Anxiety is a reflection of our self-esteem
As an aspiring therapist in my final year of training, and someone who had relied on anti-depressants (for anxiety) for over thirteen years, I was harshly awoken by my mother-in-law who finally sought me to do something about it.
“How can you help people overcome their problems, if you can’t address your own,” she said to me.
Was she right? After all these years of blissfully sailing through my calm stress free life was it finally time to come off my anti-depressants?
My mantra had always been, “life’s too short to worry all the time.”
So if I had found something that takes that away, surely it was a no brainer’?
The problem was I was starting to see more and more clients who were struggling with anxiety and I couldn’t promote the anti-depressants – so I needed to get to the root cause of what anxiety really was before I could help other people address their own.
After reducing my pills from 20mg every day to every other day, it was a fairly calm start. A few days where I would break down and cry or shout at my husband for not making the bed right but nothing too major that affected my day to day life.
Finally when we were away on holiday for ten nights, I decided that this would be the time where I would finally come off them for good. I had reduced them to every three days for some time now, so really they were having little effect anyway.
For weeks, I barely noticed a difference. But then all of a sudden bursts of anger would overcome me and emotions would over whelm me and I would cry nonstop for hours.
Was this my body finally adjusting and getting back to the old me?
I had forgotten just how sensitive of a person I used to be and just watching a sad advert these days can make me well up.
That’s when the penny finally dropped.
Anti-depressants don’t cure anxiety, they mask the problem. They numb your emotions and senses so you care less about what’s going on in the world around you.
I had heard so many times how anxiety was a chemical imbalance or something you can’t control and even talking to the doctors to try and get a straight answer as to what anxiety really was, was proving pointless.
The older generation of doctors would almost dismissed mental health and the younger GP’s promoted the anti-depressants.
It was obvious (now that I look back) that they don’t want to tell people the truth.
The real problem lies within.
When I look back to when my anxiety began at 21 years old, I had just secured an insurance job and was living at home with my parents and 5 siblings.
I shared a room with my sister and knew that we were both too old and too different to be able to share this cramped life style.
Deep down I knew I wasn’t happy, but I was filled with fear of moving out of home by myself. I didn’t feel ready to fly the nest. I began to imagine the worst case scenario of every situation I was faced with.
I also began to develop a habit of touching my head every time a bad thought entered it (i.e. touching wood). I kept thinking if I didn’t do this – I would jinx myself and others.
As I grew older my anxiety got worse. I began to worry about how my old school friends would view me or potential boyfriends I would meet if I told them I still lived at home with my parents.
Eventually everything I did became a concern about how other people would view me.
I never went to university and therefore I am not intelligent enough.
My job wasn’t exciting enough and doesn’t pay enough.
That man I met on Saturday night wasn’t good looking enough.
I also constantly thought the grass was always greener elsewhere and would just envy people who were away traveling the world.
Everything about being in your twenties is about image and how other people view you.
My self-esteem was rock bottom but no-one told me how to fix this. Despite countless doctors’ appointments, I was just prescribed anti-depressants over and over again until eventually I caved.
I took them because the over thinking and self-loathing got the better of me.
Within a week I was a different person. Skipping to work I felt so happy, free from caring about other people’s opinions and free from obsessively trying to control every aspect of my life.
For thirteen years this carried on until the strong words from my mother in law awoke me up to the harsh reality. I wasn’t cured from my anxiety problem I was just masking it. And now here I was trying to emphasise with people who were in the same position I was thirteen years ago.
I guess the good thing about training to be a therapist whilst coming off anti-depressants was all the information we continue to learn within the classroom and from the clients and supervisors we see on a regular basis. We are also made to go and see a qualified therapist of our own so we can fully appreciate and understand how it feels to be in the client’s position.
I always believed I was quite a grounded person, mature and also quite self-aware, however, I never realised just how badly I spoke to myself, how much I criticised and put myself down on a daily basis. That’s when I began to realise just how low my self-esteem really was, and how I had no confidence in myself or my abilities.
Now my body was free from the anti-depressants, familiar patterns started resurfacing just as they were thirteen years ago. I started over analysing the way people spoke to me. We’re they angry with me? Had I said something offensive the day before at the school gates for example. I would chatter my teeth to the conversations I would play over and over in my head. I felt lost without my pills and so many times I contemplated about going back to them.
I didn’t however, because something inside of me really wanted to get to the root cause of anxiety and improve it without medication.
As the months passed by and the training and therapy I was receiving became more in-depth, I began to look deeper into my childhood and why I had such a low opinion of myself.
What we fail to realise is that throughout our lives significant others will criticise us, belittle us and generally make us feel worthless about ourselves. This could be our parents, teachers, older siblings or other kids in the playground. Where ever these messages come from , they stay with us as we grow into adult hood and we continue telling ourselves these messages until we realise we have the power to break the cycle.
People with higher self-esteem care less about other people’s opinions, so if I really wanted to overcome my obsessive thinking, over analysing and self-loathing -all I needed to do was work on my self- esteem.
But how do you work on your self-esteem?
Well here are some techniques and tips I have learned to help my self-esteem soar within just a few weeks.
The first thing to remember despite what countless people may tell you is that you don’t have an anxiety problem. What you have are habits!
For example; everyone is addicted to something –even if this is cleaning obsessively or exercising.
These are habits that we have adopted along the way to help us feel safe, protected and in control of our lives.
What’s important to remember (above all else) is that habits can be broken!
Never forget that.
It’s takes around 30 days to break a habit so it’s important to remember that it’s a gradual and repeated process that we must keep up every day until our brain finally adjusts to our new way of thinking.
For example; if we continue to tell ourselves on a daily basis that we are fat, ugly and useless, our mind believes these messages and stores these messages in our brains just like a computer.
So the first thing I started to do was change the messages I was repeating to myself every day.
For example; as I previously mentioned – I would touch my head when I had a bad thought.
Next time this happened however, I didn’t touch my head.
At first I felt overwhelmed with anxiety but I started to tell myself that regardless of whether I touched my head or not – we cannot control what happens in the world so if something bad does happen, it is not my fault and is out of my control.
What you will usually find is that after 5 – 10 seconds, the anxiety starts to feel less and less.
It’s the first 5-10 seconds of not doing your habit that feels intense but this lessens as we continue practicing our new thought process.
When it comes to the negative self-talk and the critical comments we tell ourselves, it’s sometimes best to start off slowly.
For example; I tell myself every day that I am a wonderful person and I love and value myself.
However, when I tried to teach some family members this technique, some of them couldn’t even look at themselves in the mirror to utter the words.
So maybe just starting with, “I like myself.”
“I value and accept myself,” are great places to start.
Eventually moving it up a notch when you feel more positive about yourself.
i.e. I am beautiful or I am the perfect weight for me.
What you will eventually see if you practice this technique every day is that the messages in your brain will eventually change and you will naturally begin to give yourself more positive messages.
You basically adopt a new habit – but a much more positive one!
My famous saying that I would tell myself especially before an interview or a presentation was, “I can’t do this.”
But telling yourself this doesn’t help you overcome your fear.
Our brains are developed to protect us, and therefore, if we tell ourselves we cannot do something; our brain will think we are in danger, and will set out to protect us.
By changing the messages we give ourselves, we change the way we view and treat ourselves going forwards. This will then reflect on how other people treat us.
If we value and love ourselves, other people will too.
A second technique I embraced when overcoming my anxiety was breathing.
Never under estimate the power of breathing!
When we are anxious we forget to breathe properly and our bodies go into flight or fight mode.
Our heart pumps faster and our minds race faster.
I started watching you tube ‘meditation’ videos every time I felt like I was over thinking or over analysing a situation. Meditation videos always start by telling you to take big deep breaths. In through the nose and hold for 5 seconds and out through the mouth for five seconds.
I would watch these videos for literally two minutes and just the breathing alone would be enough to adjust my mind and calm my irrational thinking down.
I practiced this breathing technique every day for weeks (whenever I was overthinking) – in the car on the way to work or in bed at night when I was struggling to sleep. Eventually my brain could see that there was no danger and naturally learnt to calm itself down. I hardly ever have to use this technique anymore.
Other ways in which we can help our self-esteem grow (as well as being nicer to ourselves) is to enhance your life in any way you possibly can.
For example; surround yourself with positive people and let go of negative people that drain your energy.
Read more and educate yourself more.
I used to think I was never one with words or good in a debate – however the more you read, the more you expand your vocabulary.
Exercise more (Just walking or even housework).
Drink more water and herbal teas (your skin will glow).
Join courses and groups (follow whatever energises you because this is where your true passion lies).
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until I went back to college aged 25 to study English (A Levels). I chose English because I was good at it in high school and it led me to eventually become a counsellor.
Follow whatever you are naturally good at and just watch where it leads you.
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of Relate Bradford.