I live with anxiety and depression. It’s not all consuming but it’s there, and it’s something I’m forever refining my coping strategies for. I deliberately say ‘live with‘ rather than ‘suffer from‘ because some how using the term ‘suffer‘ in reference to my own life… feels like a frightening self full-filling prophecy.
Anxiety vs Nervousness or Stress
It’s hard to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t live with it. People often believe it’s the same as being nervous, or stressed and don’t understand the crippling, strangling feeling that unexplainable panic can bring. Yes, in some situations feeling a little anxious is totally normal, things like public speaking or sitting an exam tend to make most people feel nervous. However, what separates my anxiety from stress or bog-standard worry, is that the intensity is considerably out of whack to the actual likelihood or even possible impact of the event or events.
Yes, a certain amount of anxiety is normal or even helpful… it helps you get shit done, and to react accordingly to external stresses or potential threats (think bears, bullies and boogie monsters), but where normal worry or nervousness usually calms once the moment has passed, anxiety tends to fester and consume energy.
A lot of my own social anxiety steams from lack of self-confidence and my own self doubt, something which I know annoys friends and family to no end. Unfortunately confidence can’t just be flicked on like a switch… and self-doubt is often hard to chase away. There are times when I employ the ‘fake it till I make it‘ technique, but that can get tiresome, and there are times when I’m totally fine. I know for a fact, that I am quite literally my own worst enemy, but I’m working on it.
At the moment I’m journalling what is actually making me anxious, and using a written mediation technique from Byron Katie, unpicking the situation and discrediting the source of my anxiousness. This technique was shared to us by Emily (maniesting_junkie) as part of the Reclaim Your Radiance 12 week workshop I’m currently doing and it’s gone a long way to help squashing thoughts that were repeat offenders.
The things I say to myself, I would never direct at another person. Something I’m really good at telling myself that people don’t like me… and then blowing the impact of that waaaaaay out of proportion, when in reality, I should be able to shrug it off and tell myself …. ‘who cares‘?
My Personal Journey with Anxiety
In my most anxious or depressed moments, social interactions can feel fractured, labour intensive and confusing. I feel under a microscope, with a million things to say, conversations to have and questions to ask, but with almost no ability to talk or communicate. I find that sound can feel amplified, yet muffled at the same time and totally overwhelming. It feels a lot like sensory overload…. like too many different radio stations playing all at once.
It’s not uncommon to have “social anxiety” and tend to feel an extreme sense of panic, confusion and worry around interacting with other people. It’s probably easy for others to take my social anxiety personally, and mistake awkwardness for rudeness and deliberate avoidance. It’s easy to read too much into my lack of conversation, lack of eye contact, and lack of interaction and assume it’s something personally directed at you, when in fact I’m just feeling the effects of social anxiety.
My social anxiety steams largely from thoughts around being judged by others, or worried about what people will say or think or about you. However, it’s also much more than that, it’s a sick, crushing feeling mixed with a very real sense of fear and worry that can be coupled with a number of physical symptoms including shaking, stomach pains, headaches and brain fog.
I know in the past people have mistaken my own anxiety for rudeness or dislike, and people have taken exception to my inability to make chit-chat or even walk across the room and say hi. Knowing people could misunderstand my intentions just increases my anxiety and there have been times in my life where I’ve lost sleep over this and worried myself sick… mulling over interactions again and again and again. My anxiety eventually becomes a wee loop, feeding off lack of sleep, multiplying and intensifying.
It took me a long time to make peace with the fact, that not everybody is going to understand and not everybody is going to be forgiving of my awkwardness. I’m often still trying to tell myself that ultimately “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea” and if someone wants to take exception then that’s their decision.
Some days I listen to myself. Some days I don’t.
Living with Anxiety
Anxious moments don’t generally occur at convenient times, I still have a life to live and things to do… like work, social occasions and family events. I while I’m happy to acknowledge when I need to skip an event in order to self-reset and avoid being overrun by anxiety, I do also try to avoid letting my anxiety hold me prisoner.
Equally unfair, anxiety and depression can come with a whole host of physical symptoms (insert a sarcastic ‘yay!’) including difficulty sleeping, stomach pains, diarrhoea, shortness of breath and headaches.
It’s still been a while since I’ve felt completely overrun with anxiousness, but I do still have anxious moments or days when I feel in a state of constant high-alert, with my heart beating out of my chest. At times my anxiety leaves me feeling physically drained and exhausted, all my energy and focus has become directed at fighting off feelings of panic, worry and fear, while still trying to function as an adult.
I’ve learned that although it doesn’t fix things and erase anxiety, employing some grounding techniques can often minimise the sense of panic and help me refocus. The idea being, to think of things beyond myself and instead focus on the environment I’m in… can I hear the clicking of keys on the keyboard? can I hear the hum of the office printer? Can I hear my footsteps crunching on the gravel?
I try to explain myself clearly, in order to avoid misunderstandings, but I’m not responsible for how each and every person interprets a situation. Understanding and acknowledging someone’s anxiety takes a certain degree of emotional intelligence and can be a really foreign concept for some people, and that’s okay.
Each persons approach and requirements around anxiety is different. Introvert. Extravert. Whatever-you-vert. There isn’t a quick fix, single-solution or one correct ‘remedy‘. The important thing for anyone living with Anxiety, is knowing when to seek professional help, and taking the time to understand what helps (or doesn’t help) set you back on the right track.
Some great pieces from people living with Anxiety:
- Empty And Anxious: Life With Anxiety – National Alliance on Mental Illness provides advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.
- Anxious Lass – A personal blog about mental health with a specific focus on social anxiety.
- Anxiety United – a brilliant magazine style space with an amazing amount of information.