Living with anxiety

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Living with anxiety can be a totally debilitating, paralysing experience. It can make even the simplest tasks feel impossible. It can be related to something specific – going outside, meeting new people, health, for instance – or it can be a constant sense of dread and unease not related to anything in particular. It can be a persistent, unrelenting feeling, or it can fluctuate, with some days better than others, and often there is no obvious reason why this might be. It can involve thoughts, usually negative, and worries racing around in the head in often repetitive cycles which are difficult to stop, and feelings of fear and sometimes panic which are hard to soothe.

People who don’t experience anxiety – friends, family, colleagues, bosses, teachers – can find it difficult to understand. They don’t understand how tortuous and all-consuming it can feel, and will often come from a rational point of view – seeing the solution as very straightforward , but because anxiety is often not ‘rational’ this is not actually very helpful. There can also be suspicion, that somehow the person could overcome it if they wanted to, and in doing this, they minimize the anxiety and how overwhelming it can feel.

When people are in the grips of severe anxiety, it can feel that it is impossible for things to change, or to see a way in which anxiety can lose its control over everyday living. However, change is possible, and counselling can play a major part in this. I have seen clients who have been unable to work, or engage in ordinary life, make remarkable progress. It may not be easy, or quick, but change can take place.

So, how can this happen? Often, talking about the anxiety can help – simply having someone to listen and understand without judgement can validate experience. Also, through talking, it is sometimes possible to trace a seemingly inexplicable anxiety back to an event or time in life. Having a handle on why anxiety might be happening, can offer ideas on how to address it.

Sometimes the work can be very practical – identifying specific triggers and how to manage these, and looking at possible coping strategies – for example, listening to guided meditations intended to ease anxiety, can be very helpful when anxiety is preventing sleep. At other times, the work may involve building self-esteem and confidence, which can have a positive effect on anxiety. Whatever approach is used, this is something that would be decided between counsellor and client, and worked on together.

If you are suffering from anxiety, don’t suffer alone –  counselling can make a difference. Look at consellors’ profiles and see who you are drawn to; have a first session with someone to see how they work and to see if you feel comfortable with them. Give yourself time – you may want to go away and think about it, before deciding whether you’d like to continue. If it doesn’t feel right with one counsellor, trust your instincts, and arrange to meet with someone else – as someone who is experiencing anxiety you need to feel safe and comfortable with your counsellor. And hold on to the fact that by seeking counselling, you are being pro-active and setting out to make positive changes in your life.

Practical do’s and don’ts to help someone who is bereaved.

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It can be daunting when someone you know is bereaved; it can be hard to know what to do or say. We can feel helpless, and afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. With this in mind I thought it might be helpful to put down a few pointers, based on my own and my clients’ experiences.

 

  • Do ask how they are, and mean it. Genuinely want to know the answer to this question, and give them the time and space to answer.
  • Be practical. The first few days after a death, particularly if it’s sudden, can feel unreal. Everyday activities can be put on hold. Do some shopping for everyday essentials. Make a meal, which can be frozen if not needed immediately, or heated up easily.
  • Don’t say ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’. Whilst no doubt well-meant, and said with the best possible intentions, the chances are the bereaved person will be feeling too shell-shocked and numb to be able to come up with any ideas on this one. Instead, be pro-active. Come up with suggestions of things that you can do which might be of help – shopping, giving lifts, baby-sitting.
  • Don’t assume that after a few weeks everything will return to normal. For many people, the worst time is the weeks after the funeral, when life has returned to normal for everyone else. This can be when the reality of the death hits home; as the weeks progress the reality that that person is not coming back hits hard. Continue to offer support weeks and months after the death.
  • Be sensitive to their needs. Sometimes they may not want to talk about how they’re feeling, and too many questions on this may feel intrusive. At other times, they may welcome the opportunity to talk. Ask how they are, but take your cues from them. Be sensitive to the fact that often people will say they’re fine, not because they are, but because they feel they can’t keep talking to you about how bad they’re feeling – let them know you’re OK for them to be honest with you – and mean it!
  • Be patient. Sometimes, people will repeat the same details and information, particularly if the death is sudden or shocking. They can seem in an endless repeating loop. Stay with them and listen, and keep reassuring if necessary.
  • Look after yourself. Supporting someone who is in midst of raw grief can take its emotional toll – make sure you remember  to check how you are coping, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time out to do some of the things you enjoy. You need to re-charge, so that you can continue to support .

When you lose someone close to you

I came across the following description of Kirstie Allsopp’s experience of losing her mother:

‘After you lose someone close to you, it feels as if you’re walking across a frozen lake. With every step you take, you wonder if the ice will break. Then you get to the end of the year, you go through all of these significant anniversaries and you think, “OK, I can walk across this lake.” It doesn’t mean my feet don’t get cold or that it isn’t slippy and slidy, but I’m not going to fall through the ice.’

I found this description poignant and apt. It seemed to fit in with so many of my clients’ experiences of the life-changing nature of bereavement; that initially life is uncertain and unsure, and that this can go on for some time, but that at some point adjustments are made to the new life without the loved one.

If you have recently lost someone you loved, you may be feeling that your world has turned upside down – nothing is as it was, and you don’t know if what you are feeling and experiencing is ‘normal’. I’ve had bereaved clients confess to me that they worry they are going crazy. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to describe some aspects of some people’s experience of bereavement – you may find that you can relate to them, which may be reassuring. But if this isn’t your experience – don’t worry, everyone’s experience of bereavement is unique, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Bereavement can feel like walking through a door to a parallel universe – your old life is left behind, and nothing will ever be the same. This new world is new and unfamiliar, and not a place you’ve chosen to be. Meanwhile, all around you everyone is going about their usual lives. This can feel unfair – how can other people carry on as normal when your life has been turned upside down?

You may find it hard to sleep. Getting to sleep may be difficult, and when you do sleep it may be fitful, and you wake frequently. Poor sleep may mean you feel tired and lethargic. Waking can be difficult too; for those first few moments you forget what has happened, and then there is the awful moment when you remember. It can feel like a punch in the stomach.

Everything can feel black and bleak; you may feel intense sadness, or you may feel numb. Or you may fluctuate between the two. You may feel a sense of unreality; it feels hard to get your head around what has happened. You may feel your stomach churning, and a feeling of nausea. You may experience feelings of panic – a sense of not being able to cope.

It can feel impossible to enjoy anything, even doing things that once gave you pleasure. You may feel like you’re going through the motions; doing things without feeling very much. You may find it hard to concentrate, so activities such as reading become too difficult. Even following a TV programme or film can feel an effort.

Social occasions can be difficult. Friends and family might try to help by encouraging you to come round, or to go to social events. But you may find this too much. Summoning up the energy to chat and socialise can feel exhausting. It can also be a painful reminder of the absence of your loved one. Family get-togethers can have a painful sense of someone missing. For those who have lost partners it can be difficult to see everyone in couples whilst you are on your own. Coming home after can be difficult too, especially if you live alone; the house can seem painfully quiet and empty.

The months after the death become a series of firsts: the first time you experience occasions and anniversaries without your loved one. The first Christmas, the first birthday, the first wedding anniversary, the first anniversary of the death – all will have their own challenges and resonances.

Friends and family can be supportive and caring in the days and weeks after the death, but you may find there comes a point when the support lessens; there may be an unspoken assumption that you are now ‘better’ and no longer in need of such support. Often this can happen after the funeral – people see this as a time for ‘closure’. Yet in reality, the hardest part often comes in the days and weeks after the funeral when the reality hits home that the person you love is never coming back. This is when you may feel you need support most.

There may come a point when it feels that you have cried and talked enough in front of other people, and that you can’t do that anymore. You may feel that you are imposing, and you don’t want to test people’s goodwill, and that you ought to hold in how you are feeling. You may say to people you are fine, when in reality you are far from fine. This is often when people come to counselling; it gives you the space to talk about how you are really feeling – there is no need to pretend to be fine – without having to worry about the listener. You can talk about what you need to talk about.

An image which I find really helpful in explaining the experience of grief is the idea of grief as a series of waves. Initially, there are huge waves – they break over you, submerging you, and it feels like you may go under. They come fast and furious, with few breaks in between. It feels like you might drown. Over time, the waves become smaller, with bigger gaps in between. There is some respite from the ferocity of grief. Yet, even then, as each wave rolls over you, it can still feel as intense as the first one. It can feel like you’re no further on. Yet you are. You’re getting through it, over time. You won’t forget the person you love, or love them any less, but you will adjust, and slowly learn how to live without them. They won’t be there physically, but they will be there in your memories and your heart.

If you are experiencing bereavement, and would find it helpful to talk, please get in touch with me.

 

 

Other sources of support you might find helpful are:

Cruse Bereavement Care:    www.cruse.org.uk

Survivors of Suicide:  www.survivorsofsuicide.com

(For those who have lost a loved one to suicide)

Winston’s Wish: www.winstonswish.org.uk

(A source of advice and information for bereaved children and young people and their families)