Anxiety defined by the NHS is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. This is a vague description to somebody who is not familiar with exactly what anxiety is and how people with it are affected. In Scotland more than one in three people are estimated to be affected by mental illness but it’s still such a taboo topic with great reason. Asking somebody with a panic disorder to open up about their biggest fears is probably one of the most stressful things they could imagine. But with experience I’ve learnt the more you reach out the easier things become.
Like most sensitive topics, a lack of education and ignorance usually come with distasteful sweeping comments whether on purpose, or not. Since I can remember I have had social anxiety, a mental health disorder described as a long-lasting fear of social situations, often starting in high school and never leaving you. Although everybody is different.
As I go on to open up my experiences of social anxiety it is important to remember mental health affects everybody in different ways. Some people with anxiety will experience opposite reactions. There is obviously no right or wrong way to get flustered with feelings of fear and worthlessness. Social situations are everyday confrontations when you are around people. You can’t leave the house without being faced with them for me they split into four sections: work, friends and family, social media and love and relationships.
Work can be a challenging atmosphere for anyone especially when you have social anxiety. Having to navigate through a number of complicated relationships with bosses and colleagues. For me the main time my anxiety kicks off at work is when I feel like I am going to be letting somebody else down.
Of all the areas of my life work definitely affects me the least but a couple of years ago it was a different story. I would be terrified of being late to work which made me get ready a ridiculous time beforehand. I experienced having panic attacks trying to drum up the courage to ask for holidays going over and over it, thinking about all the people I would be letting down. When actually the fact a seventeen-year-old in high school needed time off for a holiday after exams from her part-time job was not a big deal, only I saw it like that.
Anything can trigger that unmistakable feeling – the panic attack. Where your throat drops to the bottom of your stomach, sometimes you’re shaking other times you just well up with tears as they start streaming down your face. In both situations you struggle to catch your breath. As what ifs swirl round your head. Then whatever worrying thought is planted there, whatever it was that made you lose yourself to the point where you couldn’t breath. Just lingers waiting to explode out again when you least expect it.
Work can also mean university work, but it is another area I don’t find too difficult. Less than last year now I know a lot more people but things such as speaking in front of seminars or fretting over deadlines can still be difficult. These are common things that anybody could be stressed over. The main difference I find having anxiety is that level of stress but cast across all areas of my life all the time over much more inconsequential situations.
Secondly is friends and family. Having a close group of friends that I can share everything with is super important. My group of friends are incredible, caring and kind people who are aware I have anxiety. The thing that affects me most between anxiety and friendship is the fear of burdening other people, worrying your problems aren’t as important as theirs then feeling selfish and spiralling into self-pity and wallowing as you cut yourself off from the people around you who care about you most. This then leads to guilt of not valuing my friends and being so selfish for making everything about me. I think this is the main reason people really struggle to open up and reach out to someone. I know when I am at my worst despite knowing I should reach out I still prefer to shut off and deal with it on my own. It is so easy to say but for someone who feels like they don’t matter reaching out and telling someone how they feel can be an impossible task.
Social media is a difficult one because it is something that causes a lot of negative thoughts with constantly wondering what people think of me, but at the same time it can be a coping strategy. I have a real problem with over sharing across social media but being able to put out a certain image to the world can make you feel in control. Also my Instagram, 813 photos full is a timeline of times I have felt good about myself, or spent some really amazing times with my friends that I like to remember if I don’t feel so great. If you see the amount of selfies on my Instagram you’d probably think she definitely thinks a lot of herself, but really I spend 80% of my time fighting between my mind telling me I am not good enough. Likes should mean nothing but across social media it seems to be one more way your brain can crave the validation you’re unable to give yourself.
Love and relationships alongside social media and friendships is probably the area that causes me most problems. Possibly because my first relationship was not a particularly positive one, it was full of situations over a long period of time that have left me to this day struggling with my mental health. Following a similar path to how anxiety affects my friendships, in relationships it also prevents me from opening up to people and just generally feeling constantly in self-doubt over whether they want to speak to you, are just feeling sorry for you, or actually like you. Anxiety is not something easy to open up about in new relationships and lack of understanding can leave you in a really difficult position feeling more pathetic than you did in the first place.
Mix the fear of friendships and relationships in a social setting, say a pub crawl with people you don’t know well, or just generally being in a big group of people can lead to me feeling extremely anxious. Which usually goes one of two ways: I get my shit together relax and realise I’m not the worst person ever or two I end up getting extremely drunk to the point where I am not aware of my own thoughts anymore because it is easier than being in a situation which makes you feel stupid, worthless and embarrassing. Usually that leads to more embarrassing bad decisions, self-doubt and the cycle continues.
Loads of people suffer from anxiety alongside depression it is one of the most common mental illnesses. Even if you are not at that point yet where you feel ready to reach out it is so important to find a positive way of managing it rather than hurting yourself. For example for me writing is a space where I feel confident, relaxed and able to go into a world of my own for a while. Try running, football, swimming, watching films, taking care of yourself doing something that makes you happy. It will make all the difference. Nobody is saying it will magic the Anxiety away but it will give you a coping strategy that makes all the difference when 80% of your life is a battle against your own thoughts.
If you think you are suffering from anxiety or any related mental health issues please reach out:
or for emotional support call Samaritans on 116-123.
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