Small steps is all it takes
Anxiety, Fear, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety

17 Small But Powerful Steps You Can Take To Deal With Anxiety and Panic Instantly

Anxiety and panic want to keep you trapped.

They want to hold you with their grubby paws and keep you rooted to the same spot.

When anxiety and panic are consuming you, it’s deciding to take a small step in a different direction that will produce a different result.

Small steps are all it takes.

It’s the small steps that will take you in a different direction and make all the difference for you.

These small steps will break the pattern of anxiety and panic, so they no longer have a hold on you.

The next time anxiety and panic are trying to grip you, give these 17 small but powerful steps a try. They could produce a very different result for you.

#1: Point your body where you want your mind to go

When you get anxious and panicky, you naturally want to stay in the same spot. By doing that, you’re allowing all the worrying thoughts to consume you. Get up. Go do something. Anything but stay in the same spot. When you change your physical state, you change your mental state.

Point your body where you want your mind to go - Carl Vernon

#2: Close off the ‘what if…’

What if… what? Don’t jump from one what if scenario to the next. Finish off the what if… Rational thinking will tell you things rarely ever get as bad as your worrying thoughts will have you believe.

#3: Become present

The past has gone. The future hasn’t happened yet. The only thing that is real is this moment, right now. Let this profound appreciation melt your trouble away.

#4: Go for a walk, jog, run or drive

This is a reminder of point #1 because it’s the most effective. Go see what nature can offer you. Breathe in the air. Go for a drive, even if you have nowhere in particular to be. Anything but stay rooted to the same spot.

#5: Go people watch

Get out of the house and go to a cafe or some other public place. Just sit and observe. Take in your surroundings and get out of your head.

#6: Put your headphones on

Silence is a breeding ground for worrying thoughts. Listen to some music – any music. Let it influence your mood. 

#7: Get away from negativity

Is someone (a toxic person) increasing your anxiety and panic? Get away from them. Distance yourself from them until you feel you’re in a better mental place to deal with them (if you have to).

#8: Talk

When you internalise your anxiety and panic, it makes it ten times worse than it actually is. Talk about how you’re feeling. Speak to a friend or family member. If you need someone impartial, speak to a counsellor.

#9: Watch some comedy

You might not feel like laughing, but that’s the point. You’ve got to make an effort to change your state of mind if you want a different state of mind. Put your favourite funny film or comedian on, and let the laughter in.

#10: Get angry

Anger is an emotion that will supersede anxiety and panic. Get angry. Tell the internal bully you’re no longer willing to put up with the BS.

#11: Get grateful

Like anger, gratitude is an emotion that supersedes anxiety and panic. When you’re grateful for what you have, rather than worrying about what you haven’t got, that is a powerful state of mind.

#12: Let go

Immediately embrace the fact that you don’t have 100% control. Let go of that need to control. Set it free.

#13: K.I.S.S

Keep It Simple, Stupid. Anxiety has a habit of overcomplicating everything. Have you taken a second to really appreciate what you’re getting anxious and panicky about? Is it worth it?

#14: Lower your expectations

You’re a perfectionist. You want things to be perfect. Yet, they never will be. Let go of the perfectionism and accept that what you do and who you are is good enough.

#15: Stay away from Dr Google

Doctors come in all shapes and sizes, good and bad. There is no worse doctor than Dr Google. He has the worst case scenario and diagnosis for any anxiety-related symptom you can type. Stay away from his surgery.

#16: Don’t care as much

Sounds a little cold, but being highly anxious and panicky means you’re caring too much about something. Try not caring as much.

#17: Remember who you are

You’ve got through 100% of your problems. It’s why you’re here. Don’t let anxiety or panic convince you that you’re weak. You’re not. You’re strong. Stronger than you give yourself credit for. Remember that the next time anxiety and panic tries to mess with you.

Anxiety Rebalance
Why does anxiety make me overthink?
Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Happiness, Health & Diet, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, Stress, Success & Wellbeing

Why Does Anxiety Make Me Overthink Everything?

From the basic things like going to the shop, to the more challenging things like going to work, anxiety has a great way of making you overthink everything you do. How can we stop the torture of overthinking?

It’s those what ifs…

What if this…

What if that…

Sound familiar?

You already know that these ‘what if’ type thoughts are a complete waste of your time and energy. You can’t predict the future.

All these types of thoughts do is cause you massive levels of anxiety and worry.

So why do you keep having them?

Why do we torture ourselves with this pointless overthinking?

High anxiety, and the overthinking that comes with it, is an addiction (a bad habit).

Learning how to channel our focus and energy into something that doesn’t send us crazy is the key to overcoming this worry and overthinking addiction.

Breaking the addiction (bad habit) of worry

Smoking, drugs, alcohol – all types of addictions we know are obvious. The more we use them, the more addictive they become.

When these addictions become a fixed part of our lives they have a detrimental effect on our health and they get harder to break with time.

That’s exactly how worrying thoughts work, too.

The more we experience worrying ‘what if’ type thoughts, the more we get accustomed to them, and the more they become a fixed part of our lives.

Have you considered high anxiety to be an addiction?

It might come across as harsh to put anxiety in the same category as a highly addictive drug, but if you think about how anxiety works, it’s just as addictive.

High anxiety is a less obvious addiction than smoking, for example, but the worry that comes with anxiety is as addictive as nicotine. (Just replace an anxious thought with the craving of a cigarette, and you’ll see the similarities.)

Break the bad habit of anxiety

Just like craving a cigarette, when you’re anxious, you crave worry.

You actually go looking for things to worry about – especially when you catch yourself not worrying.

Hang on a minute. Why am I not worrying? What can I start worrying about?!

A clear and calm mind will quickly jump into a panic.

The next stop is usually Dr Google to search those anxiety-related symptoms – another part of the addiction.

The more time you’ve allowed anxiety to dictate your life, the harder it is to kick the habit.

But that’s not to say you can’t kick the habit.

You can.

Like any addiction, overcoming high anxiety takes a shift in focus and energy.

We can prevent those ‘what if’ type thoughts by refocusing and channelling our energy into something constructive – something that works for us – not something destructive that only leads onto further ‘what if’ type thoughts that create more anxiety and worry.

Channelling your focus and energy

As a high anxiety sufferer, you have a gift.

The gift you’ve been given is creativity.

You can’t be consistently anxious without a creative mind!

Your creative mind can be used to create more anxiety (overthinking and worry), or it can be used for something much better – something that will get you excited and build the future you want.

Creative anxious mind

There are lots of ways you can channel your creativity.

  • Painting
  • Learning an instrument
  • Singing
  • Writing
  • Learning a new language
  • Dancing (also good because it’s physical)
  • Knitting (yes, knitting)
  • Gardening

Pretty much anything that takes up your full powers of creativity – which is the aim. You don’t want to leave any wriggle room for anxiety to creep in.

My personal favourite creative hobby (aside from writing) is cooking.

Cooking allows me to use all my creative skills.

And the bonus: I get to eat the creation!

The end result isn’t always edible, but I’ll always have fun putting it together.

These are just a few creative hobby suggestions, and maybe you can think of some of your own?

The aim is to give things a try and stick to what you like.

The more you do the creative things you enjoy, rather than sit still and focus on the ‘what ifs’ that consume you, the more you’ll break the bad habit of worrying and overthinking.

When you’re busy cooking, or painting, or gardening, or learning Spanish, or learning the guitar, you won’t have the time to worry and overthink.

You’ll forget to be anxious.

Anxiety Rebalance
Anxiety Rebalance diet tips
Anxiety, Depression, Happiness, Health & Diet, Panic Attacks, Success & Wellbeing

9 Diet Tips for Anxiety (Achieving BALANCE)

While on my three-month rebalancing routine, I stuck to these tips. I found that they helped me so much that I now follow them daily.

1. Eat breakfast

Anxiety will deplete already low levels of energy, so you want to make sure you start your day off right. Breakfast helps fuel you from the get-go, making it the most important meal of the day. Choose something high in energy like granola or porridge, and include a banana.

2. Cut out caffeine

If you think caffeine helps to wake you up, you’re wrong. All caffeine does is bring you back to the state you should already be in. Yes, it’s a stimulant, but you don’t need it. All caffeine is good for is fuelling anxious thoughts. Be aware that tea, like coffee, contains high levels of caffeine. Ideally, seek alternatives like decaffeinated drinks and herbal teas.

If you can’t imagine a life without caffeine (and I’m including this section because there are plenty of people who think this), the theory of BALANCE means you should be able to do what you like, including drinking caffeine. My advice is to do your best to cut out caffeine in the rebalancing period (around three months), because it’s highly likely, in your anxious state of mind, that caffeine will have a negative effect on you. Like anything else, if you choose not to change your habit and continue to drink caffeine, please don’t waste your time wondering why your anxiety isn’t improving. Change often means sacrifice. All sacrifices are harder to make at the start, but get easier with time.

3. Drink lots of water

Drink lots and lots of water throughout the day. It flushes the toxins out of your body and gives you energy – which compensates for the fact you might visit the toilet a little more frequently!

4. Snack at regular intervals

Keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day by snacking at regular intervals. Snack on nuts, vegetables, fruit or any food that is high in energy.

5. Eat bananas

Potassium in bananas helps to balance the sugar levels in your blood, and the carbohydrates in bananas help keep energy levels consistent, so try to eat two or three spread across the day. I appreciate that eating lots of bananas isn’t easy, but make an effort to eat at least one (in the morning). You can also vary it a little by eating other foods that are high in potassium, such as deep-sea fish, yogurt and avocados.

6. Juice

I struggle to fit the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day into my diet, so I came up with a solution – juicing. I have a set vegetable juice I drink every day that includes:

a handful of kale
a handful of spinach
two medium carrots
an apple.

The juicer I use: Omega Juicer Nutrition Centre 8006 Chrome 220v

It takes me fifteen minutes to make, and seconds to drink. My big tip is to get a decent juicer. Cheaper juicing machines tend to make a mess and don’t do a great job. Try not to juice too much fruit, because it’s not good for you (I’m told it has something to do with the high sugar content). If you find an all-veg juice not sweet enough, add an apple. Experiment and see what you prefer!

7. Cut out junk food

Eating too much unhealthy junk food will slow you down, reduce your energy levels and make you feel sluggish – the perfect breeding ground for anxiety. It’s also worth noting that spicy food can increase anxiety. (Like caffeine, it can produce symptoms associated with panic.) I’ve never fully trusted fast food for a number of reasons, including animal welfare and what actually goes in the food, so it’s easy for me to avoid it. I can appreciate its convenience, but it can be just as quick and easy to prepare healthy, nutritious meals at home.

If you do decide to treat the kids at the weekend, or avoiding fast-food outlets is impossible for you, most chains have picked up on the fact that people want a healthy alternative to their triple decker, double- bacon-and-blue-cheese special burger. For example, you can buy a salad bowl at Subway. These can be just as fulfilling as one of their foot-longs. They fill you up, they’re a lot healthier, and they don’t make you feel as bloated – all perfect for reducing anxiety, increasing your energy and achieving BALANCE.

8. Chew your food and eat more slowly

Make your food easier to digest by chewing it more and eating more slowly. By chewing more you also trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are – which is great for losing a few pounds.

9. Get a good night’s sleep

Your body needs sleep for effective digestion. Poor sleeping patterns (or no sleep) will disrupt the process and aid the fear cycle. The average amount of sleep an adult needs is eight hours, although we’re all different, so you should gauge what you need based on how you feel when you wake up. Sleeping too much, or too little, will not only affect your digestion, but also cause other anxiety-related symptoms. If you choose to prioritise any of these tips, it should be this one – without it, none of the other tips are useful.

Watch my interview with Elite Sleep Coach, Nick Littlehales.

Anxiety Rebalance
Google Anxiety
Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Happiness, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Stress

Why Am I Addicted to Searching My Anxiety Symptoms Online? (With Dr Google)

An anxiety-related symptom comes up that makes us panic. Panicking makes us jump online to ask Dr Google for reassurance. Why do we do it, even when we know it’s doing us no good, and what can we do about it?

Health anxiety is a real pain in the a**.

And that’s exactly what we’re talking about here – health anxiety.

It’s health anxiety (also know as hypochondria) that makes us hit the internet searching our anxiety-related symptoms.

The biggest issue with this is Dr Google.

He’s not the nicest or best-qualified doctor to ask.

It’s always the worst case scenario with Dr Google.

Dr Google

A headache is a brain tumour, and indigestion is a heart attack.

YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO LIVE AND SHOULD SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION!

This isn’t the best thing to see when you’re already anxious and panicking.

It’s little wonder so many of us call for an ambulance when we’re dealing with health anxiety, only to be told there is nothing wrong with us.

The need for reassurance

I was an addict.

If I got a headache, or a bit of chest pain, or a mark on my body, I’d hit the internet asking Dr Google if I was OK.

9 times out of 10, he’d tell me I wasn’t OK. His advice was to seek immediate medical attention.

Talk about raising your anxiety and panic levels through the roof!

It was the constant need for reassurance that was the culprit.

When you’re dealing with health anxiety (hypochondria), you want constant reassurance.

It’s down to one of our primary fears (death).

In Anxiety Rebalance, I call it the DP rule.

It’s this primary fear that causes us to panic and search symptoms online.

When we deal with this fear, it stops the addiction of searching anxiety-related symptoms online with Dr Google.

The way we can deal with it is by realigning our focus.


Realign your focus

When an anxiety-related symptom comes up, it becomes our absolute focus.

Almost as though nothing else matters.

Intense focus

We get trapped in a cycle and keep doing the same thing over and over again.

The pattern looks a little like this:

ANXIETY-RELATED SYMPTOM > NEED FOR REASSURANCE > ASK DR GOOGLE > MORE PANIC & ANXIETY

…and the cycle continues.

That is until we break it. And we break it by realigning our focus.

We get more of whatever it is we focus on.

If you’re focusing on your anxiety-related symptoms, there are no prizes for guessing what you’ll get more of.

That cycle will keep going until we break the pattern using focus.

Breaking this pattern takes just one small step.

The next time an anxiety-related symptom comes up and you feel the urge to hit the internet asking Dr Google for advice and reassurance, ask yourself this question:

Is this anxiety tricking me?

Looking back, with the advantage of hindsight, I can say that most (if not all) of my anxiety-related symptoms were made up in my head.

Because I focused on my health and my symptoms, new ones would pop-up from nowhere.

The symptoms would cause me to panic and I’d follow the same pattern over and over again.

ANXIETY-RELATED SYMPTOM > NEED FOR REASSURANCE > ASK DR GOOGLE > MORE PANIC & ANXIETY

Nothing changed.

That was until the day I sat at my laptop and thought to myself, hang on! Is this anxiety tricking me again?

Rather than jump straight onto the internet, I paused.

The anxiety (the strong need for reassurance) was doing everything in its power to get me to ask Dr Google for advice and reassurance, but I held back.

It was this slight pause that made all the difference.

It gave me the little breathing space I needed to check reality and use rational thinking.

Overcoming health anxiety takes time & practice

Don’t expect overnight results when it comes to overcoming health anxiety.

It’s a habit you built up over time.

It needs time and practice to unravel the habit – just like how it formed.

Aim to keep building on that breathing space I just mentioned.

As you continue questioning your health anxiety with rational thought, that breathing space will get longer and longer.

With time and practice, you’ll eventually get to a point when an anxiety-symptom comes up and you know instantly that it’s anxiety tricking you.

You’ll then reach the point when Dr Google serves you no more purpose.

*Beats fist up to the air*

Yes!


Should I speak to my doctor about health anxiety?

It can be hard distinguishing between real symptoms and anxiety-related symptoms. But when we use our rational thinking, most of us know the difference.

We might not know immediately, but anxiety-related symptoms tend to subside.

If you’re in any doubt about any symptoms, you should always speak to your doctor.

You might need confirmation and reassurance to move forward.

Just be cautious not to keep visiting the doctor based on anxiety-related symptoms.

It can lead to the same frustrating cycle that asking Dr Google takes you on.

If you haven’t spoken to your doctor about anxiety or health anxiety, that’s always one of the first steps to overcoming anxiety you can take.

The most important thing is you get your thoughts out in the open and talk – so you can start dealing with the cause of anxiety, get past health anxiety, and stop searching your symptoms online.

Aim to close the door (or laptop) on Dr Google, stay focused on what it is you want, and keep moving forward.

Anxiety Rebalance
Am I suffering from high anxiety?
Anxiety, Fear, Happiness, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, Stress, Success & Wellbeing

Am I Suffering From High Anxiety or Normal Anxiety?

We all deal with anxiety. But when do we know we’re dealing with higher than normal anxiety – and when do we need to act?

Let’s not confuse high anxiety with every day NORMAL anxiety – it can make us believe we’re suffering a lot more than we are.

If you need help distinguishing between the two, take a look at the Rebalance Scale.

Rather than list a ton of anxiety-related symptoms you’ll find all over the internet provided by Dr Google (the type of lists that only serve to increase our anxiety even more), let’s pinpoint how to identify high anxiety from normal anxiety using this one simple question.

Am I able to do everyday things, like go to the shop and see friends, without having to think too much about it?

This question helps you recognise if you’re overthinking – a sure sign of high anxiety.

Overthinking

If the answer to the above question is a clear NO, it’s likely your anxiety levels are above normal.

Anxiety is affecting you more than it should be, making it high anxiety.

With normal anxiety, you can do everyday things like see friends and go to the shop without the need to overthink them. They are just part of what you do.

When high anxiety has a grip on us, our mind races off in a thousand different directions.

Small things bother us.

Corner of rug up causing anxiety

We overthink every scenario until going to the shop becomes a life-threatening disaster (before we’ve even stepped out of our front door).

It’s the old ‘what ifs…’

What if this…?

What if that…?

This is overthinking at its best (or worse).

Overthinking can get us to a point when it feels abnormal not to worry.

When you don’t worry, you actually go looking for things to worry about!

It’s like worrying becomes a bad habit.

It’s this habit that leads to living in the world of what if…

The world of what if…

When we’re dealing with higher than normal anxiety, we live in what I call the world of what if…

It’s not a nice place to live.

Everything is over the top and exaggerated.

Things are rarely positive, and there isn’t anything to look forward to.

The worse case scenario is the one we believe to be true.

Like when going to see friends, for example – it’s not the pleasurable experience most people get from it – it’s something we dread doing.

Going out for a drink has suddenly turned into absolute panic.

Holding head in hands

Overthinking causes negative thoughts.

By the time Saturday comes around, you’ve worried so much you end up cancelling.

Overthinking (living in the world of what if…) has created endless stories about all the horrible things that might happen, so you come to the conclusion it’s best not to bother.

These are the stories high anxiety fools us into believing.

We have about 60,000 thoughts a day.

Think about how many of these thoughts actually come true.

The worse case scenario is usually far from reality.

In other words, high anxiety needs a reality check!

And when you check reality by using rational thinking, you’ll start lowering your anxiety levels.


When do I need to act on my anxiety?

If you find yourself overthinking everyday activities, or you’re worrying excessively, or you’re living in the world of what if… for longer than your common sense tells you should, it’s time to act.

If it’s allowed to continue, high anxiety will keep you trapped in a pattern of behaviour that is no good for you. You’ll overthink so much, your brain will think it’s normal to act that way.

Like a bad habit, you’ll continue practising living a life dominated by high anxiety – until you break the pattern.

It’s time to take action, break the pattern, and do something different.

Like the main man, Albert Einstein says:

You have to do something different if you want a different result.

To set yourself on a new journey – one that isn’t plagued by overthinking, worry and high anxiety, you have to start acting in the way you want your life to be.

To achieve it, all it takes is one small step.

That step will lead to bigger and better things.

Anxiety Rebalance
Anxiety Rebalance stones
Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Happiness, Health & Diet, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, Stress, Success & Wellbeing

The Truth About Anxiety

Discovering the truth about anxiety helped me completely change the way I deal with it. So, what is the truth about anxiety, and how can it help you?

It was an eye-opening experience when I first looked into anxiety – to say the least!

For many years I thought I was the only person on the planet going through it.

That changed rapidly when I googled ‘Anxiety’ for the first time and read about other people’s anxiety-related symptoms and experiences.

This was some time ago now. Today, life is different.

Back then, anxiety consumed me. I battled with it from the moment I woke up to when I struggled to get to sleep at night.

Every day was a living nightmare.

It’s hard to describe just how bad it was, but if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have a good idea.

Answers were the one big thing I craved when I was suffering from crippling anxiety.

No matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find them.

Don’t get me wrong – there was always plenty of information and advice available. But most of it was rubbish or a scam to get my money.

After decades of being frustrated and disillusioned, I decided to find the answers myself.

On this journey, there was no greater discovery than what I’m about to share with you.

It saved me years of suffering and pain. It was literally a lifesaver.

I hope it does the same for you.

Truth #1: There is NO cure for anxiety (and there never will be)

No wonder I looked for a ‘cure’ for my anxiety for as long as I did.

It’s because it doesn’t exist!

Stop wasting your precious time and effort.

Stop pulling your hair out and hitting bricks walls.

No cure for anxiety

There is no cure for anxiety.

But don’t worry – anxiety not having a cure isn’t a bad thing.

This key piece of knowledge isn’t designed to reinforce the belief that nothing can be done about high anxiety. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

It’s great news. 

It just means we have to look at anxiety differently.

It means you can stop chasing a cure you’ll never find and, instead, focus on managing your anxiety better.

Or, as I put it, get more BALANCE in your life.

> Anxiety Rebalance: Where Do You Come on The Rebalance Scale?

So, that’s truth number one to help you on your new journey – there is no cure for anxiety and your search stops here.


Truth #2: It’s IMPOSSIBLE to eliminate anxiety

If you’re looking for a solution or method that will get rid of your anxiety, stop the heartache and frustration right now.

Like a cure, it won’t happen.

It’s impossible to get rid of anxiety.

Anxiety forms part of who we are. It’s here to stay.

At times, it will feel like your enemy – but it’s not. When we learn to work with anxiety, we transform the way we feel about it.

Plus, anxiety isn’t something you want to get rid of.

Look at it like this…

When you get angry or upset, do you want to get rid of the emotions of anger and sadness completely?

Of course not.

We accept these emotions as part of our lives.

They might come with unwanted feelings and mental pain, but that’s part of the balance of living.

If we accept that getting angry and upset is part of life, isn’t it time we started accepting that it’s also normal to get anxious?

It’s easy to forget that anxiety is normal.

When we’re dealing with high anxiety, we’re dealing with higher than normal anxiety – that’s it.

Anxiety only becomes abnormal and something we need to tackle when it stays with us – when it feels like we can’t shake it off.

That’s when we know we have to manage it better – not get rid of it.


Overcoming anxiety is a life’s journey

I’ve mentioned ‘the journey’ a few times.

Overcoming anxiety is a life’s journey – one that doesn’t end.

Life has a habit of throwing all kinds of stuff at us – good and bad.

The trick is making this journey a more pleasurable one.

There are lots of ways we can do it. Things like living in the moment a bit more, and being able to stop our overthinking and worry – these things will do the trick.

Anxiety might feel like it’s winning right now, but if you’re willing to make some small steps, it won’t stay like that.

Let’s not allow anxiety to keep us trapped and stuck in the mud – let’s keep moving forward.

Here’s a couple of suggestions…

Read my bestselling book, Anxiety Rebalance – it has all the answers you need.

Join the Rebalance Club.

Or continue having a read of the blog.

Whatever you choose, I wish you all the best on your new journey.

Carl

Anxiety Rebalance
Anxiety Rebalance stones
Anxiety, Depression, Happiness, Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety, Stress

Anxiety Rebalance: Where Do You Come on The Rebalance Scale?

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.

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

  • You regularly experience sharp bursts of panic created by anxious thoughts. These thoughts sometimes escalate into panic attacks, which can last for varying periods of time.
  • You’re able to recognise why you feel panicky (for example, being in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable), but you’re not always sure.
  • Panic can be sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes creeping up on you when you least expect it. For example, while driving you start to feel a smothering sensation, which causes a panic attack.
  • Symptoms of panic (most likely chest pain) cause you to fear for your life and seek emergency medical assistance.
  • You regularly feel the urge to get away from a situation and retreat to your ‘safe place’.
  • You avoid certain situations and places where you have previously panicked, such as a supermarket or restaurant.
  • When you experience panic you sometimes feel like you are an observer, detached from your environment, looking on with a sense of unreality.
  • Panic sometimes makes you feel like you’re ‘going mad’, and the thought of losing control scares you.

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

  • You avoid crowded places such as supermarkets, because they make you feel light-headed, dizzy, disorientated, or as if you might faint.
  • You don’t like to be left alone and have developed a dependency on somebody close to you (a partner, friend or family member).
  • You like to be in control of everything in your life.
  • You pay attention to your health and exaggerate symptoms: you think a headache might be a brain tumour, and chest pain could mean you’re going to have a heart attack.
  • You’re often ill and prone to illness, suffering from aches, pains, headaches and numbness in certain areas of your body, including the chest, neck and back.
  • You’re picky about what you eat and drink because you’re conscious about how different foods make you feel.
  • You regularly suffer from digestion issues, including indigestion and stomach cramps.
  • You search symptoms on the internet and visit the doctor seeking reassurance.
  • You sometimes feel fearful for no reason, overwhelmed and unable to cope.
  • You suffer from sleep deprivation and struggle to fall asleep at night due to not being able to switch off the thoughts racing through your mind.
  • You have nightmares, and often wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes with chills).
  • You feel physically and emotionally drained.
  • You have a ‘safe place’ – typically your home – and have a radius within which you’re willing to travel, feeling uncomfortable when you’re too far away. Whenever you feel highly anxious, you seek relief by returning to your safe place.
  • You fear the outside world and prefer to stay at home. This might lead to becoming housebound (agoraphobic).
  • You are sometimes plagued by feelings of dread.
  • You feel on edge and uncomfortable in a social environment.
  • You turn down social opportunities and are absent at significant events (such as weddings), which affects your friendships and relationships.
  • You’re highly self-conscious and sometimes paranoid about what other people think of you.
  • You experience obsessive thoughts and have set routines. For example, you won’t leave your house or go on a trip without taking a certain drink or an object you depend on (such as a mobile phone), or you may have to check several times that your front door is locked when you leave your house.

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

  • You’re snappy, short-tempered and easily aggravated.
  • You sometimes vent your frustration and anger on the people closest to you, including your partner and children.
  • You take the stress of your job home with you.
  • Small things you never paid attention to previously and could dismiss now bother you. For example, if somebody is critical of you, it will affect your mood.
  • Thoughts play on your mind and you focus on problems, rather than good things in your life. You may worry a lot about the future and everything on your to-do list.
  • You’re indecisive, and don’t like to commit to something and risk that it might go wrong.
  • You drink a little more alcohol than usual, and use it to help you relax.
  • You find it difficult to concentrate and remember things.
  • You consciously make the decision to avoid crowded places, such as supermarkets and shopping centres, or visit them at their quietest periods.
  • You’re easily alarmed or frightened.
  • You find yourself turning down social opportunities more frequently, and view them as an inconvenience rather than a positive experience, preferring to stay at home.
  • Your sleep pattern is affected by worry, and you often find it hard to fall asleep.

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

  • You look forward to going out with friends, rather than counting down the days in dread.
  • You can do the simple things in life (like going to the shop for some milk) without thinking about them.
  • Going out for a nice meal with your partner doesn’t create endless ‘what if…?’ thoughts that generate gut-wrenching apprehension and worry.
  • An ‘off day’ is exactly that, and whenever you experience one you accept that everybody has them and move on to the next day. It doesn’t mean your world is about to cave in: it was just a bad day, and tomorrow is another day.
  • You can go to a friend’s wedding without feeling ill or having to make excuses for being absent.
  • A family holiday means enjoyment, relaxation and a well-deserved break.
  • You’re confident and feel good about yourself.
  • Butterflies in your stomach mean happiness, surprise and excitement – not panic.
  • Obsessive and overwhelming thoughts are replaced by healthy focus and ambition.
  • Small things stay small, and don’t snowball into big unwieldy troubles. Problems can be broken down and dealt with.
  • Being stuck in traffic doesn’t create uncontrollable rage and panic.
  • Your outlook on life is objective and you’re open-minded. Your immediate view isn’t negative.
  • You feel content and grateful for everything you have.
  • You fall asleep easily when your head hits the pillow, and you wake up feeling energised and refreshed.
  • The future is bright, and there’s plenty to look forward to.

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

  • You feel lethargic and more tired than usual.
  • You don’t feel as happy as the people around you.
  • You’re unmotivated, uninspired, and lack drive and passion.
  • You’re cynical, and when you talk about people you pick fault with them.
  • You don’t feel content, and think about how unsatisfied you are with your life.
  • You regularly think about how you’re feeling – in a negative way.
  • You don’t feel good about yourself, and have little interest in activities and socialising.
  • You often blame yourself for things out of your control, and feel guilty, even if things aren’t your fault.
  • You have less time for romance, and regularly have low libido/little interest in sex.
  • Happiness doesn’t come as easily to you as it did previously.
  • You prefer not to think about the future.

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

  • You struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and lack the motivation and energy to do even the most trivial daily task.
  • You don’t want to face the world, and feel detached from it.
  • You would rather stay at home with the curtains drawn than face the prospect of going out to meet people.
  • You feel restless, agitated and impatient.
  • You can’t be bothered to shower or wash, and your personal hygiene suffers.
  • You have a poor appetite, which means you regularly skip meals – or you may binge on unhealthy foods.
  • Life feels as though it’s slowing down.
  • You’re easily tearful and often cry.
  • You have low self-esteem and confidence, and when you look in the mirror you don’t feel good about yourself.
  • You find it hard to get rid of a feeling of despair.
  • You regularly ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?’
  • You spend long periods resting or sleeping.
  • You read SCALE 4 (BALANCE) and thought being happy and free was impossible and unachievable.

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.

This was an excerpt taken from the book, Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon.

Anxiety Rebalance