I wanted the title of my blog to mean something to me and a word I could connect to. The title ‘Breathe’ keeps me calm and relaxed, it’s a word that has meant a lot to me over the years which has also helped encourage me to write. ‘Breathe’ has saved me in so many situations and as a result has become one of my favourite words. I wanted to share with you what this word means to me and why. Who knows, maybe it could become one of your new best-loved words.
Breathing is an every day, normal human habit. It happens automatically but do we really appreciate the importance of breathing and what effect it has on our health?
When my anxiety journey started I spent many days and nights researching my symptoms, searching for help and looking for answers. The panic attack episodes, the lightheadedness, the dizziness, the shortness of breath, the chest pains, the palpitations, the aches and the pains, the dry mouth, the tiredness, the constant feeling of thinking I may pass out daily, the loss of confidence and the fear and the darkness of anxiety all played a part with a poor connection of breathing.
Bad breathing restricts the blood flow to your brain, causing your nerve cells to become affected. This can cause many symptoms listed above. When we’re anxious we tend to hyperventilate or over-breathe. I did this a lot without even realising at times, I would often feel relaxed even when anxious but I wouldn’t realise it until the symptoms and panic would kick in. This is why I assumed I was seriously ill at the time because I had no idea I was suffering from anxiety. At times I would struggle to breathe which can make you feel like you don’t have enough oxygen in your body when in actual fact you have more than enough – almost too much. However, in order to use this oxygen your body needs a certain amount of carbon dioxide. When hyperventilating the normally carefully controlled levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen get all thrown out of sync. This chemical imbalance starts to affect your nervous system by putting your body on alert and causing a host of horrible symptoms.
I am certain that my poor breathing, alongside my worries, is the beginning part of the cycle that activates my ‘fight or flight response’. This is our body’s primitive, automatic and inborn response which will strike when your body is under stress. This response prepares your body to fight or flee from any possible attack or threat to our survival. When I’m anxious about something I develop the poor breathing and as a result my symptoms increase and so I become even more anxious, causing a soul-destroying vicious cycle. My body automatically detects whats causing me to feel anxious as a threat and will continue to do so until I break the cycle.
During my driving lessons, I was a confident driver so I had no idea I would be so anxious about driving one day. It must have been because I felt at ease having my instructor with me the whole time, I could still ask questions if I needed to and he had controls on the passenger side which was always my safety net.
I didn’t feel ready when my driving test day approached but I decided to use it as a practice test. I just had no confidence in passing that day, especially first time. When the examiner told me I had passed, I was really rather shocked. Ryan instantly got me insured on his car so I would occasionally drive but not every day. Suddenly I started to drive less and less until one day I couldn’t even sit in the driver’s seat of a car on my own.
As time went on my fear got worse where I wouldn’t drive without anyone else in the car with me. I would rather get up early and walk 25 minutes to the bus stop in the dark and pouring rain instead of getting in a nice, warm car where I could drive to work singing to the radio. I was unhappy because I hated not knowing how I was going to get to and from work daily, I had no independence and I relied on Ryan a lot. Going to the supermarket for most people is fairly minor but for me, it was a big deal. I would sit and battle with my mind for ages trying to decide whether to go, where I would park, constantly re-thinking the journey over and over in my head but because I would get so worked up I would often give up and decide not to go. So much time wasted with no gain but most of all, I really needed those essentials from the shop.
I am sure the worry of transport and the fear of driving caused the main majority of my anxiety. I felt so ill during this time in my life where my symptoms were at the highest they’ve ever been. I was so unhappy, so low, with no confidence and an absolute nervous wreck. I didn’t realise it at the time that these worries and fears were the cause of all this.
I would dread an opportunity where I would need to drive because it would make me ill and so I would avoid the situation by cancelling or not going. It may have been an opportunity to meet up with friends but it was easier for me to not go so I didn’t have to battle with my symptoms and nerves. Once I made a decision not to go it would instantly make me feel better and relief would suddenly set in but I would also regret it. I was ashamed of myself on losing out on such memories and opportunities, I was letting my anxiety win.
After many weekly trips to the doctors and constantly being told my health is fine but I have anxiety, I finally started to believe them. I decided enough was enough and so I started to seek help through counselling. I sat with a counsellor where we discussed any worries or fears of mine and any situations I would usually avoid. The more I talked, the more and more I realised I was suffering from anxiety and so we attempted to tackle it by using CBT. At this time Ryan bought me a car which made me even more determined to start driving again.
Suddenly the fog became to clear, I followed the CBT guide and decided to tackle small journeys one day/week at a time. The first goal was to sit in the driver’s seat on my own and start the engine, this was the hardest goal. After taking deep breaths in and out I was able to overcome that first hurdle. The next day I was to drive up the road and back. Then to drive a bit further to the nearest roundabout and come back home. I managed these within the first week and so the following week I challenged myself to go to the supermarket. It was hard but I did it. It might have been 8pm at night where there was no traffic and lots of available parking but I still did it. Then within two weeks, I had overcome my first drive to work. I can not even explain the feeling I had when I drove to work for the first time. I have never been so proud of myself. In an instant my confidence grew, I felt independent and free but most of all, I finally didn’t have dripping wet hair or damp trousers and socks from the dreaded walk.
I am now in a much better place with my driving, I can go to places I know but still struggle on occasions with places I don’t know. I’m still training myself and I’m eager to continue to improve.
I really believe the fight or flight response played a huge part in this. My body was telling me to flee the situation because it saw driving as such a threat. This affected my life drastically. My body is now learning to fight and so the driving doesn’t seem like such a huge threat anymore. I still get the odd symptoms but not like I used to. I am in a much happier, brighter place and my anxiety has been particularly well controlled for the last two years. I still get my anxieties and worries but they are more minor so I can normally rationalise with my brain and work through it, mainly through using breathing techniques. I still look back to how cloudy and dark my life was then and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have come out the other side. The day I accepted I had anxiety was one of the most courageous and bravest hurdles I’ve overcome. I was able to work at it and challenge myself. I did my own research to try and help understand what is happening to my body and why. I sought help, I spoke to friends and family and I developed techniques to ease my symptoms.
Breathing really helped through this phase in my life. I focused on breathing exercises where you inhale and exhale for a certain amount of time. I also found some amazing videos on YouTube by searching for either breathing exercises or relaxation techniques. Lots of exercise videos on YouTube encourage you to relax in a quiet room by yourself where you listen to the lapping of waves on a beach, birds in the sky and the breeze of the wind on palm trees. Usually, there is a voice over of someone encouraging you to relax each and every part of your body as the video goes on. It really worked for me and is something I would recommend to anyone undergoing any types of stress, anxiety or depression.
When I am focusing on my breathing I imagine that I am inhaling clean, fresh air into my lungs. When exhaling I imagine pushing out all of the toxins, the unwanted waste and symptoms out of my body.
I used these YouTube videos a lot during my pregnancy. I also listened to pregnancy meditation videos and attended pregnancy yoga classes (the best thing ever) and I am absolutely certain the meditation and yoga was my saviour during pregnancy and labour. I breathed my whole way through the labour with the help of some fabulous gas and air. I was calm which is totally the opposite of how I thought I’d be. I was able to listen to instructions from the midwife and hold proper conversations between contractions, although I was constantly apologising for the moo-ing sound effects! I felt like I was there the whole time mentally though which meant I was able to enjoy the experience as much as I could with a clear head.
Breathing has also helped me to keep calm during many other situations that normally cause me to feel anxious, such as:
– Any procedures involving needles on myself. I am able to take blood from others but not quite so willing to be the actual patient!
– Taking off or landing on a plane.
– Dealing with any workload stress.
– Walking into a room full of people. I.e. Doctors surgery or restaurant.
– Taking any exams or tests.
– Spending the night at home on my own.
– Being in the dark.
– Becoming a new Mum and the shock of hardly sleeping. It’s the most beautiful job but life-changing. At times its been challenging and hard but breathing your way through those times can seriously help! I struggled an awful lot post-natally during those first six months, it was a really tough time.
I have never found a cure for my anxiety but what I have found is a coping mechanism which works for me. I have had people say to me ‘just don’t worry’ or ‘get on with it’. I honestly really wish it was that simple. Those that haven’t experienced anxiety before may not fully understand how we feel. So my plan is to open everyone’s eyes to see that anxiety is not as clear as you think, there’s no guidebook or instructions, it’s not written in black and white, it’s hard work and really, really tough. Everyone’s anxieties are different but you need to work at it. You need to try and find your own individual connection and root cause first in order to work on strategies to change the cycle.
To anyone that does suffer from anxiety and to anyone who has similar symptoms to me. I am so sorry, I understand what you are going through, you are not alone and I feel your pain. It will be fine, one day you will find a way through this darkness and life will become brighter. Please just keep working at it, never give up and don’t let it win!
This blog is like therapy in a way for me and a good reminder to just breathe. I hope this is helpful and reaches out to those who need it the most but raises awareness at the same time.
I welcome back any feedback, good or bad and any requests/ideas that you would like to see on any of my future blog posts.
Thank you so much for your time.