Our Love Brains

Only today I was having a conversation with my friend who was seeking advice about why the person they are romantically entailed with is behaving in such a manner that’s out of character for them.  We all had different opinions, one of us was trying to convince her, he’s definitely into you, the other was adamant he wasn’t.  We all became engrossed in how can they behave like that, or why are they acting so differently to how we usually perceive them.  This made me think about our love brains and what is happening neurologically when we fall in love.

Love may be the most captivating secret of our minds science can ever begin to understand.

Most of us have experienced love, and some of us will have experienced heartache.  If we weren’t able to experience this beautiful sensation, we couldn’t have created some of the world’s most powerful music, art or literature.    We would also be missing out on one of the most profound facets of human existence.  Most articles we read about in magazines tell us what to do in love or how to keep our love interested. Disney’s traditional films have indoctrinated us to believe that if we are lucky enough to find the one to settle down with and get married too, we will live happily ever after.

Is love this all-pervading force that can dominate our lives, providing endless happiness?  Or is just our amazing brain chemistry that’s ironically been romanticised?

No matter what we learn about love, the brain or neuroscience, love is one of the most meaningful and powerful forces that surround us, and it can make us euphorically happy or more tragically catastrophically unhappy.

“How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?” —Albert Einstein

I once fell in love, I was a little bit indifferent to it at the beginning, happily coasting along in my life and smack it hit me like a bus had crashed into me.  I fell in love with him more times in a day than my heart could beat, I fell in love with him the way we fall in love with the night sky.  He was all I could think of, all I could imagine. I was addicted to him, to his words to his stories. What had happened to me?

The late Avicii wrote a song called ‘addicted to you’, well he wasn’t far wrong.  Love is addictive.

Studies have revealed there is an increase in central dopamine levels when we are falling for someone in.  When we are attracted to someone, it triggers activity in the part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which releases the dopamine neurotransmitter (the happy hormone).  This then floods our brain’s reward centres (the caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens) and gives the person in love a high, which is similar to the effects of narcotics, and it is incredibly addictive.  Our brain’s in love also experiences an increase in the stress hormone (norepinephrine), which increases the heart rate and blood pressure, which is similar to the rush people who use cocaine experience.  This explains why we are so happy and contented in love, as we are essentially ‘high’.  This ‘love high’ can explain why it hurts so much when our loved ones break up with us because from high up in utopia it’s a long way crashing down to planet reality.

Dopamine also regulates the anticipation of reward; this means we are continually seeking out something that rewards us.  This explains why we go to great lengths when we are in love, as the reward becomes to see our beloved or to have their kiss.  I once sat on a bus for sixteen hours to watch a football game even though I don’t follow football at all, to spend time with the guy I fancied.  Don’t blame yourself for the irrationality of your behaviour when you are in love, blame your love brain and those neurotransmitters.

As well as dopamine increasing, there is a notable increase in noradrenaline when we’re in love. Noradrenaline influences the release of adrenaline, which is the neurotransmitter that triggers the flight or fight response, hence why people in love can come across as nervous and twitchy.

Our love brain also experiences a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps us to control our feelings, anxiety, and well-being. When it drops, our sense of control decreases and we become obsessively fixated, especially on things that give us a taste of uncertainty and we can behave irrationally.  Love is the definition of unpredictability, so when Beyoncé is strutting her stuff, singing about ‘crazy in love’, she is pretty much right.

Another neurotransmitter involved in love is oxytocin, coined the ‘love hormone’.  It’s released when we hug, cuddle and kiss.  This is what makes us feel on top of the world when we are in love.  It makes us stronger, happier and confident.

The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our reasoning skills, command, and control centre drops into low gear when we’re in love. At the same time, the amygdala, a vital component of the brain’s threat-response system, also revs down. Both of these in a reduced function makes us more willing to take risks, and we can appear reckless. Our love brains make us think irrationally because these areas are zig-zagging our thoughts and not directing us in a straight line.

Love can be considered as a painkiller too.   Stanford University conducted a study where they showed people who reported to be in pain a picture of a loved one and 40% said their pain had reduced.  This analgesic effect is because our loved one has distracted the brain from pain.

Our remarkable brains can also explain online love.  We have powerful cortexes that have evolved to be incredibly social.  So this sensitivity to interpersonal communications means something as a DM across Instagram can be extremely rewarding.  We can establish their attitudes, likes and dislikes, their sense of humour and other particular things that attract us.  This allows us to build an image in our brains of that someone, and if it’s something we like a great deal, well why wouldn’t we fall in love with that person from something as simple as an Instagram conversation.

Falling in love with someone is hugely rewarding, it makes us feel on top of the world and can make us utterly ridiculously happy.  This is why our brains go to extreme lengths to keep us loving that person, even when it is no longer logical.  When our brain goes into love mode, and we end up in our prolonged sense of happiness, this loving relationship becomes an integral schema of our worlds.

There we have it, a short brain-based explanation of what happens when we fall in love.  Next time you see your friend acting differently around that cute person they fancy, or you are asking yourself why are on that stinking bus, remember it’s not our fault it’s our love brains.

Friendships: the why’s

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.  I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey. 

My lovely dad recently went on a trip with my mum to Amsterdam.  You’ll notice I talk a lot about my dad in my writing because he’s incredible, he was always telling us stories as children.  He would turn the littlest thing into the greatest adventure, from riding in the car to walking to school.  When we were sad, my dad would tell us to go whisper our sadness and secrets to our conker tree (which he and his nephew had planted many moons before) and the tree would turn it into a treat.  Low and behold it did, it would always magically have lollies on it.  Last year, we had to rip our beloved magic tree out, because the roots had become some unruly, which my dad blamed us for telling it too many secrets.

Anyway, Dad is now almost 70 and my mum has just had her hip replaced, but he was adamant he wanted to show my mum where he spent a lot of time in his youth (I wonder what you were doing Dad).  He had met some friends there some 50 years previously, and they had kept in contact by writing to each other over the years.  His friends had been over to Wales a few times and met mum and us, but Mum and Dad had never been there.  So my dad was insistent to take mum there, and he met with his friends and cycled the streets of Amsterdam like he had done some 50 years before.

So, this made me think about the psychology of friendships.  What makes us form friendships that surpass decades?

As a girl, I can sometimes feel friendships can be complicated, but recognising your true friends can be surprisingly simple.  To be a friend must be a two street, it must be positive and you must respect each other.  Evolutionary psychologists have studied monkeys for years in the animal world and have found even they have ‘friends’ or monkeys with whom they would rather spend time with.  Animals actively work hard to build their friendships and evidently, the aim is to survive.  Through studying animals it can be seen the animals with the strongest social network live longest and have the most successful reproductive ability.  You can hold this true to human friendships as well.

“What friendship is about at the end of the day, is creating small-scale, intensely bonded groups that act as protection [to life’s] stresses.” Professor Dunbar of Oxford University

To build friendships in the animal world they can spend up to 20% of their time grooming each other.  If you remember from my last article the benefits of a hug, well grooming is like this for monkeys.  It actually triggers the neurotransmitter, oxytocin (the love hormone), this makes the monkeys feel good and bonds them closer together.  Now I’m not sure what I’d do if my friends started trying to check my hair for ticks, but the principle is the same.  Activites like laughing, hugging, singing, dancing all trigger the love hormone and this makes us happy.

Research carried out has shown that we choose friends that support who we are, or ‘validate’ us.  It is called ‘social identity support’.  This rings true of my relationship with my best friend Jane, we have shared many similar experiences in life and she has definitely supported me through my hardest times.

Therefore, we become best friends with people who boost our self-esteem, however narcissistic that sounds.  But on the flip side of that, we choose our friends who inspire us.  Jane is amazing and every day I’m so in awe of her, she has four beautiful children, she is always on the ball and still has time to take care of me too.

On average, research shows that most of us have about five people in our lives who we count as our most intimate friends.

We all know that research shows us talking with plants can help them grow, just like our conker tree, we had told so many secrets to it so we could have a magic lolly.  It had grown and grown until it undermined the foundations of the home.  Use this as a metaphor for friendships.  Talk and share stories, connect and build.  Grow your roots together. Having people around us who get us and support us in an incredible feeling. Love and being accepted is something amazing. Only through this connectedness to others can we really know who we are, and enhance our self.  And it is only through working on our self can we begin to develop and connect deeper with others.

This is why we should never be shy to talk, learning to understand each other through life’s pitfall’s helps us to grow as individuals.  We can learn what makes other people sad but also how to empathise with them, this develops our self.  We can realise we are not the only person that life can shit on, we are not alone.

So, tell stories, discuss your interests and gain knowledge.  Help the person to grow as an individual will help you grow too.

You never know in 50 years time you could be cycling the streets with them again.

So always love more

Frankie xx

 

 

 

Our children and mental health

It’s a sad fact that mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people, this includes depression, anxiety which is often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.

 

What is even more alarming is 70% of children and young people have not had appropriate interventions.   The emotional well-being of children is just as paramount as their physical health.  Good mental health will help children build skills to develop the resilience to cope whatever life can throw at them, making them happy and healthy adults.

 

So what does this term resilience mean in psychology?

There have been various different definitions of resilience, the one I like the most is the “personal qualities that enable one to thrive in the face of adversity”.  Most definitions view resilience as a positive adaptation to adversity.

 

In essence, resilience means being able to dust ourselves off and bounce back when something difficult happens in our lives.  Our levels of resiliency will change and develop throughout our lives, and at points, we will find that we do not cope as easily as others, as well as surprising ourselves when we manage a difficult situation. Resilience is a tool we implement to help us feel normal again.

 

When I was little there were 5 of us and my dad always implemented competition between us.  We all had different skills, so he would tell me, and if I can survive disappointment nothing will defeat me, I would be unbeatable.  And it’s fair to say I adopted this somewhat arrogant metaphor throughout my life.

 

Why is resilience important?

 

When we feel in a weakened position and it seems as if things are going from bad to worse, it’s difficult to find our equilibrium.  So, imagine being a child, they don’t understand or possibly have the capabilities to verbalise how they are feeling.

 

Last week, my daughter had her standardised testing at school, she really begged not to go to school and have to complete yet another test.  But, I encouraged her to go because we all have to face situations where we don’t want to be in life.  We need to remember that the results of any test do not define our worth, and nor should they.

 

This is why resilience is important.  It enables us to build mechanisms for protection against experiences that can be overwhelming.  It helps us to find that equilibrium in that stressful event.

 

What can we do to build resilience in children and young people?

The first point is to have good physical health, having time to play indoors and outdoors, to connect with people, to encourage children to connect and build relationships with friends; if they have disagreements guide them to resolve this as communication is also key in building resilience.  Encourage them to have a sense of belonging to their family, school and community, make them believe they have some control over their lives.  Encourage a positive mindset and encourage them to believe they can achieve anything to if they work hard enough for it.  Enliven children’s spirit or grow a deeper sense of connection and compassion for self and others.  Encourage your child to be thankful and look for the beauty in each day.

Don’t wrap children and young people up in cotton wool; allowing them to experience a situation they are unsure of and once they have succeeded this will build resilience and their confidence.  Encourage that beautiful imagination, read them stories and encourage their own critical thinking skills.

 

“Do not indoctrinate your children.  Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.”  Richard Dawkins

 

Of course, we can’t prepare children to ensure they survive any adverse situation but learning to be more resilient can represent one of the best ways to deal with potential disasters that they can face.

Our brains and mental health

What happens when our brains go wrong? Frances Samah

 

Our brains are something fascinating, it can send information up to an impressive 268 miles per hour. This is faster than Formula 1 race cars which top out at 240 mph.  Our brains can generate up to 50,000 thoughts per day.  Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol resides within the brain. Cholesterol is an integral part of every brain cell. Without adequate cholesterol, brain cells die, however, we do have an estimated 86 billion of them.  Our brains are 73% water. It takes only 2% dehydration to affect your attention, memory and other cognitive skills.  So, remember to always keep hydrated.

It makes us slightly irrational when emotional, and it makes up have the stuff we perceive.  When it starts to go wrong, we could end up with a neurological or a mental disorder.  Neurological disorders are due to physical problems or a disruption in the central nervous system, like damage to our hippocampus (which is essential in the process and retrieval of memory) which can cause amnesia or degradation of the sub-stantia nigra that can lead to Parkinson’s disease.  Neurological disorders often manifest themselves with physical issues, like seizures or pain.

Mental disorders are abnormalities of thinking, behaviour or feeling and don’t necessarily have a physical cause.  It’s often described using a computer analogy, so a neurological disorder is a hardware problem, whereas a mental disorder is a software problem (however, in reality, it’s nowhere near as simple as this).

 

So what is a mental disorder?

 

Our incredible brains are made up of neurons forming connections that produce functions derived from countless genetic processes and learned experiences.  But we are all different, so a mental disorder is described as patterns of thinking or behaviour that cause discomfort and suffering, or an impaired ability to function in what is deemed a ‘normal’ society.

It is believed 1 in 4 of us have a mental health disorder, examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.

Let’s look at depression more closely.  Depression in the UK is one of the most common mental health disorders with 7.8% of people meeting the criteria for diagnosis.  It also affects our economy as depression has been estimated to cause one-fifth of days lost from work.  Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed, you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.

Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.  Depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms.

They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful.

It’s really difficult to establish the underlying cause of depression.  The most common theory from a neuroscience perspective is the monoamine hypothesis.  Many neurotransmitters are types of monoamines, and people who have been diagnosed with depression have a reduced level of them.  And this is how treatment was developed, anti-depressants prescribed by the GP increase the availability of these monoamines in the brain.  Serotonin (a monoamine) is a neurotransmitter involved in processing anxiety, mood, sleep and is believed to help regulate other neurotransmitter systems, so altering its level may have a knock-on effect.  So these anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), and they work by stopping the removal of serotonin from synapses after its released, increasing overall levels.  Other antidepressants work similarly with other monoamines, such as dopamine or noradrenaline.

Nevertheless, this isn’t without criticisms, when taking antidepressants, they are immediately increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, but they can take weeks to have any effect.  This suggests it can’t solely be the result of low levels of neurotransmitters.  This could be down to neurogenesis and mood only improves as nerves grow and form new connections.

 

What’s the purpose of this?

 

Sadly, the truth is that many people still persist in thinking it’s easy to ignore or override dominant debilitating mood disorders that affect people to the very core of their being, sometimes even until they are unrecognisable even to themselves.

Mental health is more than a result of a chemical imbalance, factors such as genetic vulnerability, severe life stressors, substances you may take (some medications, drugs and alcohol) and medical conditions can affect the way your brain regulates your moods.

Everyone’s different, and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing depression. It’s important to remember that you can’t always identify the cause of depression or change difficult circumstances. The most important thing is to talk to someone and seek support.

Seeking approval and validation through social media- Frankie Samah

“An amazing thing happens when you stop seeking approval and validation: You find it. People are naturally drawn like magnets to those who know who they are and cannot be shaken!”- MANDY HALE, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

With the growing presence of social media, we now can create a virtual reality on an entirely different platform to what actually resembles our real life.

But has social media taken over our lives?
Many of us use these apps as a genuine way of keeping in contact with friends and loved ones. Research has shown adults are using their phones for about 4 hours a day. It has been estimated there are currently 2.67 billion social media users, with 88% of 18 to 29-year-olds using social media, 78% among ages 30 to 49, 64% among those ages 50 to 64 and 37% of 65 and older.

What do I love about social media?
Social media can open up a window to view other parts of the world that we can’t see in our daily life. We need all kinds of people in the world to develop and educate ourselves, and this is how societies can move forward. Social media allows this to happen. For example, I have an old campervan that I love to travel around in, I use my social media to interact with people who have this same passion and can educate me in where’s the best place to go or what I can do when another rust patch has appeared.

What’s the darker side of social media?
Unfortunately, some people become over-involved in creating an alter ego to seek validation or create a perception of success. People can get so wrapped up in their social media their real lives become consumed by updating their social sites constantly or checking who’s done what today, people cannot remove themselves from this alternate reality. Some people go out of their way to create fake scenes to make their social media look incredible.
But, social media addiction can create some serious social problems, including sleep depravity, anxiety, depression, detrimental effects on academic studies and work and anger management issues.
In make-believe worlds you can be anyone you want, we can have lots of friends, we can always be happy, or having lots of adventures. But this show a one sided view of our lives. It also starts to put an emphasis on how we should look, with Snapchat filters everyone looks constantly flawless. With the ever increasing popularity of reality shows, such as The Only Way is Essex, where everyone constantly looks glamorous. We absorb this thinking this is the norm, and then we torture ourselves, why don’t we look like them. Our nose is too big for our face, my teeth are wonky or our lips aren’t pouty enough. This is when the self-doubt creeps in and our self-esteem issues arise. So we look to be validation, we post a new selfie with the hope of being validated. Looking for compliments and seeking for approval that our lives are enough.
But it’s all based on an unreal or altered representation of beauty. We may begin to feel anxious about ourselves in comparison to someone else that we are viewing in a filtered and edited world.
Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong in looking in the beauty of all things or finding the good things out of each day, it’s when we seek approval from our life the line starts to blur.

Here are some helpful tips to help loosen the grip on social media, with help from Doctor Perry- Make it Ultra

1. Acceptance
It is important to recognise if social media is having a negative impact on your life. If you are spending the majority of time experiencing the world through your phone or computer, it is important to bring this into your awareness. Create a bucket list and make yourself proud or who you are. Remember we are all different and it’s about patting yourself on the back when you have accomplished a goal, you don’t need this from others

2. Realise Social Media is an illusion
Life should be experienced by our senses. It should be seen, smelled, tasted, touched and heard. Social media presents us with a world edited of all its flaws. Take a moment to realise what you have to be thankful for your life. We might not be where we want to be, but I am sure most of us are better off than we could be. Try to take steps to be that person you want to be. Remember the words from Albert Einstein- Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

3. Disconnect
This step is often the most difficult one. According to current 2018 research, the percentage of social media users who say it would be difficult to give up social media has increased by 12 % compared with a survey conducted in early 2014. Currently, 41% of individuals that were surveyed say they would not be able to stop using social media.

4. Set Boundaries
Set a few hours a day where mobile phones or social media is forbidden. Set yourself clear rules to follow.

5. Find alternative forms of validation
It is quite normal to want and need validation. This validation should not come from strangers on social media. One should seek healthy forms of validation from loved ones, family, and good friends. Further, validation should not only be based on one’s appearance or possessions.

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Ghosting- The Psychological Impacts

The Psychological impacts of Ghosting- Why does it hurt so much?

Nobody likes being ignored, especially by someone they adore.

Do you remember as a child when you had misbehaved all day, and your mother had reached the end of her patience, but instead of continuing to shout she gave you the silent treatment?  She would give you a disappointed look and shake her head at you. You would feel so terribly guilty and disgusted with yourself that you would immediately go and tidy up all of your Barbies.

For those of us involved in the dating game, there is a phenomenon known as ‘ghosting’ which can evoke some of those same emotions.  Ghosting refers to an act of breaking off a relationship by disappearing without warning or justification, avoiding or ignoring and refusing to respond in any way to your former partner’s attempts to communicate.  Being ghosted can leave you feeling so desperate to please your former partner and fix the situation you that you would do anything.

My friend, Sarah recently was in a relationship, and she thought everything was great, in fact, it was so great she convinced herself he was the one! They sent their last good night messages to each other confessing their undying love for one another and couldn’t wait to speak the next day. She went to sleep in a romantic haze, humming “dreams can come true” by Gabrielle. But, as she woke, everything in her social media was gone. He had deleted every single photo of them together; he had removed his WhatsApp and his messenger. She tried calling him but no answer, she spoke with his friends who refused to tell her anything about what had happened. Sarah called me to ask was he ever real? She convinced herself that she must have done something terrible to be punished so harshly.

It’s the ultimate incarnation of the silent treatment.

The online dating site Plenty of Fish conducted a survey which found that 80% of the daters between aged between 18-33 had been ghosted.
With so much online communication these days, the effects of ghosting are heightened. If someone upsets you, it is possible to block them from contacting you in all ways; social media; chat apps; phone.  The only way I haven’t yet figured out how to block someone is by email, but I’m sure there is a way to do it.
Majority of people now communicate online with social media or chat apps, this makes it easier to forget that the person you’re in a relationship with is a real human being with feelings that can be hurt by your actions.

But why would you Ghost someone?  Here are some reasons:-

+ It could be they’re in multiple relationships but couldn’t face telling you weren’t the one, or face up to the guilt of their betrayal so decided to leave instead.
+ Perhaps they are suffering from mental health condition themselves and are finding it difficult to communicate about their feelings. Maybe they are suffering with anxiety about a situation and decided to shut the world out.
+They are fearful of confrontation and lack the communication skills to maturely get out of the situation they have found themselves in.

Many people see ghosting as an easy way out of the relationship. Why go through a difficult conversation when you can avoid it? People who ghost often try to justify their behaviour by suggesting it is less hurtful than highlighting the traits you no longer find attractive in them. In reality, it’s cowardly and immature.

So why does it feel so bad?

According to research being rejected can activate the same pathways in the brain as physical pain, therefore, rejection does actually hurt. There is a medicine that can be taken to reduce the emotional pain of rejection, such as Tylenol. But there is the psychological distress that you have to deal with it too. 
The immediate reaction is should you be worried; are they lying in a hospital bed somewhere?  Maybe they are busy and will call you any minute. You don’t know how to react to a situation when you don’t know what has happened.

Being ghosted doesn’t make you question the validity of the relationship. But it makes a person doubt themself, leaving lasting effects on the individual’s confidence. There isn’t a prompt that tells you how you should react, resulting in your self-esteem is at rock bottom, wondering what has been so wrong.  Were you not attractive enough?  Were you too fat or too thin?  Were you not intellectually stimulating enough?  Perhaps you have halitosis which no one ever told you about?

As there are so many unanswered questions; you are left with residual feelings of anxiety and confusion. You are left powerless to the situation and denied a way of gaining information on how to emotionally process the experience. Not having the closure from a relationship can leave heavy emotional scars.

So how do you move forward?

Six months later Sarah has learnt he is ok, nothing happened to him, his words to her were, “I knew you would cry and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I thought was easier just to leave”. Sarah finally got her answers, but he could have saved her six months of distress. It’s the unanswered questions that affect us the most.

Just remember they do not have the courage to deal with the discomfort of your feelings, they don’t understand the impact of their behaviour, or maybe they just don’t care.   They are unable to have a mature, healthy and loving relationship with you. Promise to not be unkind to yourself and to love yourself. Try to remember it has nothing to do with your self-worth; it’s not based on how you look or your personality. Talk to friends and family about how you are feeling, a strong support system can make a world of difference. Try to remember that you didn’t do anything wrong, that you are enough.

If you are the one who ghosted someone it is important to understand you are not responsible for other people’s response but just try to remember that you liked them enough to date them in the first place, so have a little respect and have that slightly awkward conversation with them.

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My Anixety and Me

My Anxiety and Me

Anxiety is something that has been a part of my life for years. It isn’t something that I ever really discuss with anyone, apart from my big sister. As ironic as it may sound, I get anxious even talking anxiety.

Anxiety is unique to everyone; for me, my anxiety has become a lot worse over the years – it can be there but I can function, then sometimes it is so intense my heart feels like it is going to pump out my chest.

In hindsight, I definitely suffered with anxiety as a teenager; but I didn’t understand myself enough to verbalise these feelings. I remember dreading social events especially when there were a large group of girls who would ask a lot of questions, so I would just hang out with my male friends, as they were a lot more chilled out and I would behave like the ‘funny friend’, as this would distract people from having any conversations with me about something genuine like feelings or emotions.

When I was in school and probably most of my adult life, even in my personal relationships I was very much a people pleaser and a bit of a push over. I had some friends who I knew deep down weren’t good for me and weren’t really my friends at all. However, at the time, the thought of standing up to some of these people and ending up with no friends at all brought about horrible anxiety attacks and I just grew to get used to being taken advantage of.  Even in my first adult relationship, I wanted to please him, going to any lengths, I look back now with my more rational mind and think how could I of done those things.  This eventually led to a pattern of thinking of friendships were only ever there because they wanted something from me, which resulted in horrific self-esteem issues.

I ignored my anxiety for a long time as, I truly believed that unhappiness was something I deserved. Alot of different things would trigger my attacks; stepping out of my comfort zone, carrying out an activity which wasn’t in my normal routine.  It completely changed my personality and controlled my thoughts.  In the past few years, I have completely changed my life, I quit my job, I returned to university, I’m accomplishing what I’ve always wanted to do and met some amazing new friends, and every day I push myself outside my comfort zones.

In the beginning of this journey I truly believed I wasn’t capable of achieving what I wanted, I literally spent hours telling myself I can’t do it. But, do you know what? I did it!  Yes, on this journey I met some people who weren’t kind or tried to knock my confidence.  I even hid myself from the world for a long time, it was only because of my big sister and a good friend, with their understanding I dusted myself off and went back out.

Following an accident involving a lorry driving into me, I took a whole year off from teaching, when I returned the first few days my anxiety was so intense I thought I would pass out, I couldn’t catch my breath, but slowly this feeling is fading day by day.

So, what is anxiety? Generalised anxiety disorders (GAD) are defined for mental health professionals in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition or the DSM-5 for short. This manual allows all behavioural and mental health providers to use the same criteria when they are assessing and enables them to make a relevant diagnosis

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder from the DSM-5

The DSM-5 criteria that are used to diagnose GAD are as follows:

  1. The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive. Excessive worry means worrying even when there is nothing wrong or in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual risk. This typically involves spending a high percentage of waking hours worrying about something. The worry may be accompanied by reassurance-seeking from others.

In adults, the worry can be about job responsibilities or performance, one’s own health or the health of family members, financial matters, and other every day, typical life circumstances. Of note, in children, the worry is more likely to be about their abilities or the quality of their performance (for example, in school).

  1. The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may shift from one topic to another.
  2. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only one symptom is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD):
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
  • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
  • Increased muscle aches or soreness
  • Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)

Many individuals with GAD also experience symptoms such as sweating, nausea, or diarrhoea.

  • The anxiety, worry, or associated symptoms make it hard to carry out day-to-day activities and responsibilities. They may cause problems in relationships, at work, or in other important areas.
  • These symptoms are unrelated to any other medical conditions and cannot be explained by the effect of substances including a prescription medication, alcohol, or recreational drugs.

These symptoms are not better explained by a different mental disorder.

If you think you may suffer from anxiety or another mental health issue, talk about it, talk to friends or family, visit you GP, I can guarantee you will feel better just by talking about it

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Still, there are so many things that I would love to do but my own anxiety holds me back.  But what I know for sure is I will overcome this, day by day and challenge by challenge.

This is my story about how anxiety can control me, what are your experiences and I would love to hear about your coping methods for anxiety.

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