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Mind

The 10 questions that I get asked most, by an anxiety expert

April 4th 2017 / Chloe Brotheridge / 0 comment

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Think you’re alone in suffering from social anxiety or self doubt? Think again. Here are the topics that come up most frequently in Chloe Brotheridge’s clinic

What should I do if I have a panic attack?

A panic attack is a powerful surge of the fight or flight response; the body is getting ready to run away or fight what it perceives to be a threat. In modern life, a panic attack can come on for no reason, or when we're feeling very stressed, pressured or anxious and there's no real danger. The answer about what to 'do' about a panic attack is basically, do nothing. Despite the urge you might feel during a panic attack to run away (for example, from the meeting room you're in) try to stay where you are, rather than fleeing. If you run away, you're affirming to yourself (and your nervous system) that the meeting room is indeed a dangerous place, and the same panic could be recreated in future. Instead, stay with the feeling and wait it out. I know panic attacks feel horrendous, but they aren't actually dangerous. It's just a huge rush of adrenaline, and you can handle it. Breathe deeply, expanding your belly on the in-breath and letting it flatten on the out-breath. Breathing deep, belly breaths is a way of helping to calm your nervous system down. Remind yourself, “this too shall pass”.

How can I switch off my brain so that I can get to sleep more easily?

For some people, their head hitting the pillow is a trigger for the 'what if' brigade to start marching through their brains. The best techniques I've found for helping people to calm their minds and switch off are to firstly, make a 'worry list' before bed. Brain dump any to-do's, worries or concerns into a notepad so that you can return to them in the morning (if you must). Next, read some fiction for about 20 minutes. It's guaranteed to distract your mind away from the concerns of your life and help you to unwind.

How can I get over my fear of public speaking?

If you're waiting for confidence to materialise before you start putting yourself out there and speaking up more, you could be waiting a long, long time. The uncomfortable truth is that when it comes to overcoming a fear of speaking in public, we have to feel the fear and do it anyway. I'm not suggesting you go from zero to TED talk overnight, though. This stuff needs to be done step by step and with a lot of kindness (towards yourself). What is the first, small step you can take towards overcoming this fear? It could be contributing one point in the team meeting, or doing a practice presentation to a small group of your friends. Doing this may trigger that anxious, fight or flight response. Know that's it's normal, it's ok and the adrenaline can't harm you. Every time you go into a public speaking situation and you stay with the uncomfortable feeling, (being kind to yourself no matter how you 'think' you did), you teach yourself that you can indeed handle it. Keep pushing through your comfort zone step by step and watch as your confidence grows.

I don't have time to relax. What can I do?

We all have the same 24 hours in the day and it's up to you how you spend that time. You have a lot more control than you might think. Often, it's a case of priorities. The truth is that we make the time for the things we consider important. If you're suffering from anxiety, making time to relax, whether it's simply having a night in on the sofa or doing a meditation practice, is essential. If you're still struggling to find the time, consider whether you have a problem with setting boundaries or asking for help. Is it hard for you to say no to social engagements, even though you're super burnt out? Do you struggle to let your boss know that you need to leave on time to get to your yoga class? Are you over-working, due to perfectionism? Working on setting boundaries can help you to free up some time and space in your diary to take care of yourself.

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Anxiety expert and hypnotherapist, Chloe Brotheridge

I can't stop comparing myself to women I see on Instagram living amazing, perfect-seeming lives and I feel rubbish about myself!

Firstly, as a self-preservation mechanism, consider unfollowing the women who trigger the most self-loathing. It's not natural for us to know so much about what other people are up to. Be kind to yourself by limiting that exposure, at least until you're feeling better about yourself. The next step, is to start feeling better about yourself! Instead of looking at what others are up to, come back to you. Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety in this case. What amazing things have you got going on in your life? What is unique and wonderful about you? What do your friends say you're incredible at? Getting into a state of appreciation for yourself is the inoculation against comparison-itus.

I feel anxious a lot, but I'm not sure it warrants getting help or not. Maybe it will just get better on its own?

If anxiety is affecting your life, your happiness and stopping you from doing the things you want to do, it warrants getting help. I meet loads of people who feel they should just 'power through' and hope that the anxiety will get better on its own, but they end up needlessly suffering for years before they get help. Speak to your GP, a therapist, a friend or try some of the many self-help techniques and take your wellbeing seriously. You are too important not to take care of.

I tried meditation but it just didn't work for me. What can I do?

Meditation is one of the best things you can do for your mental wellbeing. It isn't merely a relaxation tool (although it's often very relaxing) but it has physical effects on the brain too. It reduces activity in the amygdala (where the fight or flight response comes from) and increases grey matter in the frontal cortex which is associated with increased compassion, mindfulness and emotional regulation. Important stuff for anxiety indeed! With meditation, it's worth persevering.

In my experience, many people struggle with meditation because they try it, find it 'hard' or feel they're no 'good' at it, and give up. Try to let go of this idea that you need to be good at meditation or that you need to block out thoughts and be a zen master from the outset. It's a practice and having 'thoughts' during meditation is a normal and natural part of it. As soon as you notice a thought, just gently bring your attention back to your mantra or your breathing. There are so many different types of meditation that you're bound to find something you like. Guided meditations, apps like Headspace, transcendental meditation (my personal favourite) or even walking meditation are all options. Bonus tip: if you really struggle with an overactive mind, try ten minutes of yoga (Tara Stiles has some great short routines available free on Youtube) because it's a great way to settle the body and mind down to meditate.

I have a huge problem with making decisions - I overthink every tiny detail and end up paralysed and unable to move forward.

Many of us believe that if we could only over-think something enough, then we'll finally arrive at the 'perfect' or 'right' decision. The truth is, however, that there are no perfect decisions and many options could be the right one for you. What matters most is not the decision you make, but what you make of the decision. Clarity comes through taking action because it's often only once we take the leap that we truly know what's right for us. Bear in mind also that your snap judgements and gut feelings can be every bit as good (and sometimes better) than those made over hours of agonising deliberation, because these decisions are subconscious and your subconscious contain a lot of wisdom and experience! Whatever you decide, remember that few decisions are permanent and you can nearly always change your mind.

I'm a real perfectionist and it's affecting my work because sometimes it takes me hours to write a single email...

Let's just debunk the idea of perfection first of all, shall we? Perfection doesn't actually exist, it's just an opinion. If you're striving for perfection, you're striving for the impossible, because you can't control everyone's opinions. Getting over perfectionism starts with learning that it's okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable and actually very valuable as there is always something to learn from a mistake. Practice making small mistakes; a typo in an email, a less than perfectly baked cake, a slightly mismatched outfit, to teach yourself that being imperfect is no big deal. Focus on progress over perfection.

My partner wants to support me, but they doesn't seem to know how. What can I suggest?

Firstly think about what you need to feel supported. Maybe it's just someone to listen, without judgement, or someone to give you space, or give you a back rub. Explain that although encouragement to do things is often good, pressurising is rarely helpful. Whatever it is, let him know what it is you need. It might be helpful to direct him towards certain blogs which describe what anxiety is like (try the Mind website) so that he can get an insight into what the experience of anxiety is, from a few people's perspectives. This could help him to understand that it's not just something you can 'snap out of'.

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Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist, anxiety expert and author of The Anxiety Solution, £12.99

Follow Chloe on Twitter @CBrotheridge and Instagram @ChloeBrotheridge

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