I’ve been on and off the anxiety treadmill lately. One week I’ll be feeling great and the next just hammered by a migraine and loosing a few days. While my migraines are caused by a brain injury, times like this can happen to anyone with PKU too. Maybe you’ve been a little off diet or perhaps just missed the aspartame in the drink and when you wake up and the headaches, shakes and fogs are all there.
It is so easy to find yourself grinding through the familiar emotions of anxiety and blame. Thoughts can spiral around “What happened, why am I feeling like this again, when will I be able to deal with this properly, what did I do wrong, what happened…”
Whether it is reciting the list of migraine triggers or going through the food cupboards, finding the culprit can take on momentous proportions. You might be thinking “I must know where I tripped up”.
There will be times when your hunt is successful, maybe a simple change in ingredients or the sunny afternoon without sunglasses led inexorably to your pain. But on most occasions it will not be that easy to solve. If you were eating out or busy, the chances are you may never work out exactly what triggered the problems.
In these situations, the need to find the catalyst can remain and may only become more urgent as the search goes on. This fixation can lead to more anxiety, feeding the cycle and just making you feel more anxiety, guilt and failure.
If there ever was a time to be kind to yourself, this is it. Take a breath and realise that one mistake is not a failure. We are usually nicer to everyone else than we are to ourselves. If that sounds a bit woolly, stop and think “what would I say to a friend who was feeling like this? Would I be blaming them, telling them it is all their fault and that they will always be a failure?” Of course you wouldn’t, and yet we often do we it to ourselves.
In the midst of one of these episodes I realised how harmful my raging was. Ultimately it didn’t change anything and just wore me out. In recent years, I’ve discovered that this ‘recognition’ is the first step in a mindfulness technique.
Mindfulness is everywhere now and for a long time I wrote it off as ‘a load of twaddle for people with the luxury of time.’ Then I waited months for treatment after my brain injury which had a huge impact on my mental health. I was looking for anything which might give relief for a minute or two. That’s when I found meditation and the RAIN technique.
R - Recognise: Realise what is happening and name your emotions e.g. anxiety, anger or sadness.
A - Allow: Just allow yourself to feel that way, it is normal to feel anxious or sad from time to time.
I - Investigate: Why do you feel this way? What is it that has triggered these feelings?
N - Non-identifying: Realising that feelings are part of you but not all of you. Right now you feel anxious but this is temporary and you will become calm again.
It doesn’t work for everyone - nothing does! But this gave a little space from whirling emotions and helped me to calm down, accept where I am and carry on from there.
So that’s it then, easy? Of course not. You will have noticed that this article is called ‘Pausing the anxiety cycle’ not stopping it. This isn’t a miracle cure to anxiety, just about giving you a bit more space to step back and breathe before starting again.
If you are looking for starting places, I learned the RAIN technique from the Buddhify App. You can try a taster of this technique via YouTube or search for other techniques or local classes online. The point is to find what works for you. Even if that turns out to be a simple cup of tea in the garden.