It’s #weddingwednesday and this week I’m throwing it back to the time I bared my soul about anxiety, and how to stay in charge when your brain thinks it knows it all…
OK, here’s the thing. I’ve suffered from anxiety, in varying degrees, for about 18 years. Mostly I have a handle on it, but there have definitely been some difficult times.
Around the time of my wedding thankfully it was me who was in control rather than my brain, it all went swimmingly and for that I’m grateful. But I’m so conscious that had I have been in the throes of my brain being the one in charge, sensing danger at every turn and making sure it told me so, it would have been a different story.
There have been a couple of times over the years where my brain really has just gotten too big for its boots. On both occasions, I turned to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which I just can’t recommend enough.
Being an action taker kinda gal, I like the logic and science behind CBT. Learning about the wiring of my brain enabled me to take a step back and see anxiety for what it really is. Just a normal brain function that’s got a bit carried away with itself and CAN be managed.
I hate the thought of anyone suffering from anxiety being full of fear rather than excitement when it comes to their wedding day, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences here with you. There was a time when I would never have contemplated baring my soul in this way, but issues like anxiety and depression aren’t dirty secrets. They’re real, and hard to deal with, and effect a huge number of people. Much of the time you probably won’t even realise if someone is an anxiety sufferer – I think I’m pretty good at hiding it! But, talking about it shouldn’t be taboo.
I’m no doctor or therapist, but if sharing this helps one person in a small way to get more enjoyment out of their wedding planning and the day itself, it will have been worth baring my soul!
The brain is designed to worry
Fact. There’s a part of our brain (the amygdala) that my lovely CBT lady referred to as the ‘ancient brain’. The way she described it was that in our caveman days, survival was the top priority. The job of the amygdala was to be on the lookout for lions or bears and to give us that burst of adrenaline for us to run from danger. This part of the brain hasn’t evolved, it’s still there, and sometimes it gets kind of ‘stuck’ at the ‘on’ switch. So rather than just warning you when there’s actual danger, it’s constantly on the lookout, causing that anxiety and panic.
Of course, it’s good that we’ve got this part of the brain – it’s the thing that stops you stepping out in front of a bus or being able to react if you genuinely are in a spot of bother. Generally, though, anxiety is your ancient brain getting stuck on and being on the lookout for you!
The snowball effect
So, the brain then creates neural pathways. Stuff that you do repeatedly it learns as a pattern and eventually accepts as the norm. If you’re anxious about something, and your brain is focussing on that, so it deepens the belief that it must be true. It’s a perpetual cycle. But you CAN break it.
Been there, got the t-shirt
From my perspective, just that knowledge helped me massively. To know that this is all just the mind doing its job did help. Mental health issues are nothing other than a bit of the brain being a bit broken. It’s not something anyone has a choice over, and it’s no different to having a broken limb. Likewise, this knowledge gave me the reassurance I needed that things could change. It CAN be different.
I work in the wedding industry. I get invited to go along to wedding fairs, networking events, to visit suppliers or attend awards ceremonies. There was a time when quite frankly that would have filled me with dread. Why? I don’t know. It was my brain worrying that ‘something bad might happen’. With the help of my lovely CBT lady, I was able to take a step back from it and put it in perspective.
I can imagine that in the throes of anxiety, the thought of walking down the aisle on your wedding day would be nothing short of terrifying. But stop for a minute and think about the reality…
You’re in a gorgeous gown, dressed like a princess. You’re about to make a commitment with the one you love. You’ll be surrounded by loved ones – people who care for you and support you, they’re there to celebrate with you. What’s the worst that can happen? Messing up vows, fainting and tripping are all common worries but really, none of those are deal breakers, and you know what – your wedding day will carry on regardless. Plus – the things that you worry about are 99.99% of the time the things that don’t actually happen!
So, how do you overcome this? There were three things in my own journey that really resonated with me and worked for me…
Push your own boundaries
One of the most useful things my lovely CBT lady (yes that’s her actual name) taught me was to (gradually) push your own boundaries. Challenge yourself and do the things that would usually make you feel uncomfortable. Teach your brain that this thing it’s worrying about isn’t a danger. The more you do something and you make it through safely, the quicker the neural pathways will be retraced in your brain. It’s really hard, I won’t lie, but it gets easier every time and will make SUCH a big difference.
This too shall pass
Anxiety is just an emotion. Like happiness or sadness, just an emotion. It will only sustain itself for so long and it will pass. If you’re in the middle of a shopping trip and feel the anxiety coming on, distract yourself if you can, this helps it to pass more quickly. If you can’t distract yourself though, just give into it. Acknowledge your brain looking out for you, but let it know that everything is good, you’re safe and you don’t need it throwing an unnecessary wobbler. If you can push on through this helps teach your brain that it’s freaking out over nothing!
In all honesty, these are the two things that made the biggest difference for me. It takes time and effort and it’s not always easy to make yourself do stuff that feels uncomfortable, but just these couple of changes have without question retrained my brain.
Distraction comes in many forms, but I really liked the technique of “I am noticing” – when anxiety starts to creep in, acknowledge that your ancient brain is trying to help (cheers for that!) but let it wallow away in the background. Remind your conscious mind that it’s in charge and open your senses to the world around you, thinking as you do this, for example: “I am noticing the sound of birds outside, I am noticing the sun hitting the wall, I am noticing the warmth of the room etc. Even better, if you’re able to get up and move about, have a walk or even just go to a different room, that helps too.
I really hope that this has been useful to somebody. Anxiety is horrible but it doesn’t have to rule your life. As I say, I’m no medical expert, doctor, psychologist or therapist. This is just me talking about my own personal experiences from my own journey with anxiety. If I’ve got something wrong with the science bits please tell me so I can correct it. And if you really do feel shocking, or that anxiety is ruling your life, please go and talk to your GP. They can refer you to a CBT therapist and it really does help. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I would really really love to have your feedback on this one. It’s a really personal subject and I’d be so grateful to hear from you.
Good luck – and may the force be with you!