As you might’ve seen on my social media, it wasn’t a good end to August for me. A few spots on our 2 year old quickly became a severe rash, lethargy and fever, resulting in a hospital admission.
Obviously it was incredibly stressful and scary, and anybody would be anxious in that situation. But chronic anxiety is more than the expected worries about whats going to happen next, and if your loved one is going to be OK. Chronic anxiety invents stories and spews vitriol – it’s the obnoxious drunk that turns up uninvited to the party and spends the whole evening abusing the guests.
Even as I called 111, it had already made its appearance. Had something I’d done caused this? Could I have prevented it? Why didn’t I see what was happening? A doctor asked had I not taken him to the GP and I clung to his judgemental words – had I acted quickly enough? Was I a terrible Mother?
Then in fed the guilt in relation to his older brother, too. Eldest starts school this week – our last few days together have been ruined, and this will be our family’s lasting memory of this important moment in his life. I’ve really let him down.
But, in times of crisis, I also have another side. My project manager brain – that houses my powerful, organised and confident unanxious self – also scrambled like a jet fighter. What needs to be packed into bags, and for whom; what exactly has each doctor or nurse said and what does that mean; what plans are in place; what are the timelines for tests and results; what happens next and how can I help.
In stress situations, I need to know all the information so that I’m able to bolster the good brain and overcome the anxious ‘dark side’.
When I was in hospital myself last year, several doctors questioned why I needed to know certain things (anything, actually) and even admitted that they like to withhold information, supposedly in the patient’s best interests.
Firstly, let me just say how damn patronising that is. The entirety of the non-medical population isn’t just a brainless horde. I may not be a doctor, but don’t underestimate me. I have a multitude of flaws and an unhealthy dose of self-loathing, but there’s one thing I’m sure of and not afraid to say – I’m smart.
Secondly. Let’s just use our common sense. If a patient (or parent/guardian of said patient) is incapable of understanding diagnoses or care plans, they won’t be asking about them. Simple.
And thirdly. Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that every single person learns, processes or understands in the exact same way. As medical professionals, that shouldn’t be new information. The ‘less information the better’ approach might work for some in crisis situations, and don’t get me wrong – there have been times where I’ve taken a full head-in-sand approach. But for the most part, I need to know. Give me the information. All of it. It might not be what I want to hear, but not wanting to hear it doesn’t change the facts. Knowing means I can do what I need to do – research, ask questions, cry, rant, share with friends… Whatever. That’s how I manage situations, and that’s my right. Because for me, and for many people with constant anxiety, not knowing is worse. The made up conversations and imagined scenarios will fully form and completely take over if you don’t have some reality to beat them down with.
I am a strong, competent and resilient person. It’s the anxiety that lets me down, that undermines me and tries to tell me I can’t do the things I’m otherwise sure I can. The key to dealing with anxiety in stress situations is finding the right tools to feed your strength and help you to avoid your personal pitfalls, to keep going and quiet the anxious beast.
Know your own reaction to stress situations
Understanding your own behaviours can help you figure out how to cope.
If you’re like me, and go into ultimate crisis management mode – absolutely use it to your advantage. But also remember that you can’t control everything, and taking on 100% of the mental load can lead to burnout, or worse.
If you know you’re prone to panic, denial, or if high stress situations cause your mind to go blank, make sure to call in reinforcements to support you.
And be on alert if you are prone to negative coping mechanisms like reliance on drugs and alcohol, or rejection of food or sleep.
Ask for help
Having a network of people around you is vital, both physically and mentally, in stress situations. I often feel that I need to do everything myself, and that I’m an imposition, even though family say otherwise. So if you’re like me, do remember that people love you and want to help – try to let them.
I absolutely do not subscribe to the idea that you should see everything as a positive. However, in really stressful situations where you feel like you could drown in everything that’s gone wrong, it does help to at least try to look at one thing differently. For example, I started this post talking about the dreadful end of August. But as my son was discharged on September 1st, I’m trying my hardest to look at it as a fresh start for the month ahead instead.
Don’t forget self care
Obviously in the midst of a crisis, you won’t be popping off to get your nails done, but hard times are when self care matters most. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to keep going. So the small things are super important.
While I was in the hospital with my son, all I’d eaten for a day or two was triangle sandwiches and packets of crisps, so my husband had sushi delivered to me. An amazing, nutritious meal made a huge difference to my energy levels and mood. And you can never overstate the importance of someone bringing you a bucket of good coffee when you’ve been drinking questionable brown liquid from a polystyrene cup in the parents kitchen for 3 days.
I’d love to hear your tips for coping in stress situations, let me know in the comments.