#DearMash: Severe anxiety and a fieldtrip – how do I stop the irrational fears and become stronger?

“Dear Mash, I believe I have severe anxiety, and I will soon be travelling on a fieldtrip with my course. However, I am anxious and worried about falling ill and ending up in hospital. Irrational fears bother me everyday. How can I learn to face my fears and be stronger? I am getting all the help I need but it is still difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. I worry about my parents growing old, leaving me, I want to be a good daughter, but I do not feel well. How do I learn how to face my fears and stop worrying constantly?”

Hey! Ironically I’m going to say I hope you are well because I genuinely do hope that when you’re reading this your mind is in a happy place and you are well ❤

Firstly, thank you for messaging this. Coming forward takes a lot of courage and I admire that. I’m actually super glad you are getting the professional help you need. It’s probably my number one tip. It shows you are working hard to control and/or overcome your anxiety and as much as you may feel like you’re not strong, I definitely think for you to be doing that – you are stronger than you give yourself credit for!

Secondly, I am by no means a professional, like at all. I guess my drawback in this situation is that I don’t suffer from anxiety so me being able to understand your feelings exactly may not be the case. But everyone has anxious situations or situations full of fear, as have I. So for the first part, I’m going to just talk through how I deal with those. But on top of that I spoke to a couple of friends who I thought would offer much better advice than myself and compiled their tips too.

So yeah, personally for me, feeling fear is horrible, I can vouch with you on that one. It’s like you try to stop thinking but the stress of it continuously comes back. Honestly, I find dealing with the things I fear head on being the best way to actually deal with it. Like brushing things under the carpet is never a good idea for me. It’ll resurface eventually. Especially because I know I can overthink. Therefore I have to find some sort of solution to get over my fear or at least talk to someone about it who can rationalise a situation for me. But I get that it’s easier said than done in terms of dealing with it at face-value and nor is it something easy to talk about either. I think maybe keeping a journal and writing down your thoughts might help. If you fear that someone might read it, trust yourself enough that you know how to keep it safe and believe in yourself. I know you will worry on this fieldtrip of whatever that comes in your mind, but tell yourself constantly that whatever you fear should not stop you from enjoying yourself. Because you are worth so much more than letting the fears get you down. You might not feel like you are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel because maybe this is just early stages (boldly making an assumption here). Think of this field trip as a means to get closer to the light. Allow yourself for these few weeks to realise that those fears are thoughts you have full control of. If anything don’t think of it as tunnel. Think of it as a journey. Your one is slightly harder than everyone else’s who may not be suffering from anxiety, but that just means you also have the strength within you to tackle your situations. God has given you that strength. You have to find it, believe in it and know as a result of that you will too develop into a stronger person.

Okay, so I don’t know if you’re arty person but I’ll throw this in anyway. A friend who also suffers from anxiety herself, suggested you keep something called a Pixel journal. I had to google it – but here’s an example:

pixel journal.jpg
Credit: https://goo.gl/images/j24vMi

Basically the idea is, at the end of every day, you rate your mood and then give a reason why. If you’re happy then awesome, write down why. If you were anxious/sad, similarly write down why. You know when I said dealing with things head on was my way forward? In a way, this is a form of that. You’re allowing yourself to reflect on what events lead to you feeling the way you are. That way you can train your mind into becoming more aware of what is contributing to your anxiety and so you can either avoid similar situations or start developing methods you know will work for you in terms of how to tackle similar situations if they occur in the future.

Finally, I took to approaching another friend who is part of an organisation called Inspirited Minds. Her name is Meanha and she, alongside her colleagues, write some brilliant posts on mental health which if you ever get a chance, you should check it out: http://inspiritedminds.org.uk/blog/

But her advice is the following, bear in mind some of it is from an Islamic perspective but the reflection process could be seen as applicable for most points:

“First of all, when you say you are getting all the right support – what does that mean? Have you been to the GP, have you been assessed and officially diagnosed, have you been prescribed medication to calm your nerves, are you receiving therapy and have you got a good support network around you? That may seem overwhelming, but the first step would be to go to your GP and make sure you have a good network around you that are understanding, empathic and willing to help you. Medication is not bad, they are very useful and should be seen as any other type of medication. They will come in handy particularly for your field trip, they will help calm you down biologically lets say. Let’s admit, the root of your anxiety probably starts with an irrational thought around a “feeling” you have in the pit of your stomach or chest – if this feeling isn’t there, it may help with the cycle of thoughts.

Secondly, do not invalidate your concerns and worries. Whilst you have to identify that sometimes they are taken out of context and blown out of proportion, they are normal concerns to be worried about. We are humans, and we make attachments so worrying about your parents growing old, and leaving you etc. These are worries for many young people, especially those who are studying. Students often feel they are not spending enough time with their parents or they are not returning the “favour”. This can come under a type of reflection – gratitude through serving our parents – so it’s understandable and acceptable for having these concerns. However, it is a worry when these concerns then become a pivotal focus for you, because again we are all humans. We all have to leave this world one day, and Allah reminds us of the temporary nature of this world, which is often why we are reminded that we have to have more love for Allah and His Messenger, more than our own parents, because Allah is Everlasting and His Messenger’s sunnah is a way of life for all of mankind.

Thirdly, as hard as it is for us to get our heads around – and perhaps this is the hardest test that some of us face, everything is written for us. No matter how much we worry and exhaust ourselves with the snowballing thoughts – it will not make a difference to the way life is planned for us. We have to try our best and as always leave the rest with Allah. There are plenty of self help books out there and self help videos and tips from real people on YouTube including ample mindful/meditating techniques: “At the end of the day, it will be okay, and if it is not okay – the day has not ended.” Inspirited Minds have recently done an anxiety month and have a podcast where 2 sufferers talk about their experiences and tips.

Now, I know that is a lot easier said than done but here are a few practical things you can do:
  • When you feel your anxiety coming on or you are experiencing a panic attack, grounding works wonders. There are plenty of grounding/mindful techniques that you could use, the 5 senses activity has proven to work very well.
  • Keep a short diary, even keeping notes on your phone – try and figure out your triggers in order to re-process them afterwards or avoid them for future encounters.
  • Challenge your own thoughts, and make an abrupt stop when you find yourself over thinking or over analysing, this will probably be the most difficult thing to do, but it is so liberating and so worth the frustration. When you are getting anxious or find yourself spiralling thoughts ask yourself “Is this actually going to help me?”, “Is this productive for me?”, “What difference will it make if I keep thinking and feeling like this?”, “What can I do to help myself here?”
  • Positive self affirmations. You need to become your own best friend, embrace your worries and understand yourself. Looking in the mirror and saying to yourself “So you worry a lot, but at least you are trying” is the most freeing experiencing you will ever feel. Don’t shackle yourself to your own worries.
  • Have faith in yourself, and have faith in Allah. You are you own superhero, but remember you are still human.
May Allah make it easy for you, ease your hardships, and help you in His beautiful ways. Ameen.”

So, back to me lol. I hope I have been able to compile some words of help and wisdom. I know that was a lot to take in. Don’t feel the need to apply it all, but just what suits you. Honestly, if you need anyone to talk to, pop me up for a personal chat – I’ll try my best to help. I genuinely hope you have an enjoyable field trip and are able to make the most of it! Take care 🙂

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