Please introduce yourself, who are you?

My name is Abbie, I’m 32 and live in Tetbury. Before becoming a mum, I had a career as a Personal Assistant.

Tell us a little more about your family

I live with my partner and 13-month-old son. We are fortunate to be surrounded by family as neighbours; with my brother-in-law and family living next door, my partner’s parents around the corner and my mum just up the road. I have a wonderful older brother and sister-in-law who live in Somerset.

When did you first experience anxiety?

On reflection, I experienced a higher level of anxiety when I was at Secondary School due to bullying. However, in adulthood it was in my early twenties that I realised my anxiety levels were higher than ‘normal’.

Where do you think it came from?

At 21 I had a gap year booked, I had handed in my notice at work, sold my car and ‘test packed’ my luggage. Then my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my world was thrown upside down. I made the decision to remain at home and find a new job but I found it hard to process what was happening. At the same time, I made the wrong decision to move out by myself, I was trying to escape what was happening but this meant I was then dealing with my anxiety alone. I collapsed once in the hospital with my father and again out in the snow with friends – I then developed huge anxiety over collapsing.

What does it feel like?

Racing heart, feeling like I couldn’t stay still, not being able to relax, snowballing thoughts, tight chest, a fear of being out (shopping and eating out caused huge anxiety and on occasion panic), inability to focus

How has your anxiety changed or developed?

As I have grown up and sought help for my anxiety it has fluctuated in severity and at times I have gone about life with a ‘normal’ level of anxiety. However, during pregnancy I experienced the very normal anxiety of hoping my growing baby was ok and would develop and be born safely. Once my son had arrived and we were navigating the overwhelming first weeks of being new parents I found my anxiety returned quite badly. I was physically and mentally exhausted, dealing with the after effects of a natural labour and learning to look after a human. I felt immense pressure and responsibility and began feeling more and more anxious, emotional, wanting to escape and detaching myself from life. Of course, parenthood comes with a rollercoaster of emotions and hormonal changes and it is entirely normal to experience the effects of these. My wonderful support network was there to help and reassure that it was ‘normal’. However, around the 3 months mark I recognised that my anxiety was not normal for me and that I needed help.

How did you begin to start helping yourself?

When I initially suffered from severe anxiety in my early twenties, I had many years of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) style counselling and pulled myself through. Learning about how anxiety manifests itself and coping methods helped me initially. More recently I have accepted help in the form of the lowest dose of medication prescribed by my Doctor. Not wanting to rely solely on this I have also undertaken a course of Hypnotherapy which helped hugely.

What makes you anxious nowadays?

I find big changes to routine can make me feel anxious but my anxiety is now not an issue and I am able to eat out etc. I still feel more comfortable sitting on the edge of a crowd rather than being in the middle though!

When you’re struggling what do you do to help yourself?

I try to let someone know that I’m struggling and why but the key element of my good mental health is EXERCISE, I walk or run whatever the weather, every day.
When I feel physically anxious, I find deep breathing helpful: focusing on breathing in for 4 counts and out for 8, scanning down through my body and relaxing my muscles as I breathe. On a lighter note, my partner will tell you that I clean more or move furniture around, much to his annoyance!

Is your anxiety improving?

My anxiety has improved, it no longer has control over my life and my decisions, I just LIVE!

Do you see a time when you don’t think you will be anxious?

For me, I will continue with taking medication as it helps and I have no side effects. However, I recognise that managing my mental health has to be a holistic approach. Exercise, fresh air, social interaction, good diet and taking time out when I need it are the tools I use to keep level.

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Geraldine is a mum of one, who trained as a hypnotherapist after personally experiencing anxiety and hoping to help others who have struggled in a similar way.