that this is the hardest way to feel. I feel numb and like there is something wrong with me. It’s as if my mind has decided it’s just going to turn off all of the lights and board up its windows, not allowing anything or anyone in or out.

I’m being held hostage by my brain… send help ASAP! (and chocolate pls?)

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people at the moment who care and who take the time to see how I’m doing. I’ve been asked several times this week what it is that they can do to help make things better, and you know what? I have no idea. Nothing is going to make any of this better and at the moment, all I can think about is how much I want to just be on my own.

It’s an unsettling way to feel, to have my mind split between wanting to be on my own and wanting everything and everyone at the same time… nothing is ever simple it seems.

Sometimes I wish that I did have a physical illness, something that people could see on the outside just so that I didn’t have to explain to everyone that actually, I’m not okay. I could just flash them a cast on my arm and they’d sign it and toddle off again. That would be that and in an estimated 6 weeks, I’d feel fine again.

Instead, I feel uncertain as to whether any of this is normal and just how long it’ll be until I feel better. It could be tomorrow, it could be 3 months from now… it’s a mystery.

Who knows what is going to happen in the next week, month or year… I can only live in hope that things will start to look up.

For now, I’ve got my fluffiest socks on and a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. I can live in the moment, in the here and now and look after myself until I do start to feel better.

Stay with me here.

 

 

 

You Got This!

It seems to be that towards the evening, I completely freak out and panic. I don’t really know what has triggered it; there isn’t always an answer.

I was recovering from a panic and started to reflect on all of the techniques that I have learnt over the years that have helped me to come down from these horrible symptoms… It got me thinking, and I put together a nifty little worksheet which I have been using today to help me to rationalise my thinking.

The questions I was always asked by counsellors and therapists were:

1) What are you thinking about?

2) What is the likelihood of that actually happening?

3) Is that happening right here and right now?

4) What is actually happening right here and right now?

These questions always (okay, most of the time) got me thinking about why I was panicking and just how irrational it was, even if it all felt very real and scary in the moment.

Being able to see sense is not always easy when you are packed full of adrenaline, shaking and convinced that life is over.

Take a look:

What are you feeling? What are you      thinking? What is actually happening? Is it over?
Example:

Hot & clammy

Scared

Upset

Frustrated

Like I need to run

Trapped

Aching tummy

Example:

‘I need to get out’

‘I’m going to be ill’

‘I can’t leave, they’ll think I’m weird’

‘I want to die’

‘I’m never going to get better’

‘What’s wrong with me?’

Example:

I am sat on the sofa at home, watching the news.

It’s early evening and dinner is cooking.

I’m safe.

 

Example:

It’s over, and I got through it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would definitely recommend making one of these and filling it out. You don’t have to look back at it is you don’t want to… you can start fresh each day.

I like to tear mine to shreds at the each of the day, in hope that my problems, too, will disappear into the waste paper bin.

We automatically fight our anxiety off in our heads and just want it to be over. It’s natural! We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we try and reassure ourselves that everything is okay – so why not help yourself that little bit more by writing it down and making some sort of sense of it all.

Learning to acknowledge your anxiety is important and will significantly decrease the panic time. Acknowledge it, say ‘no thank you, not today’ and turn away from it. Show it who is really in control here!

I hope the table helps some of you as it has me, I would definitely recommend giving it a go!

Here’s to getting through the next week! *pulls up funky socks and marches on*
Stay with me here.

You’re Grounded!

Anxiety is hard to shake off and can spring up on us at the most inconvenient of times. Sometimes we need to take a step back and focus on where we are and what we are doing. This is what we call ‘grounding’.

Grounding is a technique I have learnt a lot about over my sessions of CBT and by reading self-help books. It is something we can all train our brains to use every day. It makes us more aware of our surroundings and helps us to be more mindful. It is a really helpful to have these skills when you are feeling anxious or if you are experiencing panic.

There are hundreds of different way that we ‘ground’ ourselves; I’d like to share with you one of the ways that I have found most useful.

Senses

This grounding technique is particularly useful if you are feeling uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. I often use it if I am on the tube. The idea is to focus in on each of your 5 senses.

Firstly, your sight. Try and find three items in your view that you can really look at. Think about the shape and colour of the objects.

Secondly, your hearing. Listen to your surroundings and pick three sounds. Think about what the sounds are and how close they are to you. Do they sound like something else? Have you heard the noise before?

Move on to your smell. Try and see if you can smell anything in particular. You might struggle to find 3 here, but give it a go. What can you smell? What does it remind you of?

Touch; find three objects that you can touch. Could be an item of your clothing, it could be the seat you are sat on, it could be something in your pocket. Think about what they feel like; are they warm or cold?

Lastly, your taste. This one might be difficult if there isn’t anything around. Do you have any chewing gum in your bag? Try to chew or drink something slowly, really analysing the taste and texture.

How do you feel now?

Do you feel more familiar and comfortable in your surroundings? Has your breathing steadied?

I would be interested to know if this worked for you and what it was that you found, perhaps leave me a comment below?

I hope that you found that technique useful. There are so many more, I will aim to publish a few more as I go on through these posts.

 

Stay with me here.

What’s Up, Doc?

There is a huge misconception around anti-depressants. A lot of anxiety/depression sufferers believe, (myself included at one stage), that taking anti-depressants/anxiety medication is a sign of weakness and giving up. We are all independent and don’t like to admit that we need help. We are all too proud to admit that, sometimes, we are actually struggling.

It took me a long time to give in after multiple doctors and therapists had suggested medication to me.

It is not that we are incapable of getting through it on our own, it is that sometimes we just need a ‘leg up’. Yes, I am on medi­cation, but I still get through these hard life challenges on my own.

I started on herbal medications at first and after visiting my GP, beta blockers were introduced to help me to calm, reduce and manage my panic attacks. These, for me, weren’t the solution. Whilst I was able to sleep more, I was still having excruciating panic attacks. These were affecting my work, my studies and my relationships. I very quickly noticed myself getting worse and needed help. I went back to the GP after a few months and had a good chat about what had been going on.

That is when I was started on Sertraline. I was given sertraline to take on a daily basis and diazepam to take as and when I could feel myself falling or having a particularly bad day. Sertraline actually made me pretty unwell. I couldn’t seem to keep my mood balanced and I felt sick for the first few weeks. I persisted until it was clear they just weren’t cutting it. That said, I was in a VERY bad place at this point.

I went to the doctors and broke down in front of him. I am forever thankful to my GP for being so understanding. He has a good ear and always manages to say the right thing. This has not been the case with all GP’s I have visited about the matter. We decided we would try a new medication and I was introduced to a drug called Citalopram – very common anti-depressant/anxiety drug. I am still on this medication now and cannot be without it. I started on 40mg which is the highest dose and am pleased to say we have now decreased it to 30mg.

This is the one for me. I take citalopram every day and find I don’t need to take diazepam or Kalms© tablets anymore. Without my medication I very quickly start to feel myself slipping.

I guess the hard thing about medications and testing their real ability to help is difficult… ups and downs are caused by circumstance. Who knows whether at the time, if I had been having a particularly good period in my life, whether the first medication would have been more effective.

The one mistake I have made with my medication is when I was in a good period and almost became TOO confident. I stopped taking the medication and was convinced I was cured and didn’t need them anymore. This was not the case. After a few weeks, things changed. I started becoming anxious generally, the low moods were creeping back in and I ended back in the GP’s office.

Coming off of anti-depressants is a gradual process, as with a lot of other medications for all sorts of conditions. Never do anything without the advice of your GP.

Taking medication does not mean I have given up, it does not mean I will be on them for the rest of my life and it does not mean that I have failed; it is an aid to help me through. In honesty, there have been times that if the doctor told me I needed to rub egg on my face every day to feel better, I would have done it. Medication is just to help alleviate some of the tough symptoms you feel whilst you get yourself better.

Don’t be ashamed, scared or too proud to ask for help. That is what doctors are there for.

Be brave.

Stay with me here.

Tangled Threads

I often think of my anxious mind as a big ball of tangled and knotted threads.

The more I have on my mind, the more tangled they become. I’m more than guilty of tugging at the strings all at the same time and expecting them all to just untangle.. But, of course, I’m only making things worse. The knots only get tighter and I lose my patience.

If you really think about it, if you had a physical ball of tangled threads, would you pull at the strings and just expect them to all fall away from each other neatly? nope.

You would focus on one thread at a time and guide it out of the mess. You would put all of your attention into one thread at a time and ease it out.

Why don’t I do this with my thoughts? It would be much better for me to look at one problem at a time and solve them in order. It ease my worries and make my ball of tangled strings smaller, lighter and a lot less daunting.

One by one, I’d feel more relaxed and I’d actually be fixing the problem.

The earlier you look at the tangle, the easier it will be to set the threads free. The more that you ignore it, the worse it will get later on. You will eventually need to detangle them.

Take a deep breath and take hold of one thread at a time. Focus on that one thread and bring it back to how it was before it got caught up in the knotted ball. That’s one thread down..

Now onto the next.

It takes time, it’s takes persistence and it takes strength. You will only set yourself up to fail if you pull at them all at once.

Work on one thread at a time and celebrate each victory. You don’t have to untangle it all in one go, it’s a tiring process!

 

One thread at a time

Stay with me here.

Champers Down the Rabbit Hole

*POPS CORK*

All in all, I have had a pretty good week.

As my current readers will know, I won my first award this week! I won ‘Young Volunteer of the Year’ in the ‘Making it Happen’ awards in Sevenoaks.

I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to have even have been nominated for an award, let alone to win it!

I started this blog in hope that it would be an outlet for me. I find writing therapeutic and it is a way for me to air my thoughts and get them onto ‘paper’. It just so happened that people started reading my posts. I continue to gain hundreds of new readers on a weekly basis and I’m close to 10,000 readers.

I still get messages from complete strangers from around the world who relate to my experiences and this really does make all of this worth it. To know that I’m not alone in all of this is half of my battle. It’s normalising mental health that I set out to do and it is happening. Slowly but surely conversations are happening and awareness is being raised. (victory dance).

I’m aware that there is a long way to go, but with your help we can do it.

I want to really thank everyone for your support, messages and help with my mission.

If you had asked me this time last year if I would be sat here able to say these things, I would have laughed. I would have told you that I was ‘just me’ and that I would never have achieved any of this. How wrong I would have been.

I really must stress how West Kent Mind have helped me to do all of this. I still suffer with a Mental Illness and it is something I still seek help for occasionally. With West Kent Mind’s support, I have been able to get back up and fight when I really felt like hiding away and giving up.

I have been lucky enough to have been to a few of their local classes and I would urge you to do the same, either with West Kent or your local Mind.

I went to their Art group where I met a really welcoming group of likeminded people. There was no pressure, no expectations, just friends. I’m by no means Picasso and my stick men are hardly ‘art’, but that didn’t matter. I sat down and took to a mindfulness colouring sheet.  I felt comfortable and most importantly for me; I was not alone.

I also attended a Creative Writing group, which I LOVED. A small group who meet in Tonbridge on a Thursday and have a cup of tea and talk about the writing they have done. Dave, who leads the class, was so friendly and welcoming. Going to a new place and meeting new people is a common struggle amongst anxiety sufferers, but I truly had no issue with this group. We sat and the group shared their recent work. These writers are so talented and I could have sat all day listening to the stories being conjured up.

Dave sets free time work for the group to work on at home, which is a brilliant idea. It is by no means obligatory, but it keeps minds busy, imaginations flowing and confidence building.

I have been fortunate enough for the group to have written me some pieces to use in my blog, watch this space!

I really want to thank everyone, again, for your support, your likes, your shares and for making this happen for me.

I have been nominated for another award this week and hopefully will be popping some more corks!

 

Stay with me here!

The Night Shift

It is currently 4am and I am wide awake. I have been since 2am.

I have no idea what woke me up or why I am awake at such a ridiculous time, but there we go, this often happens.

There is only so long you can stare at the blank ceiling before your mind wanders into chaos. I start to think about work and what I have to do tomorrow, I start thinking about the holiday I have coming up and everything that needs to be done for that, I start thinking about these blogs and what I have planned for them, I start thinking about if I was an animal, whether I would rather live in the sky, the sea or on land; (for the record, on the land).

All things that do not need to be thought about at such times. I have come up with loads of inventions which in the early hours seem great and I promise myself that I will one day take them onto Dragons Den to make my millions (not yet applied for the show, not yet a millionaire).

I know now that because I have been so sleep deprived, the rest of today is going to be a struggle, as it would be for anyone. I know that this will have a knock on affect for the next few days in fact. This fills me with dread.

Time left alone with my imagination can either be amusing or dangerous. I can entertain myself for ages with all the bizarre questions I think up – that is always good fun. On the flip side, I can really bring myself down. I start to think about all the negatives in my life at the moment and how awful everything is. I start to think about where it is I want to be, how I’m not there and how I’m never going to get there. I sometimes think about minor things I did 4/5 years ago and start to worry about how I perhaps could have done things differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I’m working really hard at the moment to really beat down those negative thoughts and put positive spins on them.

No, I’m not quite where I would like to be, but I am doing everything I possibly can to get there. I am fortunate that I am quite inquisitive and curious by nature, it helps to be pro-active and to out and get what you want. I’m a big believer that if you believe in yourself enough, you will get there.

The situations I get upset about can all be changed. Making those changes is the difficult apart.

It has taken me a long time to realise this and it has taken a lot of retraining my brain, but I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable with where I am, what I am doing and where I am heading.

A friend recently sent me a book called ‘How to be happy (or at least a little less sad)’ by Lee Crutchley. It is a creative workbook and really gets you to look at your way of thinking and how you feel. I tend to work through this if I am awake and at a loose end, and it has really helped. Thank you so much Emma.

There is one exercise in the book which I would love to share with you.

1)     Make a list of things you do every day that give you no pleasure.

2)     Cross out anything non-essential.

3)     On another piece of paper, make a list of things you do every day that give you pleasure.

4)     Circle anything non-essential.

It is a really easy exercise and does not take much time at all. It really got me to think about all the things I do that stop me from doing the things I love and I have now made changes to help build the things I love and irradiate the things I don’t. I would really urge you to give it a go, or even get a copy of the book!

You might even have a friend as wonderful as mine who may gift it to you, if so, you have awesome friends with great taste!

Do more of what you love, do less of what you don’t.

Stay with me here.