I used to avoid self-help.
Just the term ‘self-help’ would be enough to put me off.
There was a real embarrassment attached to it for me.
Me? Self-help? How dare you!
My internal picture of self-help included high-fives, cheesy grins, groups of people jumping up and down, and arms raised up to the sky as people were overcome with an invisible power.
Although this is partly accurate, the embarrassment I attached to self-help was seriously holding me back.
That’s why I’ve dedicated this post to anybody who feels the same – because if you give self-help a try, it might just change your life.
Here are six reasons you need self-help and why you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it.
Driving anxiety drove me up the wall!
A massive fear of mine was losing control of my car, especially on the motorway.
Whenever I hit the motorway I’d get an intense feeling of being trapped, and thoughts like ‘what am I going to do if something happens to me and I’m stuck’ would race around in my head. It would cause a panic attack, and I’d have to pull over on the hard shoulder while trying to control my breathing and disorientation – not nice.
The fear got so bad I avoided the motorway at all costs.
The trouble was, by avoiding it, my anxiety about driving on the motorway kept getting worse over time, and I continued to avoid it as long as I could (which ended up being months).
My comfort zone kept shrinking until I became fearful of driving altogether, and I panicked at just the thought of having to drive.
I have no doubt lots of you reading this will be able to relate to driving anxiety – it’s a common high anxiety symptom.
Here’s a question I received from Olivia about driving anxiety. She’s going through a very similar experience to mine, proving how common it is.
As soon as I get on the motorway I start feeling anxious and panic. I get dizzy and feel like I'm going to lose control of my car. If I drive too close to a lorry or big vehicle I feel like I'm going to crash into it, so I slow down and try to avoid it.
I panic when I just think about driving on the motorway, and it’s getting to a point where I feel as though I’m not going to be able to do it anymore. A few days ago I had to get a friend to go on the motorway with me because I was too afraid to go on my own.
Luckily I don't have to go on a motorway to get to work, but it is preventing me from travelling to see friends and family. I'm restricted where I can go unless I get somebody else to drive or be with me, but I don't want to keep depending on others.
I’ve noticed I’m getting more and more nervous about driving on normal roads, and I’m scared it will get to a point where I’m not able to drive at all. I can’t imagine living without my car, so it scares the life out of me to think I might not be able to drive.
Driving anxiety convinced me that the motorway was a danger to my survival, so I was always on high alert. That’s why I panicked at just the thought of having to drive on the motorway, and why I avoided it at all costs.
It was only when I had a make-or-break meeting for work I had to brave it. I didn’t have anybody to drive me at the time, but if I didn’t attend, I’d lose one of my biggest clients.
I feared public transport just as much as driving at the time, so I decided to opt for the car.
The journey to my client was about an hour, but it felt like ten hours! It was a very shaky affair, but I managed it without the need of the hard shoulder.
It was far from easy, but after the deed was done, I felt more confident.
With this newfound confidence, I decided to hit the motorway again the next day. It still wasn’t easy, but again, my confidence was growing.
I could have got somebody to accompany me, but I decided this was something I had to do on my own; otherwise I’d always be dependent on someone else.
I didn’t want the momentum to end, so I decided to go on the motorway every day for the next week, even if I didn’t need to.
Every day got better.
When I felt trapped and like it was getting too much, I reminded myself what the motorway was – a bit of concrete like all the other roads I drive on. This perception of the motorway helped me rationalise my fear and put it into perspective.
I focused on the end goal rather than the extremely slim possibility that something bad would happen.
With time and practice, I overcome my fear of driving on the motorway by facing it head-on. It’s the only way to do it. If you keep avoiding driving on the motorway, how are you ever going to know if you can do it?
It was tough, to begin with. I was convinced something bad would happen, but I had to break through this fear if things were going to change long-term.
I knew if I kept avoiding the motorway the fear will continue to get worse, making it harder to overcome the fear. In the end, that wasn’t an option. Like you, Olivia, I couldn’t imagine my life without my car.
As I said, overcoming driving anxiety was difficult, to begin with, because I was working against my survival instinct (fight or flight).
But with practice and time, it will become second nature again, like it did with me. The feelings of disorientation and dizziness will disappear, and the fear will dwindle away.
In the end, I believe my fear of being dependent on others was the driving force behind me overcoming my driving anxiety. My desire to see my friends and family when I wanted, and be free to live my life on my terms, outweighed my fear of driving.
It’s our biggest fears that put us into action. If you fear losing your independence over driving on the motorway, I have no doubt you’ll overcome the fear too.
Watch my video on driving anxiety on Facebook and Instagram.
They did with me, for sure.
Audiobooks have a way of elevating words, and if read by the author, they can give you a deeper understanding of the message.
My intention with Anxiety Rebalance was to give you another level of support you might not get from a book. With audio, you can carry me around with you on a device (like a mobile phone) in your pocket. If you’re struggling with anxiety or panic attacks you can put your headphones in and get instant support – from somebody you know that’s been there and understands. Most importantly, somebody who can talk you through it and help you overcome it.
We’re not all readers and some of us just don’t have time to sit down to read a book - audiobooks can offer the perfect solution. When I go to the gym I pop my headphones in and before I know I’m halfway through a book and ready for a shower (two birds, one stone). I’m not the quickest reader, and it can take me weeks to read one book. With audiobooks, I can do two or three a week – plenty more knowledge and personal growth.
If you’re a regular downloader of audiobooks I have no doubt you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t given them a go yet, I highly recommend you give them a try – you won’t regret it.
Thank you to everybody that has listened to the Anxiety Rebalance audiobook. It’s a bestseller on Audible, and you can find it here
Here’s my full interview with Audible on SoundCloud
A big reason I searched for answers as long as I did is because of the rubbish I kept being told, mainly due to the fact they were after my money and more concerned about telling me what I wanted to hear, rather than giving me information that would help.
It became apparent, if I wanted change, I’d have to go and find the answers myself.
Along that journey I came across facts I didn't want to hear. But, I realised if I wanted to overcome anxiety and experience lifetime change, I had to accept the rough with the smooth, which sometimes meant dealing with things I didn’t want to.
Here are four things that others won’t tell you about anxiety.
1. You Have to Face Your Fears
I was once told that I’d never have to face my fears. I’m sure you agree, this sounds nice, but it’s complete rubbish. If you want to overcome anxiety one of the first things you need to do is face up to it, otherwise it will rule your life for however long you let it.
I’ve been lying to my family and pretending to go to work, but I’ve not been going for the past few weeks because I’m too anxious. I’m getting harassed and bullied and I’m having spells where I get dizzy which gives me panic attacks.
Things have never been this bad and I don’t know what’s going to happen, especially when my wages don’t come in as usual to pay the bills. I feel like I’m letting my family down. I want to be strong but I just feel depressed and want to stay in bed which is making things worse.
You need to get back to a level playing field so anxiety can’t dictate your thinking. When you’re feeling stressed and anxious it will cloud your judgement and make you believe there’s no way out. It’s very easy to get into a spiral, and although you might not think it right now, there is a way to change your situation as quickly as it happened.
Hiding the truth from your family isn’t doing you any good. The first step is to be honest. You might feel like you’re letting them down, but you’re not. You’re going through a challenging period that everybody at some time faces, and a supportive family will understand and recognise that. It takes bravery to open up and be honest, but no more bravery than having to face what you’re currently going through.
Once the truth is in the open you can move forward and deal with it. Including your family will help you appreciate you’re not dealing with the situation on your own. This will give you the strength and belief you need to move forward in a different direction.
If you feel like you need to talk to somebody outside of your family unit, find a good counsellor who will help talk through the things that need to be brought to surface. To deal with the panic attacks and anxiety at work there will be underlying fears that need to be tackled, and a good counsellor will help you do it.
Nobody deserves to be bullied, and bullies only do what they do because of the reaction they get. When you’re brave enough to get the truth out there and start speaking about whats really on your mind by exposing your fears, the bullying will stop - both internally (panic attacks) and externally (at work).
The cycle of being overstressed and becoming ill became too obvious to ignore.
I’d let things build up, hold things inside, not talk to anybody, and pretend I was coping just fine. It always led to me being ill.
My illnesses consistently followed the same pattern, revolving around my throat. It would start with a sore throat, which progressed onto a throat infection (tonsillitis), which caused lots of other physical symptoms (cold sweats, fever, headache, neck ache, nausea, lack of energy) leaving me completely bed bound, normally for weeks at a time.
Not uncommon. I’ve known anxiety sufferers who have spent months at a time in bed. In an effort to protect themselves from the stress they’re trying to bury their bodies completely shut-down.
Some of them recognised their symptoms as being stress / anxiety related, and others lived in denial, like I used to - probably because like me, they saw being ill as a weakness, and didn’t want to face up to the reality that being bed bound was caused by anxiety / stress.
Why can’t I cope with the stress that life throws at me? Everybody else seems to manage it.
(Obviously not true, but that’s what you believe when you’re not feeling great.)
It’s a horrible cycle to be trapped in, but is it breakable. The key to breaking the cycle lies in regaining your balance.
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.
On your journey of discovering BALANCE, you are going to have good and bad days (you need the bad ones to help you appreciate the good ones!). The bad days can make you feel like you’re going backwards, however, that’s normally far from the truth.
Seeing evidence of your progression on paper will help you realise that the bad days are just a small part of the bigger picture.
I found the easiest way to track my progression was using an excel sheet – here’s a template you can use.
For the next few weeks, write down the date, day, a rating from 1-10 (where 1 is absolutely abysmal, and 10 is the best day you’ve ever had), and a short note highlighting what you did on that day (like a diary entry).
After a few weeks, take a look at your results.
Were there particular days that scored well, or badly? What were you doing?
Did you feel better on Wednesdays because you’d been to the gym?
Did you feel bad on Sundays because you had nothing to do?
Ask yourself questions based on your results and look for clues.
By writing down the reasons behind your moods, you can make the changes needed. For example, if on Monday you felt particularly anxious, write down what you were doing (or not doing) on that day. Do the same if you were feeling particularly good on Thursday.
When you track what you’re doing, the facts speak for themselves. Those bad days that make you think you’ve gone backwards are easily contradicted by actual results. You might be pleasantly surprised by your progress.
It doesn’t matter what your sheet looks like. The only thing that counts is that you see progress. If you don’t, keep looking for those clues. If you can’t find them, look harder – they’re definitely there. They hold the key to your change.
If you need to, go back to the ten actions to achieve BALANCE (in the book Anxiety Rebalance), and keep taking action. Positive change will come.
I’m currently at college and being bullied in class and through social media mostly on Facebook. I’m used to it as I’ve been bullied throughout school as well and can deal with it but it’s the anxiety and panic attacks that really gets to me. I’m always nervous and anxious about attending classes and checking my Facebook in case I get horrible comments. I know if I can deal with the anxiety and panic attacks better I’ll be able to get through college easier.
Firstly, I’d like to say how brave I think you are. Being bullied is horrible, and nobody (including you) deserves it, whether it’s in class or through Social Media on Facebook.
Don’t concern yourself about why they bully you – in most cases, it’s not personal. It’s just a reflection on how they feel about themselves, and bullying is a way for them to get it out.
Here’s the thing about bullies – they need fuel to stoke their fire.
If you show a bully they really bother you, they’ll keep doing it, because they get their pleasure from seeing the distress. When you don’t give them fuel (by showing them that their actions and words don’t bother you) it puts their fire out. They’ve got nothing to work with, so on most occasions they stop.
That’s the same with panic attacks, which is why I describe panic attacks as ‘psychological bullies’. Panic attacks also need fuel (a reaction from you) to work. When a panic attack begins and you react to it with more panic, it fuels it. Instead, don’t panic and accept the feelings that come with it rather than fight them, and with a bit of time they disappear.
Action for Change
Stop fuelling the bullies fire (by bullies I’m referring to both the ones at college and panic attacks). Don’t give them the reaction they’re looking for. Don’t give them your energy – they don’t deserve it. Starve them of oxygen, and they’ll disappear.
YOU ARE BRAVE. You proved that by looking for help. Use this courage to move forward.
It might take the bullies a little time to adjust to the fact that things are going to change, so be patient. With a bit of time, things will change.
If you need that extra bit of help, you might find this link to Bullying UK helpful.
I’m proud of you. Keep going, you can beat them.
Q: I’ve worked for my company for about 3 years now, and a new manager has just taken over our team. He’s horrible and comes into the office every morning angry. As soon as I see him he puts me on edge and I worry that I’m not doing my work properly and that he’ll make a scene in the office. He’s belittled me in front of my colleagues on more than one occasion and doesn’t have any respect for me. He’s doubled my workload, which I’m struggling to cope with. I’m feeling anxious when I go home, and I worry about going to work the next day. My job is quite specialist so there's not a lot of other roles available. When other jobs do come up, they normally require me to relocate, which I can’t do because of my family. My anxiety and stress levels are really getting out of control, and I’m not sure what to do. Can you help?
A: If you work full-time you’ll be spending most of your time at work, and based on how your boss treats you, it’s unsurprising that he’s the cause of most of your anxiety and stress. You’re certainly not alone in this – unfortunately, there’s enough bad managers to go around the equator, twice. First and foremost, don’t take it personally. It’s highly likely that your boss acts the way he does because of his own anxiety and stress. That’s, of course, no excuse to treat you the way he does, but it helps if you can also see it from his perspective – that it’s nothing personal, and his way of dealing with it.
Like any fear (in your case, the fear of your boss), the first thing you need to do is confront it; otherwise it will continue to cause you excessive anxiety and stress that will affect both your home and work life. Ask to speak to your manager privately, and calmly and assertively tell him your concerns. Write them down and practice them, so you feel confident about what you’re going to say when you talk to him. Highlight why you’re unhappy about the way he talks to you, and how it makes you feel. Include the fact that you want to work to your full capability for him and the team, but don’t feel you’re able to do your best work under these circumstances. Don’t be afraid to be honest, and be specific. For example, when you mention that your workload is excessive, tell him why based on your previous work, and use facts to back up your case. With a strong enough fact-based case, a rational boss (good or bad) won’t have any other choice but to cut your workload, especially if they want to keep a good employee. Confrontation isn’t easy, I know, but it’s no harder than going home at night feeling anxious and stressed, dreading the prospect of going to work the next day.
The meeting is likely to go one of two ways:
1. Your boss will respect you for being brave enough to confront him, and he’ll start to show you the respect you deserve. In this instance, your working life will completely change. You’ll be given a fair workload, and the abuse will stop.
2. If your boss doesn’t change his attitude towards you, it shows his true character. He’s a guy you don’t want to work for, and he’ll never change. In this circumstance you have two options: you can either go above his head by speaking to his manager, or you will have to look for another job. I know the latter isn’t fair on you, but unfortunately, you have to accept that you get good and bad characters in the workplace – he’s one of the bad ones, so move on. Look for a new job sensibly, and research it well (so you don’t go from the frying pan into the fire). Be as professional as you can be whilst you’re still working for him.
Whatever happens, remember, you’re the bigger person. It’s up to you whether or not his words and actions cause you stress and anxiety, or whether you decide to take them with a pinch of salt. You’re in control, and there’s nothing you can’t deal with or change.
The best way to connect with Carl and join the discussion is on his Facebook page