I’m bolshy and gobby so I don’t get anxious. I’ve never had anxiety and I don’t understand what it feels like. Positive people don’t get anxiety.
None of the above is true but it’s the perception of many of me.
I know exactly when my anxiety started- it was 11 months after the sudden death of my dad. He was my idol, my hero and it rocked my world. However, I was so caught up in looking after my mum and my siblings as the eldest child I think I forgot to look after myself.
I remember it like it was yesterday- I was teaching year 5 and it had been a normal morning, I had prepared all the resources for the afternoon lessons and children came into the classroom after lunch- suddenly as I started the register, I couldn’t swallow or breathe and my heart was pounding. I had to abandon my class and it took me a while to get myself together. It was the most frightening thing that had ever happened to me and I had no idea at that time what it was or why it happened.
From that time I suffered from random panic attacks which always left me unable to swallow, racing heart and erratic breathing. The most frightening part was that they happened randomly for no apparent reason and I think it was the fact they came out of the blue that was the hardest to manage.
However- with time came understanding and a recognition of the things I needed to do when I felt one coming on, like box breathing and sipping water and I have spent the last 15 years just getting on with managing them and seeing them reduce.
COVID changed that! They came back with a vengeance and although at least now I could recognise them, I had to make changes to be able to manage them effectively.
This is what helps me:
Call it- if I am having a day where I feel anxious there are people I can talk to about it, this is important both at home and at work. Just knowing that someone else understands is a massive relief and I am lucky that we have built such an open culture in school where it is normal to talk about mental health.
Affirmations – my positive tweets in a morning are one way I deal with anxiety- they make me think of a positive every day. Some days are harder than others but it is such a good routine for me and my well-being, especially during these times.
Leave it- I used to get angry with myself when I had a panic attack, thinking that it was a sign of weakness and believing that others would think I wasn’t coping. I have realised over the years that it is just my body’s way of reacting to extreme stress and its almost a sign to me that I need to take time out. Nowadays I allow the feeling and move on- I leave it behind with no berating of myself for being weak.
Me time- having dedicated me time has helped me so much- as a headteacher with a young child this is not always easy to achieve and it often is no more than ten minutes! That ten minutes though is necessary for me to reflect and recharge my thoughts.
I know I am lucky- I have mild anxiety and I can manage it well. There are many who suffer from worse mental health illnesses but please don’t assume that people who have smiles on their faces or who bounce around a workplace don’t know how you feel. We probably do and we probably need you as much as you need us.