Confessions of an anxious perfectionist
Ever noticed how this time of year feels a little like the start of a new year? There’s just an air of newness about the place; maybe it’s because it’s the start of a new school year and I can’t help to be taken back to those days. Do you remember? Shiny new shoes, shiny new pencil case and a shiny school gym floor….I can still smell it now!
A new start is something that some of us relish, though for others the idea of a new start just seems beyond reach. At least that’s how it feels when anxiety and panic preside….the idea that life will ever be any different is a little too much to hope for.
I know this because I have lived it…yes, even wellbeing coaches suffer from anxiety! It is our own experiences of anxiety, panic and depression and the living hell that was created as a result, that led us both to set up Wellbeing4Life. We’ve made it our mission to support others going through similar experiences and to show them how a new start is absolutely possible.
In the days before I knew my condition had a name I used to call myself stressed, overwhelmed or simply over-tired…..sometimes I didn’t call it anything- instead I would bury my head and try to ignore it. I blamed it on the fact that I had just taken on a few too many things and once they had been dealt with, life would return to normal. It felt scary and I felt as though I had no control of it but surely my strategy of waiting til the to-do list ended or trying very hard to ignore it would work eventually. I waited……and waited…for normality to return.
I now know that what I was suffering from was anxiety with depression. I name it quite proudly now because although it was a total living hell at the time, it has taught me so many things. But more of that later…
Looking back, I can see that there were warning signs and certain things that made me more anxious. These things, I now know, are my ‘triggers’. Of course, at the time I didn’t recognise what they were but greater awareness has been one of the gifts of my illness. These are my triggers…(notice I say ‘are’ rather than ‘were’):
- Taking on too much– in one way having a long to-do list made me feel valuable and needed (a warning sign in itself!) and on the other, it created pressure, a sense of responsibility I couldn’t cope with and a hamster- wheel type exhaustion.
- Keeping quiet about concerns and anxieties when I should have voiced them. I didn’t want to be seen as weak and I didn’t want to be seen as a moaner so I kept stum but those anxieties have a way of getting out in the open somehow. For me, they showed through restless sleep, hideous nightmares and palpitations that woke me suddenly from sleep and, in my mind, threatened to kill me.
- Perfectionism…ooh this is a tough one to write about because it means I have to admit that I am a tad short of perfect! If you’re a perfectionist, it’s difficult to ask for help (nobody else can do it as well as me anyway). It’s a challenge to ever get to the end of a to-do list (the thing I was waiting on to stop the anxiety) because I’d spend so much time ‘perfecting’ what I had to so that I didn’t get the chance to move on to the rest of the list.
I don’t think anxiety will ever go away completely but the fact that I have greater awareness acts as an early warning system for me and therefore I can guard against it taking over.
So what brought about my ‘new start’? The same thing that brought about my new start also led to the development of Wellbeing4Life so another gift I can thank my illness for!
Each of the triggers had to be addressed and I did so over time and in a gentle (non-perfectionist!) way. I have learnt that the value of my yes is in saying no from time to time. If having a to-do list the length of the M1 triggers anxiety for me then it stands to reason that I would make an effort not to pack so much in. Getting in touch with my personal values also helped. This process made it very clear that my most precious times are spent with my family. I know from bitter experience that anxiety and overwhelm had a massive negative impact on my family times so it makes perfect sense that I would say no in order to protect one of my most important values. It sounds simple, but when you are in the midst of anxiety, the simple seems a million miles away.
I’ve found ways to voice my concerns and again this comes from an appreciation of my personal values- I am worthy of being able to speak up when things don’t feel right for me and do you know what? Others respect me for it…who knew?!
I’m learning (note I say learning not learned!) to love my flaws. I’m not wonder woman and that’s actually ok. There’s fun to be had in making mistakes and it is unbelievably empowering to live in a non-perfect way.
There’s a whole range of self-care activities, which also helped. I make that sound easy don’t I?! Self-care is one of the things that many of our clients struggle with the most and I totally get that. Self-care can seem to be indulgent, selfish. It’s one of those things that might happen if there’s time (there’s never time) or if there’s money (we rarely think we are worth the investment) or if everybody else’s needs have been met (they never will be!).
Self-care takes a conscious effort and again ties into personal values…you need to believe that you are worth it…because you are!
So a quick list of my favourite self-care activities:
- Sleep! Switch that phone/tablet/device off at least one hour before going to bed, create a dark, tidy space, go to bed early, get up a little earlier.
- Eat! Focus on good nutrition, eat regularly and become aware of what might be triggering ‘comfort’ eating.
- Play! Give yourself permission to step off the hamster wheel, have fun and get in touch with your inner child. I did this through laughter yoga…yes, it’s whacky but boy does it work!
- Rest! I can choose to have an afternoon nap or I can snuggle on the sofa with a good book or a soppy chick flick or I can go out for a lovely countryside walk – it all counts as rest. I hear your protests – ’I don’t have time for that’ – but believe me rest actually makes you more productive, more focused and with greater clarity and less anxiety.
Living with anxiety really is a living hell and it’s common to think that life will never be any different but please know that it can be. We have a programme beginning on 6th September, designed to support you in overcoming overwhelm and anxiety which over six weeks will show you the lifestyle changes that will make the difference and will create that new start feeling for you too.
The link for more information is below and of course please feel free to get in touch to have a chat about your personal situation and how we may be able to support you in your new start.
You’ll find more information about HIP: Break Free of Overwhelm here.
To book your place, please click here .