What does BALANCE mean to you? How do you know when you’ve achieved it, and what’s the end goal?
These are all important questions, and to help answer them I’ve put together the Rebalance Scale.
SCALE 7: Panic
Panic – my best friend for many years! Obviously, I’m being sarcastic – there is nothing about panic that would ever make me class it as a friend. As a high-anxiety sufferer, I have no doubt you’ll know all about it. You’ll know that it sits at the top of the scale because it represents the most extreme form of anxiety and causes an array of unwanted symptoms, typically including sweating, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, shaking, numbness, tingling, chest pain and discomfort, loss of breath, a smothering or choking sensation, a dry mouth, a churning stomach, chills and hot flushes … and any other symptom the mind can muster.
At the height of my high anxiety, panic attacks were a daily occurrence. Some were caused by obvious triggers, such as going to the supermarket. (The supermarket was a particular struggle for me, and always induced panic.) At other times, a panic attack would creep up on me without warning. I could be doing something as trivial as watching TV, when all of sudden I’d start to feel disorientated and uncomfortable. Because nothing obvious was causing these feelings, I’d panic because I didn’t know what was going on.
It didn’t matter how many times I experienced panic attacks and got through them, each time I was convinced there was something more sinister going on. I really believed I was ill and had a serious medical condition. It was incredibly frustrating. I’d plead with the doctor: ‘Please diagnose me with something – anything – so I can stop this torment and move on.’ But, as in so many other cases of panic, that diagnosis never came.
Examples of panic
SCALE 6: High anxiety
High anxiety is best explained using the analogy of a swimming duck. Everything above water (on the outside) might appear calm, but underneath the water (on the inside) you’re frantically paddling, trying to hold things together. I spent most of the fifteen years I suffered living like this. I’d be sitting on my sofa watching TV, yet feel like I was at war on the frontline. From opening my eyes in the morning to going to bed at night, high anxiety ruled my life, and all my decisions were based around it.
Examples of high anxiety
SCALE 5: Above-normal anxiety
These symptoms are similar to those of high anxiety, but are less pervasive. You’re able to operate and cope in everyday life without anxiety dominating your decisions, but it still plays its part, manifesting itself through mild forms of anxiety-related disorders.
Examples of above-normal anxiety
SCALE 4: BALANCE
Sitting comfortably within normal levels of anxiety and energy, BALANCE is the optimal place to be. You’re living an active and healthy lifestyle without anxiety and depression dictating your decisions and actions. Anxiety isn’t present in your immediate thoughts, and it only presents itself when genuinely needed. Until then, it sits quietly as your life companion, keeping you away from danger and helping you make sensible decisions (doing its job properly). You don’t feel tired or drained, and have enough mental and physical energy to cope with life’s usual daily challenges.
It’s likely you’ll be able to recall a time you felt like this, but if it’s been a while, let me remind you what it feels like.
What BALANCE feels like
Most importantly, BALANCE means FREEDOM. No hang-ups, no emotional ties, no psychological baggage – just you, living how you want to live.
SCALE 3: Below-normal energy
Because anxiety goes hand in hand with depression, it’s present at both ends of the scale. It will zap your positivity and happiness, and work with depression to lower your energy. The lower your energy, the greater your depression. Scale 3 represents lower than normal energy, which could be the early signs of a deeper depression.
Examples of below-normal energy
SCALE 2: Low energy
Scale 2 represents a deeper anxiety-induced depression and a lower level of unhappiness; you experience the same symptoms as with below-normal energy, but to a greater extent.
Examples of low energy
SCALE 1: Sleep
At the very bottom of the scale, sleep represents extreme depression, just as panic represents an extreme form of anxiety. I went through long periods of both. When I was deeply depressed, all I wanted to do was sleep all day. It felt as though my body was shutting down (like when you reboot your computer), and sleep was my only escape from the clutches of anxiety. On average, I would sleep sixteen hours a day – twice as long as the average adult needs. In the few hours I was awake, anxiety had a way of sucking any remaining bit of life out of me. My energy became non-existent, and I felt mentally and physically exhausted every waking second of every day. It made breaking the anxiety and depression cycle very difficult, because all I wanted to do was (you guessed it) sleep more.
At the other extreme, sleep deprivation (caused by high anxiety) was the worst symptom I experienced. I know exactly what it feels like to be a zombie on The Walking Dead. Three days of not sleeping properly, red-eyed with dribble running down my chin, unable to talk, was as bad as it got for me. This is a typical example of the continuous rigmarole I went through on a nightly basis:
As soon as my head hit the pillow I have racing thoughts about all the bills that need to be paid this month and the work I have left to do. I’m exhausted, but it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I just can’t fall asleep.
I lie there with my eyes wide open, just staring at the ceiling, until I’m so frustrated I decide to get up. I make myself a drink. I know going back to bed will be a waste of time so I lie down on the couch and put the television on. It keeps me company so I don’t feel so alone.
My eyes are heavy. I look at the clock. It’s the early hours of the morning and I start to panic – I’m desperate to sleep because I know I’m going to feel like a zombie at work the next day.
Eventually, panic subsides, and through pure exhaustion I fall asleep at around 4am. After a few hours I wake up on the couch, feeling like I haven’t slept at all. I immediately start to feel anxious, and I’m already worrying about how I’m going to get through the day.
I dread going to bed because I know it’s all going to happen again.
Eventually, with time and practice, I sorted my sleep out. If I hadn’t done this, I had no chance of overcoming anxiety and depression. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to get it right. A strong pattern of sleep combined with the ability to relax is essential for achieving BALANCE.
If sleep is a problem for you (and I’m guessing it is), rest assured – we’ll look at how to combat it within Part 4, Ten Actions to Achieve BALANCE.
This was an excerpt taken from the book, Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon.
I know Christmas should be a happy time of year with friends and family, but it really is one of the worst times of the year for me. For some reason my anxiety levels go through the roof. Why do I feel so alone even when my friends and family are around me?
Christmas can be a very challenging and lonely time of the year, even if you’re privileged enough to have family and friends around you.
If you’re not dealing with higher than normal levels of anxiety and stress, you will feel isolated and alone, no matter how many people you have around you. You have to feel right internally before you’re able to enjoy and feel relaxed around others.
That’s why Christmas can be challenging - we know that it’s the time of year we should be able to enjoy, so we put extra pressure on ourselves. We ask ourselves, ‘why can’t I enjoy this time of year like everybody else?’, which makes us feel guilty and separated from others.
The truth is, you should be able to enjoy Christmas. You deserve to enjoy it, just like anybody else. In fact, you should be able to enjoy everyday, which is why the focus shouldn’t be on just enjoying Christmas. Focus on getting your BALANCE right, and everyday will get better (including Christmas!).
You always have options and choices no matter your circumstance, and a new year really can mean a new start.
Make 2016 your turning point for change, because it’s absolutely possible.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been conducting talks at colleges and universities, speaking to students and teachers about anxiety, spreading awareness by dispelling some myths about it, and sharing techniques on how to reduce it (and get your BALANCE right).
Having the opportunity to speak to so many students was great, but what’s even better was seeing how times have changed when it comes to anxiety.
When I was at school, if I’d told my teacher I was having a panic attack, he would have probably asked me what one was! The increase in the level of emotional intelligence and mental health awareness has meant that many more people (young and old) are getting the help they need.
A big problem for me when my high anxiety symptoms started in my early teens was not knowing and understanding what I was going through (I’m sure many of us can relate to that). But it looks like more and more people are recognising the symptoms and doing something about it.
There’s still a long way to go, and the stigma attached to mental health / anxiety will probably be around for some time, but by speaking out and spreading some awareness we’re slowly (but surely) making things better.
If you’re still in a situation where you haven’t spoken to anybody (which is very common), don’t bottle it up – when you bottle things up they seem much bigger than they are. Facing up to anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, is the first step to revival.
And, it’s not just ourselves we need to help - whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, or partner, if you know somebody that needs help, encourage them to speak out and get the help they need.
It doesn’t matter how old (or young) we are, the most important thing is that we continue to talk about what’s on our mind, and if there are fears and anxieties we’re not dealing with, get them out in the open so we can do something about them.
Together we’re stronger, and it’s up to us all to make things better.
ABOUT CARL VERNON
Carl Vernon is a best-selling author & speaker, talking and writing about all things anxiety, stress & well-being.