The most recent UK Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2009) found that 3 million people in the UK suffer from some form of anxiety – and I am one of them.
I worry a lot. My mind has a tendency to focus on the worst possible thing that could happen in a particular situation, however unlikely it may be. For example, we have a motion sensitive light in our driveway. If I see the light come on in the middle of the night my mind automatically concludes that it must be a burglar trying to break in. Not that it is probably just a cat having a wander, which is far more likely.
Mostly though I worry about my health and this is the biggest source of my anxiety. I get palpitations and random pains in my chest quite often, and I’ve had a chronic headache for years. These are the two things that bother me most, and at least once a week, keep me up at night.
My symptoms first started just after I began University roundabout 2010, and since then I have been a frequent visitor to the doctors.
I have had countless ECGs, I’ve been to a neurologist, I’ve had blood tests and seen hundreds of GPs. Yet they have never found anything wrong with me, and every test I’ve had done came back normal. It doesn’t stop me from worrying though, because the symptoms persist. I worry that maybe the doctors missed something, or maybe they need to do a different test? If there is nothing wrong with my heart then why do I get palpitations? Well, there are many causes of palpitations and they don’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. I understand that, but my mind doesn’t always think rationally. It jumps to the worst possible conclusion and ignores everything else, which is not helpful.
There is a limit to how many times you can ask for an ECG. Just before Christmas when I was feeling particularly anxious (I hadn’t slept for two days) I went to the doctors. If the tests kept showing that there was nothing physically wrong with me then the problem must be psychological. So the doctors recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
So, a long two months later I finally got a CBT appointment. My anxiety is relatively mild, which is lucky because I don’t think someone with severe depression would want (or be able) to wait two months for treatment.
CBT is a talking therapy and aims to identify negative thinking patterns and replace them with positive ones. From what I’ve read CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety, but it does take time to work. You can’t change your thinking habits overnight unfortunately. It also relies on the patient to actually do the tasks that the therapist recommends in their own time. The actual 30 minute weekly sessions, are only one part of the treatment.
So over time (in theory) I will hopefully focus less on the possibility that I have some sort of serious health problem, and have a more rational positive outlook. Fingers crossed.
The CBT therapist has given me strategies for challenging negative thoughts, such as looking at the evidence for and against a particular thought. Over time these strategies should help to change my negative beliefs. I just need to keep using the strategies, but that requires me to have the discipline to actually do it – which I don’t always have.
Having anxiety means I often struggle to relax, so I try other things like meditation (Headspace is good for meditating) and relaxing nature videos (like this one) to try and help me chill out. I meditate every day for at least 15 minutes, and I’ve been doing it for at least a year now. It does help but it’s often hard to stop thinking. It helps me sleep too. Before I began meditating it used to take me at least an hour of laying in bed before I fell asleep. Now I listen to a meditation once I’m in bed and on a good night I fall asleep within half an hour, as it helps to quieten my mind. But every now and then my thoughts get the better of me and can keep me awake all night.
So basically what I need to do now is carry on with the CBT and the meditations and overtime, with a bit of luck, my thoughts will change. We will see. I still have this niggling belief in the back of my mind that there is something wrong with my heart or my head. This belief probably won’t go away completely, unless the symptoms disappear. But I do hope that I can learn to pay less attention to these aches and pains, and then hopefully I can sleep more easily at night.
Do you suffer from anxiety? Please let me know in the comments about your experiences and how you deal with it. I would love to hear from you.
 This survey is carried out every seven years so the next one is due this year