Anxiety and CBT

Anxiety. Like many other people with bipolar, anxiety is an added unwanted bonus that comes along with it.

For many, anxiety is a feeling that occurs every now and then and may be associated with a big event; for example, a job interview, talking in front of others. These situations are considered a normal cause of stress.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety may include;

  • increased heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • restlessness
  • trouble concentrating

However, when you have anxiety in conjunction with another mental illness, these periods of anxious feelings can last days, weeks, months and can have a more significant effect on your mind and body, and the symptoms listed above could become overwhelming. They may stop you from doing things you enjoy, seeing friends or going to restaurants. In extreme cases, they may prevent you from even leaving your house. If you don’t do anything about these feelings, they could get even worse.

I’ve previously talked about my anxiety in relation to a hospital appointment I had, but in the recent past, my anxiety would spike at anything from going to work to seeing family to thinking about going food shopping. Over the years, I have managed to gain a modicum of control over my anxiety, and it now only tends to raise its head at larger events, but that’s not to say that it still doesn’t happen unexpectedly.

To get my anxiety under control, I’ve had several bouts of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which gave me some tools that help you take a little more control over your feelings. This isn’t a cure, it’s a management tool, and it doesn’t always work.

From CBT, I learned a few different techniques retraining my brain to not go straight to a particular situation’s negative aspects. For example, when I had to go somewhere, my brain would go straight to thoughts like “everybody will be watching me” or “what if X happens while I’m out.” To begin with, CBT was a difficult therapy for me, as it was all about pinpointing my thoughts about a given situation, which I found really hard to do as when I was sat with someone asking these questions, it was hard for me to think about what thoughts I would have.

For a time, I felt like I was going around in circles and that the whole therapy was a waste of time, but after finishing the sessions, certain aspects stuck with me, and I still use them today. For example, if I start to be anxious about going somewhere, I think about why that is. If I’m thinking that people are watching me or will be judging me, I tell myself that they don’t think that way and have other things to think about than me. Sometimes, even using this method, I struggle actually to talk myself into thinking everything would be okay, but those times are getting less and less as time passes.

When Alex and I got together, I struggled with going to her parents’ house. Although they are now family, I was worried about them judging me, and if I had a panic attack whilst there, I didn’t want them to think any less of me. I’ve since learned that they don’t care, and they just want to see me. It helped in a way that Alex and I both have Bipolar as she was able to tell me that they have dealt with her anxiety for years and mine was nothing new. It wasn’t something that they would judge me for or think any less of me for. It didn’t matter.

Unfortunately, anxiety still plays quite a big part of my life, and it can still be overwhelming at times. But for the most part, I’m getting better.

CBT isn’t a fix-all solution. There will be parts that help and others that don’t, but I would say that it’s worth at least a go if you’re really struggling. Of course, if you’re like me, you may get anxiety even going to the CBT sessions, which was fun. But after a few, I got used to them, and it just became something I had to go to for a few weeks.

Like with many things related to mental illness, anxiety can be difficult to talk about, especially if you think others are judging you. But be assured that everyone out there suffers from it at some time of their life and to varying degrees. You’re not alone.

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