The Misconception of Anxiety
There is a misconception that people with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions are quiet, reserved, introverts. It is difficult for those that can “fake it” to talk about their feelings because they can be thought of as fishing for attention. If you use confidence as a cover up, you may have people arguing with you saying that you are too confident to have anxiety. Where does this leave us with regards to mental health?
Understanding that you are not the only one who goes through it, makes a huge difference. Anxiety can feel like you are getting swallowed by a massive nothingness. It is horrible. You may feel disconnection from the body and a 24/7 sense of dread. The feelings may come and go but the fear of the dread can be intense.
By opening up about your feelings and having someone to listen, you can start to feel better, it seems strange but often by sharing other people begin to open up about their experiences of going through exactly what you are going through. Hearing other people feel the same way makes others feel less alone and abnormal. Struggling with mental health can leave you thinking that you are the only person who feels this way. The more you speak about it and normalise it the better, and everyone needs to remember that it is amazing what a bit of understanding can do.
When hiding anxiety, you may find that people who do not know you think you’re aggressive when you use your defence mechanism to avoid a panic attack. You know you are not aggressive, in fact you view yourself as kind and mature, but if you feel panicked, it automatically leads to overthinking and then stress. You can be viewed as overreacting or be considered a drama queen, when the reality is you are reacting to prevent overreaction.
On the other side of anxiety?
If you are on the other side of this and helping someone with anxiety you may feel like an endlessly forgiving confidant. Everyone else see the capable, confident, high achiever. But you see the mounting anxiety, you are on the receiving end of verbally stroppy, aggressive, irate behaviour as the stress and anxiety grows whilst having to keep smiling for everyone else outside your bubble. You may have to carefully negotiate your way through the damage caused to other relationships. You are exhausted and may find yourself with your own anxiety as you wait for the next episode.
Finding the balance
It can be exhausting to hype yourself up and brainstorm conversation topics to use with people when you go to events. And then when you tell somebody you feel this way they think you are lying because you come across so friendly and bubbly. How can you find the balance between continuing to live without letting it affect you negatively, and how can we support others with feelings of anxiety?
Taking time for yourself to alleviate your anxiety
I once heard an incredibly wise person say, “all confidence is an act”. The stories I hear tend to confirm this. Faking it until you make it is exhausting but the reality is many of us are faking it and many of us may need to fake it forever. I dream of a society where honesty is the norm. Where we can walk into a room of people and say,
“you know what guys; I’m not feeling it today. I am sweating, my heart is racing, I am on the verge of a panic attack, but I want to be here with you all. I’m going to seem a bit different to normal because I have these feelings and I’m letting them be there instead of fighting them, please accept me as I am, I don’t need your help I just need to ‘be’”.
However, until you feel comfortable doing that faking it may be what works for you.
Take some time out before the event
When you know you are going to have to fake it, take some time out before the event to energise yourself. Listen to a hypnosis audio or guided meditation. Ask the people around you to not disturb you for twenty minutes while you do this. Sit or lay somewhere you are comfortable. Remind yourself that for those twenty minutes you can switch off from reality. The audio will help your brain to refocus. A good guided meditation or hypnosis audio will use words that reconnect your mind and body so that they can work as one again. If you do not have access to an audio you trust, see my quick fix session for anxiety.
Journaling involves writing, and then exploring your thoughts and feelings. Within your journal you can express your gratitude. The writing of your thoughts and feelings can help you to clarify what you are experiencing and what you need. The expression of gratitude helps to strengthen the positive pathways in your brain that enable you to think more positively all the time.
Take a walk
When you are feeling your most anxious give yourself regular breaks. Toilet breaks can be a good way to have 5 minutes out but even better would be to go for a short walk. It is acceptable to tell people that you find situations overwhelming and you like to take some time out alone every hour or so. Go for a short walk, sit in your car for ten minutes. There are many options when you give yourself permission to do it.
If you are the listening ear do the same. You can support somebody whilst maintaining boundaries. Explain that you are becoming overwhelmed and you need some time out but once you have reenergised you will be back to give your full support. Use the same techniques.
Talk to others
Pop to a local shop if possible so that you can chat with other people or phone a friend. Patty Wipfler, in her hand in hand parenting book suggests listening partnerships. This is something you can investigate further, essentially a listening partnership involves two people that have an agreement to actively listen to each other for short periods of time, as little as 5 minutes – no longer than one hour. Active listening does not involve giving advice, suggestions, or opinions. Whilst the listening partnership should always happen regularly, regardless of need, once you have a listening arrangement, you can ask your listening partner for five minutes of their time when you need it spontaneously.
Use your senses
Use your senses to bring your front brain to the foreground. When you are in a state of anxiety your front brain will start to switch off as the back, reptilian brain takes over – trying to keep you safe. When you are taking your five-minute walk touch things that you pass and notice what they feel like. Look at what is around you and explore it with your eyes. See if you can smell anything, you could even carry a hankie with a few drops of essential oil on it. Listen to the sounds and notice what you hear. If you have any nibbles mindfully eat something. Noticing the texture, the change in taste as you chew more. Reactivating the front brain in this way helps to move your body from the anxious danger state into an everyday state.
And remember that when you share how you feel it often helps other people to share the similarities in how they feel. This can be overwhelming if you feel obliged to be their support network but reassuring when you are feeling alone and separate from the rest of the World.