Anxiety and Self-Care: Advice From a Professional Worrier
In 2019, ‘anxiety’ seems like a buzz word, a catch-all, a label to latch on to. In fairness, it can seem like anxiety has become a substitute word for worry or concern or mild, temporary feelings of disconcertion.
I have anxiety. I’ve probably had it for years but I only recognised it at age 17/18. Have you heard of the saying “making a mountain out of a molehill”? Well I take that molehill and I raise you a mountain range. When I was first told in a phone consultation that it seemed very likely I had generalised anxiety disorder I felt weirdly relieved. I was at a point in my life where I was starting to feel a little as though I was going mad. Rationalising my thought processes and feelings as anxiety was, and is, freeing. It means I am able to challenge myself, even when the feeling persists I can at least reassure myself that it will pass.
I probably know almost as many people with some form of anxiety disorder as I know people without one. The more cynical of us hear someone refer to their “anxiety” and immediately question the legitimacy of it- after all it’s not a tangible ‘thing’. I remember my secondary school English teacher raising the issue of mental health once when studying Macbeth or more specifically the psychological effects that murder had on Lady Macbeth (yes this is random but bear with me). Her original point was about trauma in the play and the frightening way mental illness can take hold without anyone really understanding it. Obviously, this was framed in the context of the play, but it did spark a discussion about mental illness in general.
She talked about how even today, mental illness isn’t taken as seriously as it should be because it isn’t concrete. She said when someone breaks a bone, no one questions the injured person if it actually is broken. No one accuses a kid at school with a cast on as being “dramatic”. You take it at face value because you understand what it is, and you know that if you break a bone, it will heal. It was a silly lesson tangent and was probably inconsequential to most of the class but it still resonates with me years later. Mental health isn’t a broken bone you can X-Ray and have back to normal in a matter of weeks. And this makes it a hard topic to talk about.
The older generations often criticise us, the millennials and generation z, for being unable to cope with the mundane. We have been branded the “anxiety generation”, lacking the stoicism and bounce-back-ability of our older relatives. However, what a lot of the people fail to realise is that times have changed a lot in the last 50, 30, even 10 years, with the advancement in technologies and uncertain political climate that seems to make the future even more undetermined. I don’t mean to be bleak, but how can anyone blame us for being anxious when our futures aren’t promised in the way our parents’ were? We can’t afford houses, our governments are completely out of touch with the electorate (don’t get me started on Brexit) and the planet is in literal flames around us. The collective anxiety in these uncertain times is surely the only logical reaction? Not to mention the effects that newer technologies and social media have on us, by design or not, they are fueling people with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I have anxiety because of my Instagram app or because of Boris being at number 10. Anxiety is genetic/chemical as much as it is environmental, and not really something I have my head around fully yet, but with the rise of anxiety disorders in young people it does suggest that it is a bigger issue than just a medical one. While there are limited means I can take to change the world just to stop getting stressed, I do recognise the impact of social media. I am probably addicted to twitter and Instagram and while one day I like to think I’ll be able to strike a healthier balance with them, I currently try to avoid certain sites when I’m feel particularly anxious and to also not engage in any way with apps that track followers. It may seem insignificant but so many people have some reliance on the validation social media gives them. So if I had one big self-care tip, it would be to evaluate your own relationship with these apps and seeing how you can become independent from them.
I have a few other techniques for reducing my own levels of anxiety when I’m in the thick of it. One such way is watching stand up comedy- for some reason I find Sarah Millican particularly relaxing (maybe because she’s a fellow Geordie). Watching stand-up comedy just seems to lift me out of whatever I’m feeling and although I can’t say it will work for everyone, I found it works for me.
I also like to talk to my Mum, or failing that my sisters or friends. This technique is universal and I would recommend anyone reading this to talk more about your feelings, whether you have anxiety or not. Ensuring you have good people in your life is just good advice generally, but it's also important to have people you can open up to when you do need help. Asking for help is never something to be ashamed of yet so many people seem unable to do it.
My final piece of advice for self-care is organisation. Organising yourself can feel impossible sometimes, but where possible, try and help yourself out by getting on top of things. Whether it is tidying your room, being on top of work/school obligations or exercising to increase motivation, feeling in control does to tend to help. There are so many other things you can do to alleviate anxiety, but these are just a few I find personally useful.
And just a note to end on; as well as checking in on yourself, check in on others. Ask how the people in your life are doing and if you are mentally in a head-space where you can help them out then do so. It is always worth remembering that just because you see someone’s head above water it doesn’t mean that they aren’t paddling furiously to stay afloat. We are all on this earth together and all have to navigate life together, so we may as well help one another out along the way. :)