For the many of you who know me, have followed my story and who have celebrated my courage of speaking publicly about my experience with childhood sexual abuse, I am about to delve right in again and expose how frustrating life can sometimes feel, whilst living in the aftermath of such terrifying trauma.
I think it’s important to be raw and authentically real in order to support and encourage the many survivors who contact me to share their stories, heart aches, memories, fears and challenges during their day to day existence after being violated and broken at such a young, vulnerable and innocent age.
Honestly, there is no way to describe the sadness, hurt, pain and anguish that vial acts of sexual abuse causes to your body, mind and soul. It can feel like you are locked and confined inside a cold cage. Lonely doesn’t even come close to describing the desolation. An existence crippled by unworthiness, self disgust and brutal self doubt. This deep angst that is planted and then left untamed, grows at a speedy pace where all you know is this pounding of fear that, to an untrained, disassociating mind, feels like your normal heartbeat and so without it, you feel naked, lost or even like death is imminent.
Welcome to existing in the world with crippling anxiety...
Here are some of my little tinkerings that may be useful for when you or someone you know is facing this invisible force that tries to control and dominate your day.
1. DENY, DENY, DENY… BUT DON’T!!
Okay, so the first strategy my body attempts (almost instantly) when impending anxiousness makes its way into my day is to pretend that it is not actually there.
I am a perfectionist by nature and so to admit that I am not doing well feels like I am ‘failing’… so I inevitably resort to a ‘denial phase’ in order to protect myself from the horrible truth that I may not actually be meeting all the expectations that I place on myself.
I hate to break it to all those anxiety deniers out there… this is the worst possible strategy to employ! It actually makes anxiety WORSE!!
By telling myself that I am not feeling something, I am dismissing my experience and not showing kindness or compassion to myself at all, which is exactly the opposite of what I need when anxiety takes hold. I have noticed that in the past when I have soldiered on and pretended to everyone, including myself that, ‘I am not suffering from debilitating anxiety right now… everything is FINE,’ I crash and burn and need a whole lot more time to recover from the destruction that I allowed by not acknowledging the physical and emotional symptoms. I set up my entire household for an intense few weeks and then we all have to recover together. Not fun!
So be kind, surrender and acknowledge that what you’re feeling is there. It is SO okay to say, ‘I am feeling really anxious today, I may need a little more kindness and understanding while I experience the symptoms that come with this intense and overwhelming feeling…’ I recommend saying this to yourself first and then voicing it with your network so they can understand what you’re going through and set you up for the best support possible.
2. DON”T BE RUINED BY RUMINATING
It is ridiculously easy to become a ruminating NUTTER when the anxiety train toots its horn. My thoughts can become so fast, so uncontrollable and so beyond unhelpful that it can feel like I’m on a the playground roundabout, I’m trapped, can’t jump off and desperately need to vomit and then do vomit in front of a crowd of happy families trying to enjoy their day at the park!! Raise your hand if you hear me!
Ruminating is a double edge, sharply unproductive and a completely dissatisfying experience. For any hand raisers out there, you’ll know that the obsessive worry and overthinking headspace achieves absolutely nothing, wastes an excessive amount of time and leaves you feeling like a failing wanker in this crazy world.
My two top strategies that lessen the intensity of when you come down with the endless kaleidoscopic swirling of overthinking diarrhoea;
1. Voice it, name it, shout it out to work it out.
I tell Jez that I need help, ruminating is occurring and he instantly holds space for me while I speak out whatever is circling around inside my betraying brain. We have already established that there’s nothing too stupid, too scary, too upsetting or too unspeakable that isn’t worth voicing to him. This is immensely helpful!
Not only does it support in the extraction of these unhelpful and sickness inducing worries from the forefront of my mind, exposing these thoughts actually aids in freeing them from my body. As I speak out the concerns, it’s like I am giving them permission to exit my physical being too, diminishing the symptoms that accompany the ruminating experience. It also helps me to gain some truth and clarity on this situation. Sharing with someone whom you trust, using their guidance to plan how to move through the worries / thoughts that you’re feeling, can be an anxiety experience game changer. Creating a plan or having a sounding board to validate your experience can be just the medicine you need to shut your nagging mind up!
2. Be ruthless and set a timer.
Our time on this earth is precious and we all know how we’d rather be spending it so… set a timer for 10 mins (or choose an appropriate timeframe that validates the voicing process) and during that allocated time, share all the intricate details of the ruminating thoughts.
…and as soon as the timer bell chimes, move on. Get on with your day and if the thoughts try to creep back in, you can reassure yourself by saying, ‘Thank you so much that you are trying so hard to remind me of these things but I have actually dealt with them for today, so right now I would like you to take a rest… why not take a lovely nap…? I got this self, but thank you so much for caring!’ (Insert fist pump emoji here!)
This is a great technique when you’re annoyed with someone or a situation… voice it within a timeframe and then get on with your life!
3. REMEMBER THAT THIS TOO SHALL PASS...
A friend once suggested what to say to yourself when anxiety hits… Rather than spending time hating it and getting all worked up, angry or annoyed that it’s there, mention what an inconvenience the feelings are. That way, you’re telling your brain that it isn’t a permanent or fixed experience but changeable and a reprieve is on its way soon. I have found this so comforting and helpful! Just knowing that it can end, is sometimes the exact catalyst that begins the reprieve… inconvenience rather than permanence!
4. KNOWING IS NOT THE FOCUS...
Sometimes, I may not even know what the heck I am feeling anxious about! This is beyond infuriating for me!!!
I get so worked up about it because I put a lot of time and energy into being the best version of myself possible so, when I don’t know why anxiety is visiting, I FUCKING HATE IT!
So those are the times that I need to be even kinder to myself and do the nurturing things that support me through it.
Knowing what is making you anxious is not always important, but being kind to yourself, always is…
Without fear of coming across super spiritual (cos I’m not!) or impractical, I do know how breathing techniques deeply support me when anxiety is running rapid. I definitely stick to a rigid plan for several days in a row when my anxious mind is struggling to stay focused on everything else other than feeling anxious!
I sit and consciously breathe for 4-6 times a day. That means for five set minutes, I watch the minute hand circle my watch face and I breathe in for four seconds and then out for four. Sounds easy and boring…
It is and it actually works!
All that delicious oxygen entering my brain and body does wonders for my mental health. I repeat this at set intervals during my day and after a few days, I notice a huge difference in how I am coping.
The interesting situation with yoga is that it is such a beautiful, calming practice- one that promotes wellness, clarity and calm. It can bring connection within yourself and reduce the fatiguing stress you’re dealing with. It also can be completely unsettling and infuriating when your anxious state is just too strong to quieten.
Standing at the top of your mat in a dimly lit, silent yoga studio and being invited by the yoga instructor to, ‘Close down your eyes’, can be one of the most intimidating, scary and unnerving experiences to put myself into when I am highly anxious.
I have since learned that it is actually counter-productive for me to place myself in this kind of situation in hope to achieve a reduction in my anxiety induced state. I’ve had to learn that I wasn’t a failure to admit this either, that this was not a great remedy for me. Due to my traumatic history, yoga can sometimes make me feel like I am trapped… it can be way too triggery for me.
So instead, I do my own yoga practise in my brightly lit, open doored living space, often naked (or close enough to it!) where I feel completely safe with no expectation of how long I stay in the practise for. You can youtube yoga classes to be guided through or just feel what your body needs and move it accordingly until you feel like you’ve had enough.
Basically, find what works for you and don’t feel like you’re failing if a recommended exercise or practise doesn’t work for you. We’re all different so find your fit!
7. FIND YOUR LOCAL… NO, NOT THE PUB!
Health food shops can be a great resource for when you’re experiencing anxiety and stress… I love taking an anti anxiety / stress herbal supplement to support the calming down of my nervous system when I am exposed to an anxious episode. I find it so helpful. Visit your local health food shop and have a chat with the staff there about your symptoms and see what they recommend.
The more support, the better!
And it’s always a great idea to check in with your doc or therapist if the anxiety isn’t subsiding… The more support, the better!
8. UM… MAYBE HAVE SEX!
I can only imagine what you’re thinking right now…WHAT??? My entire body is racing, I’m ruminating, I’m super stressed and I’m overthinking everything… sex is not even close to being on my radar! Are you serious?
It may sound ridiculous but when I am crazy anxious, it has gone on for a few days and Jez suggests intimacy, my instant response is a big, fat, NO! But then I remember how safe I am, how much I explicitly trust this beautiful man, I am able to soften my tense body and open my mind so I can at least try… and, YES!
Sex is a wonderful and welcomed experience as it is allowing myself the pleasure I deserve to feel, even when I don’t think I need it, let alone deserve to feel it. This is a beautifully connecting and calming strategy for me because I feel so safe and close with Jez.
Anxiety shut down. The lovely flow of endorphins is deliciously relaxing.
If you’re in a loving, trusting relationship, it may help you too…
It’s about saying yes even when you don’t feel instantly like yes is how you want to respond… and seeing what happens.
I’m not saying you should say yes when it isn’t safe, or to say yes with someone who you don’t feel completely safe with.
I’m just suggesting that you can override the instant ‘no’ that your body is wanting to respond with.
Maybe one of these conversation starters is needed:
“I’m open to it, but it needs to be slow…”
“I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try…”
“Yes, but lot’s of gentle kissing will help me relax…”
It could also be a yes, but with the omission of certain parts of his or her body.
Basically it doesn’t have to be an instant no!
If it’s not helping, then you can simply just stop. You can say no at any time. And this is also an empowering feeling. And remember, that if no is your response, that’s ok too. You could opt for a beautiful cuddle, or simply hold hands for a while.
9. MASSAGE IT OUT!
When sex is a no go zone, or even if it's ok… massage can also help! Allowing someone to soothe your muscles and physically connect with you, can be such a powerful method of reducing anxious symptoms. Jez will set up the massage table for me, pour lavender almond oil over his loving hands and literally work the anxious tension right out of my muscle fibres. Sometimes I cry all the way through the massage, not because he’s rubbing too hard, but simply because I feel like I need to release the emotions that have built up. He is incredible… He will gently whisper, ‘You’re safe, it’s ok, let it out hun… You’re doing great, I’m here. You deserve this time. I love you.’
And once again, because I said yes, he has literally empowered me to kick anxiety and its overbearing symptoms fair up the arse and out of my life again.
10. CHECK IN WITH YOUR CAFFEINE FIX…
I am a once a day, in the morning, extra strong, extra hot, rice milk coffee kinda gal…
I know that I am super sensitive to caffeine so I am super careful about how much of that adrenaline inducing stuff I pour into my body. I do my best at keeping my anxiety as calm as possible, so I care immensely about what food and drink I put into my mouth. I know that I cannot expect to feel good in myself if I am making poor dietary choices. This is in my control so I choose to make it work for me. You can too!
11. GET MOVING!
Movement therapy is awesome for shifting the anxious energy out of your veins!! Choosing a physical activity that you enjoy or know you will enjoy after doing it, will physically shift the symptoms from your body. I move everyday, in some way - in nature, in a gym, in water, with others, or on my own…
It is an essential and critical method I use to halt anxiety before it even thinks about talking hold of my day. I’ll Floss it, Dab it, Grape Vine it, dance in the rain if I have to…
Move in a way that works for you!
12. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS… THROW YOURSELF IN THE OCEAN!! (OR HAVE A COLD SHOWER!!!!!!!!)
My ultimate favourite.
I do this everyday!!!
I know… I am nuts!
But I am a happy nutter who is grateful for every day that I get to spend with my beautiful daughter and my best friend. I do not have time for anxiety to ruin my precious time with these two incredible humans who bring so much joy, purpose and fulfilment to my life. So, I keep my energy cleansed and as pure as possible. That, to me, means washing away negative thoughts, worries, fears and self doubt with a shockingly cold splash every, single, day.
I love nothing more than throwing myself in the cleansing ocean, thanking it for holding such a sacred space for me while I bathe and if I cannot make it to the beach, a cold shower with some hand made goats milk soap is just as special. Not only do I feel incredibly zingy after this, it immediately shuts down my anxiety. My brain cannot focus on anything other than the freezing cold water!
It. Is. Invigorating.
I am alive and ready for my day…
Go on… I dare you… Give it a go!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Hunter is a primary school teacher, a yoga instructor and the author of four children’s books, including ABIA nominated A Secret Safe to Tell and Even Mummy Cries. She is a passionate advocate for child safety and draws on her many childhood experiences, including sexual abuse, mental health issues, experiences with an eating disorder and living in a stressful and often violent home to positively impact children and their families through her writing.
Naomi is honest in her delivery, nurturing in her manner and passionate in her quest for empowered children across the world.