Having experienced anxiety since the age of zero, I've had a wide variety of experiences with health professionals and therapists.
Now, actually kind of by accident, I am a therapist and while I am well enough to be a therapist (and wouldn't do this job if I wasn't) my anxiety is definitely an aspect of myself that has affected how I provide therapy to others.
When a client comes to me and explains their mental health, one of two things can happen.
The first is serious therapist mode, usually when the client needs really firm boundaries and has really high risk behaviours of concern.
The second is friendly therapist mode, usually when the client has a level of anxiety I can relate to and isn't as much of a risk to themselves and others.
I typically have some idea of which it will be, but humans can still surprise the shit out of me.
Fortunately, my brain has the capacity to go into "therapist mode" either way so during the session, it doesn't affect my approach (and I would undoubtedly not do this job if it did).
If anything I like to think it makes me more empathetic and less judgemental, particularly a few sessions in when appropriate disclosure can be used to normalise the fact they are in therapy (because I am too).
Where my anxiety lets me down, is afterwards:
After a session with my 13 year old client who has to go home where she lives with an abusive father and no child protection response.
After a session with my 18 year old client who wants to commit suicide and has to rely on her historically abusive parents to keep her safe.
After a session with my 22 year old client who frequently dissociates and finds herself in extremely precarious situations.
After a session in which all I can do is make a safety plan and hope when I get back to work the next day, the client is still at least as okay as I left them.
It's after these sessions that I ruminate, fidget, withdraw, and (much to my partner's dismay) become super agitated and generally unpleasant.
So, in these post-session moments, here are the strategies your friendly neighbourhood anxious therapist uses for coping.*
Mindfulness is not synonymous with meditation.
Instagram is flooded with people recommending the most mundane versions of mindfulness.
Sitting in a room listening to an audio recording of someone telling me to concentrate on the noises around me or how my body feels actually makes me more anxious.
I've worked with young people who literally hyperventilate when trying breathing techniques because (shock!) not everything works for everyone.
And no, journaling is not mindfulness.
In its most literal sense, mindfulness just means bringing your awareness to your current mental and emotional state to give your brain a break.
You can do this while you are doing literally anything.
The most effective way is to do small things throughout your day because otherwise it's just effort added to your day.
Instead, try counting cracks on the pavement or the bubbles when you wash the dishes.
See what shapes you can find in the clouds or branches of nearby trees.
My personal favourite is counting my partner's beard hair or the curls on my cavoodle.
Yes, your mind will wander and yes, that's okay.
Two minutes is better than no minutes.
Tune into your sensory preference and use it!
I'm the type of anxious that means I'm constantly restless and it's exhausting.
So, I am drawn to weighted blankets and coarse materials for comfort.
My favourite item is an aluminium wire ring that I roll up and down my finger that has helped me immensely during anxiety inducing interactions.
For other people, this could be soft blankets, plush toys, showers, or even nothing touching them at all.
It might be music, stretching, tearing paper, or that age old gem - popping bubble wrap.
It's very likely you already do something that satisfies this preference, you just haven't figured out how valuable it can be when you're anxious.
Step back and use some perspective.
There's a very easy to apply technique for when you have those negative self-talk moments after awkward social interactions, comments from unthoughtful people, or just when you're having a bad day.
Ask yourself: If a friend came to you and explained the same situation and negative self-talk, how would you respond to them?
Usually the answer to this question will be that their negative self-talk just isn't true, and if that's the case for your friends, it's almost certainly the case for you.
For example, you go on a date and think it went well but they ghost you.
Your brain might go 'what's wrong with me?' or, like me, you may strain your hippocampus reliving the date in an attempt to figure out what you did wrong.
So, how would you respond to your friend if they were in this situation?
You'd probably say 'their loss, babes' or 'you probably dodged a bullet' or (my personal favourite), 'need me to kill them for you?'
There's no rulebook that says you can't be your own friend.
It takes time, but when it works, it works… and if it doesn't work, go tell a friend to get extra reinforcement.
Don't be afraid to seek professional help.
Most of my clients are absolutely floored when I tell them I not only have my own therapist, but am on anti-anxiety medication.
Then, I explain it's the only way I can actually do my job well, and remind them I'm human too.
Speaking to most GP's about mental health comes with either dismissal or invalidation, however this absolute trash system means it is necessary.
Necessary, but momentary.
So take a deep breath, have someone supportive on standby to call afterwards, and do the damn thing.
So yes, I have anxiety and yes, I am a therapist.
My post-session anxiety is because I am human, and I am lucky enough to be able to try all these strategies before I give them to my clients.
So I know not everything works for everyone, sometimes things need to be tailored, and more importantly, that anxiety sucks.
*While I hope they might be helpful for you, this in no way replaces professional advice from a mental health professional. If you feel you need support, go to your GP, get a mental health care plan, and find a counsellor or psychologist to talk through things.