I’m sick of it! The fear of vomiting and how to address it

Me: ‘ I can’t stand people being sick’

Someone else: ‘yeah, nobody likes people being sick’

 But does everyone else..

Wake with a racing heart after repeated nightmares about vomiting?

Replay historic sickness scenarios through their minds like unwelcome horror films?

Experience a sharp rise of panic when someone coughs loudly on a train?

Feel intense fear when someone announces they don’t feel well?

Avoid social occasions, certain foods or travelling because of the increased likelihood of sickness?

Leap off public transport at an unknown location because a fellow traveller looks a little green?

Fear two of the year’s most beautiful seasons because of the sickness bugs that hover like the grim reaper ready to plunge you into a vortex of Dettol and washing cycles?

Approach pregnancy with trepidation out of fear of morning sickness?

Feel like a failure as a mum because they have to work hard to comfort your own sick child

The night I ran across three lanes of busy traffic with my hands over my ears and my eyes half closed, to escape someone vomiting….

I knew I needed to address the emetophobia once and for all.

It had had enough headspace, it had dictated too many decisions, tainted too many social occasions with anxiety. It had robbed me of enough. My fear of vomiting, and others vomiting, had been the background buzz of my life for as long as I could remember, and it was unrelenting. It showed no sign of subsiding.

There is hope. I promise you.

 

What is emetophobia.

Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting, or seeing others vomit. It’s very prevalent and is experienced by 1.7-3.1% of males, and a huge 6-8% of females (anxietyUK). It’s often unspoken about because people feel concerned about being misunderstood or dismissed as overreacting.

Emetophobia can be related to other fears and forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Symptoms can range from mild fear to brain tiring rumination and life-impacting apprehension. Sufferers may find themselves avoiding travel, social situations or public places. They may avoid certain foods out of fear of food poisoning, or they may avoid food altogether. In fact, emetophobia can sometimes be wrongly diagnosed as anorexia.

You may or may not be able to pinpoint when the phobia began. It might have been a traumatic event such as food poisoning or a stomach virus as a child. But it may have been simply that you felt scared and out of control at some point when unwell.

There IS hope.

 

My experience

Emetophobia dominated a lot of my life for many years. I can think back to the acute panic, from as young as age 6. For decades, I’d constantly scan the ground for vomit, my eyes would sweep corners and curbs like I was looking for something of value. I don’t even know what I wanted to achieve by that. I think it was the fear of being taken by surprise, it gave me an illusion of control over something which made me feel terrifyingly out of control.

I’d replay scenarios over and over in my mind from as much as 10 years before. My mum recognised it when I once ran away in panic as a young child vomited in the crowd of a local fair. It has manifested in varying ways and to varying degrees along the way. For ten years my body wouldn’t allow myself to be physically sick. But then I was (short story – too many speedily downed vodka redbulls), and I could.

In later years I experienced hyperemesis in two of my three pregnancies and was sick around ten times per day for months. It became commonplace. I was desensitised to my own sickness. But it’s a different kind of sickness to the one that is thrusted upon you for no reason other than a little spiky virus.

I don’t need to go into detail of the impact emetophobia had on my life. You know the drill. You’re here because you know the drill too well and you want out. You want hope.

 

How did you get it?

I’m not entirely sure. But if I could hazard a guess, I’d say it might have had something to do with memories of sickness being tied up with my sister’s brain cancer diagnosis and treatment. It was a turbulent time in our lives, one that was ruled by radio therapy appointments and side-effects. Our family life felt like a handbag that was upended and rigorously shaken as the contents tumbled out, clattering and rolling upon the floor. There was no control. We had no control. Cancer had control. It was terrifying, and seeing my sister sick both punctuated that journey and reminded us of the pressure inside her tiny head.

 

How did you make it go away?

I didn’t.

It’s still there.

Sorry.

That’s not what you wanted to read.

BUT don’t stop reading.

Yes, my anxiety might spike when I hear of the winter bugs doing the rounds. My eyes might sharply dart when I hear someone coughing violently on public transport. My heart momentarily races when the kids complain of stomach aches. I may swiftly make excuses and remove myself from certain scenarios if I safely can.

HOWEVER

I do not live in fear. Emetophobia no longer robs me of my grounding. It no longer has me wishing the winter months of life away, or turning down invitations, or lying awake with anxiety that we will be next. It no longer dictates my menu choices or has me grappling for alternative methods of transport.

I live with emetophobia. But my life is not ruled by it. It nudges into my headspace, but I have the tools to deftly kick it out again.

 

How did you make this transition?

(I write about this a LOT in my Reframing Anxiety Course. I use my Emetophobia as an example of how we can work with and through phobias by truly understanding what happens within anxiety, and by utilising certain tips when we are triggered. I really encourage you to engage in the course if you want to address your Emetophobia. If money is tricky, use ra-save15 for a discount).

For me it was a number of things I worked on over numerous years, things I implemented and encouraged myself to do, trusting that the outcome would benefit me somehow. It’s the the increased self-compassion and self-coaching. The quest to understand myself regardless of whether others can understand me.

Here are the things that helped…

1 – I learnt exactly what anxiety was and how it worked in my body. Get to understand the process of the different hormones at play. Equant yourself with how the adrenaline and the cortisol interact, how your fight or flight response is triggered and why. Knowledge is so important. You experience a sense of control when you realise that you are bigger than the habitual processes that happen within your body.

2 – I found some brilliant techniques to lessen the physical and mental impact of the phobia. Good grounding and breathing techniques will tell your body that you are not at threat. Breathe in for 4, out for 8 as soon as you feel your anxiety rising. It switches off your sympathetic nervous system, and enables you to access your rational brain. The more you do this, the earlier you’ll be able to implement it.

3 – I became sensitive to my overthinking. My thoughts would spiral at any trigger – be it seeing someone sick in a film, an image, a joke, or a real-life scenario. I’d spent time ruminating over the fear, which would then kick off my fight or flight response and induce physical feelings of panic. The further down the spiral I flew, the harder it was to rationalise. Simple grounding techniques such as counting back from 100’s in 3’s can halt that cycle, because you cannot overthink whilst doing maths.

4 – I find mantras really helpful when faced with sickness, or thoughts of sickness. These are little sentences to encourage and bolster confidence. I often tell myself ‘We’ve come through it before. If we need to, we can do it again’. Or ‘I have the resources I need to make it through’. ‘I am bigger than these feelings’. Mantras are like warrior cry’s. They ground me and act like the kind parent, bringing rationality and encouraging me that I can make it through.

5 – I sought therapy to deal with the traumas behind the phobia. There often is a story behind a phobia that deserves listening to and processing. Even today, I came off the phone to my therapist after talking about the death of my sister, decades later. There’s still stuff I need to process because I tucked it away for so many years. Our histories are alive in our present, and when they are unprocessed, they fuel anxiety, fear and phobia. As I continue to give my past space, it slowly loses power over my present. My past is still there, it still happened and it still has value, but it has less control.

6 – I mimic the reactions of those around me. At university, my friends would often be sick due to over-indulging in alcohol. I’d see the nonchalance of the people around them, and I’d try to channel their attitude. They were caring but not terrified. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But every time it worked; it bolstered my confidence a little.

7 –  Now, this is the biggy. This is the most important point.

I tried not to flee situations immediately when I felt triggered. Now, this was the biggest challenge for me. My body and mind fought extremely hard to remove me from any situation in which I was triggered. A train seat, a party, a busy street, a car. I’d look for the nearest exit opportunity and I’d bolt. Sometimes it’s possible to up and leave, sometimes it simply isn’t.

I reminded myself that anxiety peaks and falls. Like a labour contraction, anxiety cannot continue to rise and rise forever, otherwise we’d explode. Anxiety is a mechanism designed to keep us safe. Panic is a mechanism to keep us alive in which our senses and awareness suddenly fire on all cylinders. But it is not sustainable. Anxiety and panic will fall, even if our trigger isn’t removed.

The most pertinent moments in disempowering my emetophobia, are the times in which I utilised my breathing and grounding techniques throughout the triggering experiences, endured them, and emerged the other side triumphant.

Imagine that you really want to ride a rollercoaster, but you know it has a scary drop. Every time you reach the peak before the drop, you feel the fear, the risk and the apprehension. So you press the emergency stop button and you use the emergency ladder to escape. Your anxiety falls, you feel safe again.

Should you find a way to ride through the drop, to cope somehow, to breathe your way to the bottom of the terrifying peak, you’ll no longer purely associate the ride with fear. You’ll be able to think beyond the drop, to the sense of accomplishment and empowerment you get at the end.

8 – I question my response. Shall I Ride it out? Or Run.

I ask myself if this is something I can ride through using my grounding and breathing techniques, or whether it’s something I can give myself permission to run from.

For example, when I find myself making assumptions about vomiting – such as, that person is pale, therefore they are sick. Or, my child has a tummy ache, therefore he certainly has norovirus. These are not always discovered to be truth! Perhaps that person is tired, or my child has mild constipation, or ate too fast. I must also ride through times that my children are sick, because I am responsible for them!

Riding these situations through can certainly be anxiety provoking, but using the right techniques, I come out the other end feeling tired but accomplished! Like I’ve weathered a storm. I’ve exercised a muscle that will make me stronger for the next experience because I have lived through it and survived, yet again. It rewrites the old, repetitive story.

Can I run? If I am out and about and someone looks as if they are about to be sick, or someone is sick, I ask myself whether the best thing is to ride or run. Am I making assumptions about the situation? Is it safe and convenient for me to leave, are they safe? If so, I see no harm in removing myself and using techniques to calm myself.

 

So what can I do?

I hope my own experience has offered you some hope and tips.

You are not alone. You are not broken. You do not have to deal with emetophobia to this intensity forever. Absolutely not. You are worth more than a life buzzing with an undercurrent of fear of the next episode.

This wintery season can be triggering for so many people, but you’ve got this. You’ve been there, you’ve done it before and you’d make it through again if it happened. Lean on your tools, hold onto them like trustworthy lifeboats in a stormy sea.

Not everyone will understand how you feel. It can be really hard when you’ve made yourself open and vulnerable to someone and felt misunderstood.  Educate those around you so that they can best support you, whether it’s reminding you to breathe or by helping ground you through helping you rationalise things when your head is in a spiral. Maybe send them this blog article!

Find some good, solid breathing and grounding techniques, and practice them when you don’t need them, so that when you do need them, they are easy to implement and you can do so at an earlier point.

I encourage you to seek therapeutic support if you can. You can get a counselling referral via the NHS. The Counselling Directory is my first port of call for finding local practitioners. Also there are local charities and training institutes that may be able to offer low/no cost therapy options. Sometimes phobias are rooted in experience or trauma, and talking it through whilst addressing some of these thoughts, can really help.

You’ll find more in depth insight, techniques and support through my Reframing Anxiety Course if you’d like them.

 

Other support:

Anxietyuk.org – https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/emetophobia/

NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/

Counselling Directory – https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Tips for the parenthood-rollercoaster ride

(Sponsored post by Waterwipes)

What a rollercoaster parenthood is! However, a quick scroll through social media would often have us believe that we’re the only ones sitting on this hair-raising ride. It seems like comparison is king and we often feel like we’re the only ones winging it. I’m going to share my top parenting tips, both as a Psychotherapist and as mum of three.

In May, I was honoured to be asked to host and talk at a parents breakfast organised by WaterWipes for its new #ThisIsParenthood global project. Not only have I used WaterWipes’ super pure wipes for all three of my children (bye cotton wool and water), but I was really touched by the #ThisIsParenthood documentary, produced by the talented BAFTA nominated Lucy Cohen. Have you watched it? Here’s the link if you haven’t – grab a cuppa and a spare 15 minutes. The documentary shows a rare and candid insight into the realities of family life with a newborn, detailing some of the challenges that punctuate this crazy, special and map-less time. When WaterWipes showed us parents the footage during the breakfast, there wasn’t a single dry eye…I think due to the fact that, ultimately, we are all just trying to do our best! Sometimes we feel like we are scrambling around in the dark, sometimes we’re winging it, sometimes we’re smashing it (momentarily for me at least), but #ThisisParenthood.

WaterWipes yearns to shift the conversation around parenthood by encouraging us parents to be more open about the highs and lows that come with it. As a Psychotherapist, I am hugely supportive of this initiative as openness and honesty are the turning points to every single one of my clients’ stories.

A global study by WaterWipes revealed:

  • 55% of parents feel like they are failing within the first year (British parents being the second highest country (62%)
  • Almost a quarter (24%) feel like film, TV and advertising contribute to this
  • Nearly half (42%) of UK parents feel the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ on social media
  • Nearly half (41%) of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgment
  • A huge 50% of parents admit to putting a brave face on rather than being honest about their experience
  • UK mums are twice more likely than dads to feel pressure to be a perfect parent from social media (51% vs 27%)
  • 49% of UK parents feel as though they cannot relate to the parenting images they see on social media
  • Across the world. 68% of parents wish there were more honest representations of parenting on social media

If only these results could shock me…but sadly, they didn’t. I receive messages on social media from 200-400 parents a day who feel like they are failing, or like they are alone in their struggles. Like WaterWipes, I am desperate for us to call a truce on this whole pretence. Yes, of course we will continue to share the highs, the smiles and the cute snaps. However, in order to shift this culture of toxic comparison, we all need to be a little more mindful that what we see, isn’t all there is.

Working with WaterWipes for #ThisIsParenthood was such a pleasure, and for those of you who couldn’t join us on the Instagram live, I thought I’d share the words I spoke:

 

My story

After my textbook pregnancy, birth and then newborn experience with my first little boy, I enjoyed the coffees and the relatively calm play dates. We laughed about our incessant Googling (ps. Dr Google is NOT your friend) and shared our thoughts on routines, and our moans about lack of sleep.

However, my experience with my second was vastly different. He came hurtling into the world wailing, and didn’t stop for a solid nine months. Undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue-tie, and less sleep at night than a nocturnal mouse – I fell into a messy post-natal depression. As a therapist myself, it challenged me greatly that despite all of my training, I couldn’t seem to find the strength to pull myself out of the black hole. It was at this time, during our largely wakeful nights, that I downloaded Instagram. I scrolled mindlessly through images of happy mothers, seemingly thriving newborns with scrumptious chubby legs. I compared their lives to my grey eyed, constantly crying (him and me), chronically sleep deprived (him and me) existence, and the sense of failure felt even greater. With my first, I felt like I was winging it. With my second, I felt like I couldn’t put a single, faltering step right.

I made it through, and the key to that was the moment that I couldn’t hold up the pretence any longer. It was the moment I put my hands up and said #ThisIsParenthood for me. This is MY parenthood. And I found that my openness inspired the openness of others, and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. And that changed everything.

So, I’ll share the words I shared at the breakfast. Why do we often feel like we’re failing? And what do we do about it?

 

Why?

Why do we often feel like we’re not enough? Why do we get so drawn into the half-stories of other people’s portrayal of their parenting experiences and feel led to believe that in comparison, we’re not doing quite so well?

From the conversations we had around the breakfast table at the brunch, I was so reminded of the truth that we’re all just trying to do our best at this parenthood lark, yet we all feel like we’re failing. Why? Expressions like ‘I hated myself for working’, ‘mum guilt’, ‘mummy fail’, ‘helpless’ were thrown around under pictures of our plates of pancakes and greek yogurt, as if they were permanent fixtures of our vocabulary. Are we really failing? Or are we just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves?

We are hardwired to compare ourselves with what we see in others. If we don’t have an inbuilt belief that we are ‘enough’ as parents, then we will naturally look outside of ourselves to get a measure of how we are doing. The issue is, what we see around us is often isn’t the full truth. We compare our behind the scenes, with what other people curate and share of their lives. If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.

I remember that during one of my hardest parenting times, I strolled down the street pushing a double buggy towards a playgroup, wearing super-sized sunglasses in the blazing July heat. Any onlooker might have thought ‘Wow, look at that mum of two small children. She’s smashing it!’ The reality was that my glasses hid my tear-stained eyes, and nobody witnessed the conversation I’d had with my husband moments before. As I sat on my kitchen floor with two screaming children, I told him that ‘I can’t do this’. I meant it.

If we’re all in the same boat, how can we make sure that we stop feeling like we’re sailing alone? I’m going to share three tips that could shift this for ourselves. Because, really #ThisIsParenthood. It’s brilliant, and hard, and messy and wonderful.

 

What now?

Openness

Openness inspires openness. I remember meeting with my antenatal friends. The first time someone said that they were finding it hard, or arguing with their husbands over night feeds, or finding the bonding a struggle…it opened up a conversation. Sometimes there was an actual visible air of relief as people started to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting. One person’s disclosure gave the rest of us permission to share our true experiences.

Take little risks of openness. Be the conversation starter if you can. I always encourage my therapy clients to engage with at least two friends, family members or professionals who understand the reality of their circumstances. Talk to those who have a history of being kind and understanding towards you. It can feel challenging to start the conversation at first, but it gets easier, and often it inspires others to open up too.

 

So often, we fear that if we portray anything other than the highlights, we’d become a burden to people. Think of how honoured and how much closer to someone you feel when they open up to you! It’s an acceptance of love and friendship, and you’re just as worthy of the support of others as they are of yours.

 

Accepting support

Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others, which is why I encourage people to take little steps with this. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.

 

Self-care

Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures – the manicures, the long workouts, the massages. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s about fuelling the car and respecting that it can’t function if it’s empty. Neither can you. I used to feel that self-care was indulgent and I didn’t feel worth it. Now I can clearly see how my family fully benefits from me not being burnt out and resentful of anyone who gets to pee alone!

 

So.

#ThisIsParenthood: it’s a wild ride, but we’re in it together. We really are. Sometimes it might feel like we aren’t and it might look like we’re the only ones covered in baby goo, with bags under our eyes, but we are not alone. The more shoulders we find to lean on, people that we can share the highs and the lows with regardless of how different their experience may be, and the more we talk openly about the realities of OUR parenthood journey, the more we will start feeling part of something bigger.

I’ve shared my #ThisIsParenthood story on Instagram. Have a search of the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the project!

“I don’t want a boy” – The secret shame of gender preference

I met a girl in the park on a lunch-break walk one day during my first pregnancy. I was feeling the wrath of the hormones and was wrapped up in a straining coat. She was pushing a double buggy, looking a bit knackered around the edges. She made some friendly small talk. ‘When are you due? Is it your first? Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’

‘I don’t want a boy’. My mood stripped me of the ability to spit out a more socially acceptable response. Her eyes widened and I held my breath in shock of what I’d just said. We chatted awkwardly and then parted ways. How dare I want a girl, when so many people don’t even get a baby at all?

Whether you were or are hoping for a certain gender like me, or didn’t mind at all, gender disappointment is common. A quick Internet search reveals anonymous forum threads on the ‘secret shame’ of gender preference, and even sonographers and midwives will admit they’ve seen tears shed over gender reveals.

I’m so aware of the devastating stories of friends who have lost babies. So, of course, a healthy baby is what we yearn for above all else, right? However, this often means that any hint of gender preference get cast as ‘selfish and shameful’. It’s good to seek perspective, but it’s not good to silence feelings with comparison because then they will never be understood. It’s far more useful to explore where feelings of gender disappointment are rooted, as they are attached to real stories and explanations.

As a Psychotherapist with a passion for tacking taboo topics around motherhood, I made it a mission to get to the bottom of this shameful gender preference I felt. I wanted to understand why I had this aching desire for a girl. If I’m honest, many of my close male family relationships have been somewhat dysfunctional. I think I had a deep-seated fear that if I were to have a son, there would be a painful disconnection and that when he grew old enough, he would reject me too. In addition, my relationship with my mum has been one of the most positive ones in my life. So, I feared that I would fail to relate to a boy in the way that I would a girl.

I realised that in my mind, I had assumed that a daughter would enjoy the same things I did. But when glancing back at my childhood, I recall how my sister played ‘army’ with my brother in the woods, dressed in my Uncle’s old military camouflage, Meanwhile I played with dolls and covered the carpet with glitter glue in the company of Mum. Perhaps my heart yearned for a mini-me, but no girl would replicate the relationship I had with my mum.

Weeks later I went for my scan to be told that we were having a boy! We watched his little thumb sucking, alien like form. My heart sunk into my flip-flops with a huge, guilty kerplunk. I stuck on a smile, you know the one where your eyes don’t quite get the memo? I wanted to prove to the sonographer and my husband that I was a good, happy Mum. Slowly, my disappointment ebbed away and I began to daydream again, with a cheeky boy in place of the girl I’d longed for. By the time I swept Oscar out of the birthing pool, the sense of disappointment felt nothing but a shameful memory, replaced by adoration.

The second time around, crippling morning sickness led everyone to proclaim ‘it must be a girl this time’. However, back in the sonographer’s room covered in cold jelly, she pointed out the very clear boy parts. We laughed so much in shock that she struggled to continue her checks. I grinned at the joy of another healthy baby, but on arriving at a friend’s house, she gave me a huge hug and my eyes welled up. I flicked the tears away and stole a look in the mirror to ensure no mascara trail would give away that flash of grief. I may never have a daughter.

So now I have my two boys and my house is littered with miniature drills and footballs. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I got what I needed. These budding relationships have been healing in ways they will never understand

If you have a gender preference, consider the assumptions or fears that you might be harbouring as it helps so much to acknowledge them. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a grieving process for what may not be. This is okay and it is healthy! We can live out a life in our mind, projecting ourselves ahead to certain scenarios, painting an elaborate picture coloured with a desire to relive a past we loved, or a wish to do something differently to our own childhood experience.

Often, gender disappointment fades away quickly, at first sight of your wrinkled tot, or maybe as bonding deepens. But if there are continuing feelings that would benefit from some further thinking, then do so in therapy or with someone supportive. It might just be that you need to do a little more gentle exploration of the root cause of these feelings (like I did) in order to break free from that unnecessary feeling of shame or guilt.

Before I finish, I want to highlight in neon orange streaks the fact that it’s normal to have a gender preference. It’s the silence and the taboo that balloon it into a guilty secret. We all have our stories, histories and reasons, and some of them just take a little more making sense of than others. You’re not bad or mad you’re normal.

And you know what the funny thing is? As I write this, I’m currently pregnant with a girl! I was fully expecting to be a mum of boys. That’s my comfort zone now! I’m heading into unknown territory!

Driving me mad – Anxiety behind the wheel

White knuckled fingers gripping, heart pounding, body braced. Death feels a hairs breadth away, a possible reality at any second.

No, this isn’t me seated on a rollercoaster, this was how I felt when behind the wheel of a car until very recently.

I can’t remember when driving became the focus of so much of my anxiety, or when the flashes of intrusive thoughts began to flicker across my mind –  ‘If I turn the wheel now, I’d cause a pileup’. I’d have shockingly clear visions of cars skidding across all three lanes, smashing into the reservation barriers and bursting into flames. I’d make any excuse not to drive, walking miles with a double buggy, turning down invitations that required a car trip, or loosing sleep visualising that the next days 2.5 hour drive to my parents would result in certain death. There were times my hands shook so much that I had to pull over to  free from from the wheel, and times where my driving was  unsafe because of the rash decisions I’d make at perceived threat.

Now? Well, now I drive every day with the kids. I’m sometimes in and out of the car more times than I can keep count of. Today alone I’ve driven on two motorways, back country roads and scaled huge multi-lane roundabouts. I’d be lying if I said that these thoughts were all a distant memory, or that I didn’t have to yoga-breathe my way past a lorry. It’s freeing and exhilarating and sometimes scary, but I’m doing it and I’m continuously proud of myself.

What changed?

Well let’s go back to the beginning first. Bear with me.

I passed my test at 19, first time after a huge number of lessons with an instructor aptly named ‘Vicky Passmore’. She used to drill into me the idea of the ‘blind spot’ telling me that most accidents were caused because of people not looking. I cannot remember shaky hands or shallow breaths, just enjoyment of the freedom I had to be able to drive the 15 miles to college in an ancient Rover instead of having to freeze at the bus stop. I rolled a car at 19 in a back country road, as my wheel caught the crumbling edge of the road concealed by inches of wet leaves. My then boyfriend took my wheel and turned it sharply, sending us up (and down) a bank. It was terrifying, but I got a new (cheaper and older) car, a black Fiat Panda with neon pink interior – my ‘skip on wheels’. We’d just got the internet and I remember googling the car to find that there was one instance in which the flat bonnet had flipped up to hit a windscreen whilst in motion. I don’t know if it was that, or my fear of ‘blind spots’ that sparked these intrusive, visual assaults on my mind, but the nerves began to kick in and I began to envision being squashed by lorries, and my bonnet flipping up. Conveniently for me, I then packed myself off to a campus University and didn’t need to drive for 4 years…before moving to London and not driving for another six. I avoided my fear (I mean, I was a terrible passenger when the opportunity arose, often grabbing the seatbelt or sharply intaking breath as we overtook traffic on busy motorways).

The longer I didn’t drive, the more fearful I became. It crept into my nightmares and I became sure that people I loved would die on the roads. Every goodbye to my family as they left our home, I was convinced would be the last. I’d wave them off with a lump in my throat, holding back tears, as was the intensity of my belief.

Avoiding your fear quickly turns it into something larger in your mind. It’s like falling off a horse or a bike and not getting back on. Your last memory is one connoting an unpleasant experience, so you’ll add power to the belief that it’s ‘bad and scary’. This is especially true after a traumatic event has occurred, and is utterly understandable.

We moved out of London and bought a car, and I decided that my fears wouldn’t rule me. Firstly I gave myself the challenge of driving every day, even though my thoughts tried to find my way out. I made journeys to the corner shop, to the gym. Yes, not the best for the environment but surely better for everyone’s safety.

The issue is that nobody can promise you 100% that everything will be fine when you drive. Nobody can say with certainty that nothing will happen. They can state facts and ratios and likelihoods, but you can’t promise against a rational fear. But the same stands with every fear. It’s an existential dilemma of knowing the risks of life whilst having to live it.

I called the AA, not for ‘hey, I’m 18 and I want to learn to drive’ but for driving lessons. I asked for someone used to and experienced in sitting with anxious drivers. I met a lovely guy who took me on and off the motorway (my worst fear). The more often we did it, the more the anxiety was slowly replaced with the mundane boredom that comes with feeling less bothered by what you are doing over and over and over again. That was the best gift I gave myself. I wasn’t fixed, I’m still not fixed….but I’m in a place where I can feel the fear, ride the waves of anxiety and do it anyway.

Anxiety comes in waves. And when the wave reaches its peak, it can only subside. The thing is that in that moment, we fear that the anxiety will build and build into something utterly unbearable, but breathing myself through those waves (download the Headspace app, or learn to Yoga breathe), has been insanely helpful. Once these waves reach their peak, they begin to subside and your physiological fear response starts to lose effect….all the while you’re still exposed to your trigger. THIS moment makes the breakthrough. The more that you can ride and breathe through the waves of anxiety WHILST you’re driving, the less power those fears will begin to have. You’re literally starving the fear by doing the thing (this is relevant to other phobias too).

Here are my tips:

  • Recognise what you’re losing to this fear: What is your fear of driving robbing from you? Seeing family and friends? Being involved in things that matter to you?Have you got a licence? If not, why not? What has been holding you hostage?
  • Have a lesson with someone used to anxiety-  This was brilliant for me. I voiced my fears and the instructor helped me face them and find that they weren’t as scary as my mind had made them to be.
  • Get some CBT – Therapy can absolutely help. Often it’s fear of possibility and power that affects us in driving fear. CBT can help you find a way to talk back to these thought patterns and find another argument that makes more sense. Speak to your GP as you may be entitled to a referral.
  • Drive with someone who can reassure you –  If you have a license, find a confident and kind driver friend and ask them to come and sit with you. Talk openly about your intrusive thoughts and your fears and let them argue back to them and support you as you are doing what makes you anxious. Hopefully you’ll be able to ride these waves with them and slowly see the anxiety drop.
  • Embody a confident person – I know a good few confident drivers, so when I’m feeling anxious, I like to ‘pretend’ to be them! It might sound silly, but it helps me. My Dad used to be in the police force so he’s used to racing a flashing car through busy streets and motorways. I try and draw from his confidence and it makes a difference.
  • Breathing – I cannot tell you how much of a difference that breathing can make to the physiological affects of anxiety. Research it and learn some techniques. I’m often doing breathing exercises so determinedly that my toddler asks what I’m doing. It calms the adrenaline and lessens the stress hormone which it turn, slows your mind.
  • Find your mantra – If you find mantras helpful, find one that helps and say it repeatedly when anxious. I do this all the time. Mine is ‘everyone wants to keep their car undented’. I know it sounds funny but it reminds me that people are out for their own safety and will generally do what they can to keep them and me safe too.
  • Drive Slowly – Stay in the slow lane until you WANT to pass, keep to the speed limit or below. It’s better to be slow and safe than people-pleasingly fast and uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I often drive at Grandad pace, annoying those around me. I also tell myself that I can drive behind a lorry on the motorway for the entire duration if I want to! I no longer care if I drive slowly or stall on a roundabout (this has happened many times). If I make someone annoyed, they will get over it. The worst I will endure is a hand gesture or knowledge that they’ve taken home some dinner-table fodder but so be it! What does that say about me? That I’m still learning at 32? Pah. Aren’t we all in some way??
  • Thoughts aren’t facts – What I think and imagine aren’t certainties. Just because I fear death in the car, doesn’t mean it will happen. I’d rather see friends and family and take the minor, minor risk, growing in confidence (and therefore taking even less risk), than be missing out on the life that happens outside a mile radius of my home. I tell myself when I’m seeing visions and going at 69mph on the motorway that these are games my mind plays.
  • The more you do it, the more you disprove your fear – and the more confident you’ll be. I’ve in no way conquered my fear. I’m in acceptance that intrusive thoughts and anxiety will be a part of my life to some degree but I refuse to let them have the power over me to stop me from doing the things I want to. The more I’ve driven, the more these voices have been shown who’s boss and have started to shrivel into nagging little troublemakers. I see them for what they are and that’s where change happens.
  • Set yourself little challenges – Find challenges to set yourself. Drive every day even if for a few minutes. Increase those challenges as time goes on and ask loved ones to support you. Get driving lessons even if you have a licence. Reach out in knowledge that this fear is SO COMMON! It doesn’t have to rule you if you don’t want it to.

You are not alone. You can do this lovely. I’m doing it with you xx

My Reframing Anxiety Course LAUNCHES!

A powerful three-week, self-guided, interactive course designed to help you reframe your anxiety. Suitable for anyone experiencing any level of anxiety.

(Find it here)

After months of kid’s naptimes, weekends and evenings spent hunched over a laptop pouring out everything I know about a topic that sets my heart on fire. Writing down all I’ve learnt from years in lecture theatres and hundreds of hours sat with people as they tell their stories. Metaphors dreamed up in my head, spilled out with fast fingers on clicking keys…Yes, after months, the Reframing Anxiety Course is ready for launch.

Anxiety has woven through my years like a hissing snake. Sometimes a buzzing undercurrent, yet sometimes it overcame like a roaring wave, sucking air from my lungs and drowning all rational words.

Not anymore. It stole enough. I reframed it and reclaimed so much in the process. The course, the words and journalling questions…they’re a map.A signpost that there is so much more for you than this. Whether your anxiety is a distant buzz, or a deafening shout, a compulsion, an intrusive thought, or an elephant on your chest. I’ve written this for you.

So…The Reframing Anxiety Course has launched! A 3-week, self-guided, psychologically-grounded course for those experiencing any level or type of anxiety.

THANK YOU to my husband, my ultimate cheerleader. He has relentlessly facilitated giving me time to write. And stood beside me as I fumbled through the years (and recent days too) practicing all of these things for myself. This wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. THANK YOU to web/graphics extraordinaire Amber of  Ooohlala Your vision, creativity and skill are amazing. THANK YOU to buddy Coley who has lovingly edited my words. And to my Mum (a counsellor herself) and Psych friend Amy, who kindly cast professional eyes over it. And thank you, you guys, for your encouragement, content requests and supports.

So, here’s some more about the course.. (but you can also find it here)

  • 3 week self-guided course
  • Downloadable PDF
  • Covering intrusive thoughts, triggers, self-care, internal dialogue and much more
  • Packed with practical tips and light bulb moments
  • Based on grounded psychotherapeutic insight, clinical work and anecdotal experience
  • Days alternate between in-depth texts to read, and guided-journal points to engage in
  • Take breaks and complete in your own time
  • EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT offer for The Nice Girl Course

The purchase price will entitle you to a single download of the course PDF

For those experiencing financial difficulty, please click on the ‘Additional Information tab’ to read about the discount code.

What type of course is it?

This three-week, self-guided course isn’t an academic course full of references. It’s an amalgamation of my years of Psychotherapy training, personal experience with anxiety, and my client work. Within the course, you’ll discover the advice I give to my clients, alongside my own personal anecdotes. You’ll be encouraged to think, reflect and engage in a way that should start to shift your anxiety and introduce hope.

How does it work?

Each day alternates between a text to read, and some journal points to explore. The text explores a different element of anxiety (such as Intrusive thoughts, knowing your triggers, top tips), and I encourage you to scribble some notes if you wish. The journal points aren’t extensive and don’t require deep thought or essay writing. I’ve designed them to help bring the text to life for you, making it relevant and encouraging you to apply it to your particular circumstances.

The course length is for you to follow or play around with as you wish. You could take longer over the text, add extra days in between for journaling, or take breaks. There is no right or wrong way, just your way. The three weeks is just a guide, and will offer quite an intensive insight. If you need to take your time, please do so.

These concepts, tools, and insights have undoubtedly changed my life and the way that I feel on a daily basis. It’s not a quick fix. A lot of what we speak about will require on-going effort, but bit-by-bit, they will chip away at the power that anxiety has over you. I am excited for you to read the words on these pages, and for the light bulb moments you’ll experience.

Course format

  1. Get your ducks in a row
  2. Journal
  3. Why do I feel anxious? Know your triggers
  4. Journal
  5. Seeing anxiety for what it is
  6. Journal
  7. Anxiety isn’t all bad
  8. Journal
  9. Intrusive thoughts and overthinking
  10. Journal
  11. The most important conversation
  12. Journal
  13. Self-care
  14. Journal
  15. Top tips 1
  16. Journal
  17. Top tips 2
  18. Journal
  19. Slow and steady
  20. Journal
  21. Final thoughts

About Anna

Psychotherapist and passionate Psycho-educator with experience working in GP surgery, private practice and various charities. Speaking, running workshops and writing regularly on topics around maternal mental health, anxiety, depression and advising on general mental wellbeing (e.g. people pleasing, emotional resilience internal dialogue, self-care)

  • Accreditation with the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy)
  • Masters in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Certificate in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2010
  • Undergraduate Degree in Social Psychology – Loughborough University 2004-2007