Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished reading Lena Dunham’s book, or maybe it’s because it’s a new year and a fresh start, or maybe it’s because I think writing this might help both me and - best case scenario - others. But here’s a post that’s not about tech, or brands, but about something real. It’s about anxiety.
If depression is like a black cloud, sucking the life force out of you, then anxiety is like fire. It has an all-consuming energy that flares through you - terrifying, overpowering and, in a pyromaniacal way, kind of impressive. I am a very anxious person. Sometimes I think about the phrase “suffer from anxiety”, but “suffer” is too meek a word, too Little Women for my liking. I “vibrate”/”labour under”/”battle against”/ “go mano-a-mano” with anxiety.
It seems that, while depression is slowly becoming more accepted, there’s quite a bit of a stigma attached to anxiety. People who’ve not encountered it assume it’s a low-level problem, like tiredness or PMS. That it’s something not worth really bothering about, or understanding. Cured with a hug and a good night’s sleep. But, while it’s different entirely from depression, its hold can be just as strong. I’m getting better at accepting it in myself, but there’s been times when I felt that I’d finally ticked over into Proper Do-Lally and there was no going back. I’ve known other anxious people who’ve had to take serious time off work, or breathe into paper bags before meetings, or disappeared entirely into a safe little cave of drink and drugs and not come out for months.
Here’s some bad things that have happened when I’ve been really anxious
- Not gone to parties
- Gone to parties, but then left again fairly quickly
- Got off buses because I can see germs in the air
- Told people that my neighbours don’t like noise, when really I feel sick at the thought of shoes in the house
- Lost it at an airport because I couldn’t fulfil my pre-flight rituals down to the letter
- Lost it in an underground car park because I was running ten minutes late for a hair appointment
- Lost it outside of an office in Poland right before a major meeting, and had to brush my teeth in a hedge. Long story.
- Not gone to sleep without the radio on for years. Like, twenty years
- Been a frustrating and demanding housemate, daughter and girlfriend
- Cried on approximately 80% of London’s streets
- Quit jobs
- Sold my car on a whim
- Had dinner with an Uber driver
Here’s some of the good things that have happened when I’ve been really anxious
- Written blog posts
- Thrown myself into work
- Fully committed to side-projects
- Backed up my devices, archived photographs, got good home insurance deals
- Quit jobs
- Sold my car on a whim
- Made my own granola
- Got really into bikram yoga/tennis/cycling/ hip-hop dance/working out
- Become an expert on making it all look effortless
That last one, become an expert on making it all look effortless, is a trick. It’s the one you think is a good thing, but it’s not, it’s a bad thing. This has been the biggest shift for me when it comes to managing anxiety. And kind of why I wanted to write this post. Noone is perfect and anyone who seems to be is probably a very tortured, anxious person and quite a tricky character to hang around with.
On the face of it, I have, do, and achieve a lot. Some of that’s down to good fortune, and loved ones, and a solid work ethic. But that extra bit which I know makes people feel a little sick, that comes from the anxiety. It’s the response to a constant feeling of not doing enough, not achieving enough, not being quite enough to the people around me. It’s no coincidence that the two words I use most often are “guilt” and “perfect”. Feeling guilty, trying to be perfect. And when I feel really guilty, and really imperfect, down I go. Awake all night, crying all morning, getting up to no good - literally fizzing with a toxic energy that’s difficult to diffuse.
So what helps? If you’re feeling like this, or know someone who’s acting suspiciously perfect but leaving parties before the fun starts, here’s some tips…
- Exercise. The feeling associated with anxiety is caused by too much adrenaline rushing around your body. Physically, your body is acting as though you are in great danger and releasing the “fight or flight” hormone. You do not need the “fight or flight” hormone to proof-read a Power Point presentation or bake a cake. You just don’t. So go put it to use elsewhere by running about a bit.
- Straight-talking. Weirdly enough, praise and reassurance don’t help anxiety. Anxious people respond well to tough-love and brutal honesty. They are also great in a crisis what with all that adrenalin.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I’ve had a few rounds of this in my time. It’s very practical and provides useful, in-the-moment strategies for coping with high anxiety. Hashtag tapping.
Now I’m really starting to ask myself why I wanted to write this and put it online. I’m getting anxious. The truth is that I’ve watched a couple of videos about anxiety lately that helped a lot, and I would like to be a part of that. I’ve seen many others coping with anxiety - especially in our industry, especially young women. And I’ve been so appreciative of those around me who’ve worked to understand it. To understand me. This isn’t a cry for help or attention, but a love letter to acceptance and imperfection. Happy 2015!