Australia needs a human face for anxiety

Writing this piece is frightening.

The national mental health initiative beyondblue has launched a new campaign aimed at addressing ignorance and stigma about anxiety in Australia. Get To Know Anxiety seeks to better educate the public what anxiety is and how prevalent it is in our community. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics around a quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.

Writing this piece is frightening because I am one of them. I have been managing anxiety for over two years and many years beforehand unknowing, undiagnosed and unsupported.

According to beyondblue anxiety is:

“…more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.”

Anxiety is not easy to talk about publicly, because of the stigma and ignorance about the condition. You worry that your family, friends and colleagues will treat you differently once they find out you have anxiety, you worry employers will consider you unemployable because you’ve spoken out about your mental health and you worry that people will assume it’s “just a bit of stress” and it’s “all in your head”. However despite all these worries, speaking out about anxiety has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

In fact, if it weren’t for a close friend telling me about her experience of anxiety I probably would have never sought help. It was through hearing her experience that I began to recognise my own behaviours and coping mechanisms weren’t working. I was ignorant about what anxiety actually was and didn’t think it was something that affected people like me. Thanks to her sharing her story I made a visit to my GP and started learning what anxiety really was and how to manage it as part of my life.

After careful thought and consideration late last year I “came out” as a person living with anxiety. After a particularly bad experience managing my anxiety whilst travelling overseas I decided to write about it and share my experience living with and managing the condition. In the months since, I’ve been quietly contacted by a slow, but steady trickle of friends, family and strangers each with their own unique experience of anxiety. Many have contacted me to ask for my help and advice or simply to say “I read your story and sought help as a result”.

What really struck me from this experience is just how diverse a condition anxiety is and how much we need to hear each other. No two people experience anxiety in exactly the same way and too many of us are afraid to talk about it. A diverse condition needs a diverse range of strategies, solutions and stories. Our stories have the power to take the suffering out of mental illness and foster a more understanding and supportive culture.

The survey that has sparked beyondblue’s latest campaign has shown that up to 40% of Australians still think that anxiety is “just stress” and up to 50% believe it’s just a part of people’s personality. The only way we can change this stigma and misinformation is to put a human face to anxiety. It’s hard, but if those of us who feel comfortable and supported enough to share our stories do so we can change the public’s understanding and perceptions of anxiety. The better we as a community understand and support those living with anxiety the more people can seek and receive help.

Writing this may be frightening, but it’s completely worth it. If my words and my experiences can help others to seek help and change how the community understands anxiety then it’s worth fighting through the stigma, the ignorance and the fear to make sure that others going through the same experience don’t have to feel alone.

-JB

If you need support you can contact the following services:

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“Oh my god I’m going to die” – On anxiety

New York
On holiday in New York

“OhmygodI’mgoingtodieOhmygodI’mgoingtodieOhmygodI’mgoingtodieOhmygodI’mgoingtodie”

Welcome to my inner monologue four weeks ago lying on a hotel bed in New York City. On what was meant to be my big adventure holiday exploring North America it hit me worse than I think I’ve ever felt it:

Anxiety.

Heart pounding like crazy, pain searing down my arms and legs and constant thoughts hammering through my head telling me “you’re going to die halfway across the world away from your loved ones and there’s nothing you can do about it”.

It was just under two years ago that I first felt these sensations. It had been one of the busiest, most stressful periods I’d ever had in my work and personal lives. For weeks there’d been this rising tension across my whole body until one day sitting at my work desk the tightness in my chest became too much to bear. I walked into my boss’ office with surprising calm and told her “I’m going to take myself to hospital.”

At the hospital they scanned me, prodded me, tested me and told me there was nothing much wrong. My blood pressure was a little high and I was slightly dehydrated. I was placed on a drip for a couple of hours and sent home. A couple of trips to the GP for more testing that week also showed no major problems. I took the episode as a sign that I was long overdue for a holiday, took a break and thankfully the tension and the pains went away.

I still had no answers. Why the hell did my body do this to me when I most needed it to be operational?

It wasn’t until six months later that a good friend was having a rough time and told me about her experiences with panic attacks and anxiety. Through hearing her experience it occurred to me – did I have a panic attack?

The next day I booked an appointment with my GP and asked the question – Do I have anxiety?

Beyondblue describes anxiety as “…more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.”

My GP referred me to my local headspace centre where I started seeing a psychologist and I’ve been getting support for the last year.  In retrospect I can now see that I’ve probably always had anxiety. Whilst these physical symptoms were new to me I can see how anxiety has influenced me throughout my entire life. Since being diagnosed I’ve also realised just how many people anxiety impacts. I never knew that many of my closest colleagues, friends and family have also lived with anxiety and how diverse a condition it can be. No two people experience anxiety in the same way.

This brings me back to my hotel room in New York City four weeks ago. Whilst travelling with a close friend who also lives with anxiety we both found out that travel was one of our worst triggers. However this time I came prepared. Prior to the trip I spoke to my GP about managing my symptoms and came prepared with some basic medication and tools to manage my anxiety. Anxiety was not going to ruin my holiday. The advantage of travelling with a close friend also living with anxiety was that we could be open, honest and supportive of each other. We may have anxiety, but with patience, support and compassion for each other we still managed to have an awesome holiday.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned out of this recent experience it’s that you are definitely not alone and you don’t need to suffer alone. Since opening up about my experience on anxiety I’ve discovered that some of my most respected, admired and treasured colleagues, friends and family have also lived through these experiences. If you think there’s something wrong please speak up – talk to your GP or one of the many support services available. Anxiety is just one of many mental health issues we need to discuss as a community. I hope by sharing my experience others will share theirs too and our community, our social spheres and our workplaces can become more supportive and understanding places.

-JB

If you need support you can contact the following services:

 

 

Can’t keep track of the acronym for your community? Time for a change.

DSG

 

Working in the not for profit/community space you get very used to acronyms very quickly. Whilst identifiers for specific communities can be useful for collecting data and watching trends within sections of the population, it can also be very confusing to keep up with and often counter productive when it comes to representation of diverse communities.

That’s why I loved this statement so much from StartOut Australia:

DSG is Diverse Sexuality and Gender. It’s still an acronym, but we think it’s way more inclusive than LGBTIQabcdefg

I’m extremely passionate about the impact of language on our lives – particularly for young people who are “DSG”. I think there’s a fine balance between language that embraces diversity and allowing people to embrace labels should they choose to do so. My belief is that we need a stronger focus on the values underpinning diversity and diversity being more than just creating more labels, but a culture and a philosophy.

Good job StartOut Australia – I look forward to seeing your work develop.

-JB

Featured on #12WBT

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Last night Kevin and I were featured on the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation Facebook page. We finished the program a few weeks ago now, but it really did have an outstanding impact on us both. Together we’ve lost over 40 kilos and feeling fitter than we’ve ever felt before. The program is very pragmatic in that it teaches you ongoing skills and is more than just a one off “diet plan” – we’ve definitely rethought our relationship with food and exercise.

Thanks to 12WBT for the shout out!

-JB

Taking steps to better health

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Earlier in the year Kevin and I decided to make more of a conscious effort to improve our health and wellbeing. We had both let things slip with our fitness stalling and our weight slowly creeping higher and higher. Since then we’ve had a lot of success with the Michelle Bridges 12WBT program – both losing over 25+ kilos and feeling much healthier and happier since the start of the year, but I want to talk about some of the steps we took to get started.

One afternoon Kevin came home with two Fitbit Flex devices (activity trackers/pedometers that sync data to your smartphone) and gave us one of our first starting points to better health. The Fitbit Flex automatically sets you a challenge of reaching 10,000 steps per day. This is a uniquely motivating challenge – when you hit the 10,000 steps for the day the tracker vibrates on your wrist and tells your smartphone to let you know you’ve reached your goal. Within a week we found ourselves doing laps of the lounge room before bed – driven by the fact we hadn’t yet reached our 10,000 steps for the day. The smartphone app is also a really great way to keep track your activity and your progress over time.

Using the Fitbit device was a really great way to get started increasing our activity before we started taking on a more intense program like the 12WBT. I found the 10,000 steps a really simple, but motivating challenge and an simple way to ease into a more comprehensive health and fitness program.

I would love to hear what devices/apps/tools you’ve used to get started on your health and fitness goals. Let me know @JB_AU on Twitter or in the comments below.

-JB

 

Helping the body image of young Territorians

10174970_663405040397443_5091616114950649320_nThe Skin Deep Project is a great initiative based in the Northern Territory focused on improving body image.

The Skin Deep Project aims to make a difference in the way people feel about themselves – we want you to be happy, healthy and confident! The focus of the project is body image. We think it’s time for people to create their own ideals, us to celebrate what makes us all unique and to nurture it.

I’ve loved watching their work grow and their influence spread – check out their blog and follow them here on Facebook. 

-JB

 

 

Health and fitness – 10 tips for running

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For the last couple of months my partner Kevin and I have been focusing on improving our health and fitness. We’ve overhauled our diet and started an intensive exercise program as part of the 12WBT. We’re currently in the final week of the 12 week program and we’ve had great results –  we’ve both lost a significant amount of weight and changed a lot of bad habits we’d fallen into. I’m fitting into small sized clothes for the first time ever and feeling fitter than ever.

In sharing some of these achievements on Facebook an old friend asked for some tips on how to get motivated with running. Running is a big part of our particular 12WBT program and I quite enjoy running as my regular exercise. Here’s what’s worked for me:

1) Set a goal.

Make sure you set an achievable goal and a timeframe you plan to tackle it on. For us it was choosing to do the Run for the Kids. Once you’ve paid that registration fee and told everyone you’re going to do it (announce it on your social media – nothing like a bit of peer pressure to motivate you) then you’ve really got no choice but to commit.

2) Download Runkeeper or a similar app on your phone to track yourself.

Apps like Runkeeper can be a fantastic way to track your progress and motivate yourself. Many of the apps have built in training programs and regular reminders to tell you to get off your butt. The audio cues are particularly useful for helping you keep tabs on your progress mid-run. If you’re motivated by good storytelling/gameplay and something a bit more quirky – I’ve also had a bit of fun with Zombies, Run!.


3) Curate a good music playlist.

I like running to music – it gives me something else to focus on when I’m pushing my body really hard and the beats help me to keep a good pace. I like to have a mix of tempos – the more upbeat songs are a good reminder to push harder and pick up the pace. Keeping a diverse and regularly updated playlist is important for me.


4) Wake up earlier and run in the mornings.

I hate mornings (I barely function before my morning coffee), but doing exercise in the mornings has been one of the most valuable changes we’ve made to our routine. When you’ve exercised in the morning you can no longer use the excuse at the end of the day that you’re too exhausted to exercise.


5) Mix up your running.

Don’t do the same boring run every day. Try some of the interval training options in your running app or mix up your location – explore part of your suburb you’ve never checked out before or go somewhere really hilly to test your legs.


6) Add a social/peer pressure element.

Do it with someone or a group of people so you have the peer pressure to get up and do it on a regular basis. I’m lucky to have a very motivated partner who pushes me out of bed every morning, but it can be anyone – there are lots of running groups or online forums you can use to find some social motivation. It’s hard to ignore a friend or running buddy knocking at your door at 6am.


7) Warm up and stretch properly so you don’t hurt yourself.

Of course you’re going to hate running if you don’t look after your muscles before and after. The one thing you can’t be lazy about is warming up before running and stretching afterwards. You’ll feel much better and you’ll limit the risk of injury. Kevin and I have also invested in the occasional massage after particularly tough training weeks.


8) Don’t just run.

If you’re only running 7 days a week you’ll just bore yourself. Mix in some toning workouts to build up your supporting muscles. You don’t need a gym membership or equipment – you can do great toning sessions in your local park or at home. Also make sure you give yourself some rest days.


9) Running doesn’t = sprinting.

Pacing is so important. One of the things I’ve noticed many people do is totally overdo it. Build up to going faster and don’t blow all your energy in the first 5 minutes. Kevin and I have different levels of cardio fitness so we don’t technically run together – we’ll start at roughly the same time, go for our runs and reconvene to stretch and debrief with each other. If you’re running with a group a good technique to manage this is for the fastest runners to run ahead a short distance, turn around, lap around the slowest runner and repeat. This means the fastest runners still get a good workout and the slowest runner still is included in the group.


10) Get outside.

I say avoid the treadmill and get outside. I feel much more motivated when I have an actual location to run to. The fresh air does wonders for me and helps to wake me up for the day. I even love when it’s a little bit cold and wet – there’s nothing more refreshing than running with some light rain.

These are just some of the things that have helped to motivate me when it comes to running. Different things will motivate different people, but the key thing is just to try a few things and see what works for you. Get out there and give it a crack!

-JB

P.S – If weight loss is a particular focus for you don’t assume running alone will achieve that. We’ve also focused very hard on diet change and on building incidental exercise into our day. We’ve become particular fans of Fitbit for increasing our incidental fitness and I build in a half hour walk to work every day. These changes have made just as much difference as the running and exercise program.

Get Silent. Get Heard.

I recently lent my voice to a new campaign from Soften The Fck Up – an initiative to address the high rate of suicide and mental health issues amongst young men. They do great work challenging the idea that men don’t speak up and look after their health.

The campaign encourages people to go 24 hours without talking on September 17th, 2013 to demonstrate that not talking is much harder. You can sign up to join the campaign here.

-JB

P.S and of course if you need someone to talk to Lifeline are there to help, Kids Help Line if you’re 25 or under and Beyond Blue have heaps of great information and resources too.