I suffer from anxiety.
Today (10th October 2017) is World Mental Health Day. I’ve rarely discussed my anxiety, even with close friends or family. But I’ve learnt over the years that talking about it openly means you find shared experiences and learning from other people in the same situation.
In its mildest form my anxiety is daft, and sometimes I can laugh and see the funny side of it. But in its darkest form it is debilitating and destructive and has physical side effects too. Anxiety is basically nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying but all of the time and for things that don’t deserve those feelings.
I used to have panic attacks. I remember once being on a bus through Brighton and feeling the most intense form of dread. There was no reason for it, no perceivable trigger, but I knew right there and then I needed to get off that bus. As we meandered through the busy streets of the city centre this feeling grew stronger and gradually enveloped my whole being. I could feel the blood draining from me and a cold sweat over my whole body. I had to get off that bus. Something bad was going to happen. The next stop felt like forever, but once I was off the bus and walking through the streets the feeling passed pretty quickly.
I am fortunate that in recent years the panic attacks have become rarer, but I still get them occasionally, mostly at night as I like awake, my head full of the stupidest of worries each becoming more resonant, fighting and drowning out the quieter voice that says I’m being silly worrying about such things. My heart rate increases and soon the cold sweat and feeling of dread that something is terribly wrong arrives.
In some ways my anxiety limited my life over the years – I would dismiss things before even trying them because of the fear of the worst. My heart was ambitious but my mind would overrule it by throwing all kinds of hurdles in the way and I’d give up before I’d started because the worry would become too much. I’d push things, and indeed people, to the periphery.
For many years I worked in radio. A cut-throat industry where everyone was out for themselves and backstabbing was rife to try and further their own career. I shouldn’t have taken this personally – looking back it was clearly just primeval survival of the fittest – but I always let it get to me and convinced myself I was all of the things I’d hear about myself secondhand from the backstabbers. This fuelled my anxiety. It made me question everything about what I loved and begin doubt my own skills and abilities. Many anxiety sufferers talk about feeling a fraud when it comes to the work environment and it was almost a relief to hear that this was a normal part of the condition. I was lucky to work with some brilliant colleagues who acted as mentors and gave me the reassurance that this wasn’t the case and pushed me to continue.
With time and experience I became brave. I followed my goal to my dream career in TV even though at all stages I thought I was out of my depth and a fraud even thinking I could do it. Winning three awards for what I did helped me realise I could do it and I was pretty good at what I did. But anxiety was always there trying to convince me otherwise. I just wish it hadn’t prevented me from following that dream much earlier on in my life.
I’m not always self aware and I’m grateful to be able to surround myself with friends who are honest with me and tell me when I’m being an idiot. I value and trust these friends so much and am so grateful to them for gently herding my along the right path sometimes.
With anxiety the words “Don’t Worry” are empty and useless. Dealing with anxiety is different for everyone but there have been some key things that have helped me.
- Learning that there are things that you can influence and things you can’t. Focus only on the things you can influence as wasting your energies on the others will just drain you unnecessarily and takes your coping attention away from those you can.
- Find a work/life balance. I got a work mobile and a personal mobile, switched the former off during non-working hours and took my work emails off my phone. Companies don’t pay you to worry out of hours and therefore don’t deserve your worrying energy!
- Walking is brilliant. I started walking an hour a day and the positivity of losing some weight alongside feeling refreshed and free really helped my mind settle.
- Hypnosis recordings can help at night. There are quite a few on youtube, including some with ASMR – something I’ll cover in a later blog post. It may take a while to discover what works for you but persevere, because once you’ve found some you’ll find yourself drifting off before you’ve even finished the recording!
- Talk. I cannot emphasise this one enough. Talk to your boss. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Tell them how you feel. Don’t be worried or ashamed. This stuff happens to loads of people. Talking about it helps others understand why and how you might react and they can be there for you when it gets a bit too much.
- Make lists. If you worry at night, write the worries down on your phone or a pen and pad by the bed. Set aside time the next day to focus on them, sorting them into the ones you can influence, the ones you can’t, and the absolutely ridiculous ones. By doing so, the worries become more manageable.
I hope that some of these points might help you if you suffer in any way. Please share the article and don’t be frightened to talk to someone if you feel things get a bit on top of you in any way.