I decided to wait until I was feeling anxious to write this article. It didn’t feel right to try and explain what it’s like to get so anxious that you feel suffocated unless that’s how I’d been feeling all day.
For me, anxiety isn’t a daily battle. But it springs up, normally at least weekly, without warning, bringing paranoia with it as a package deal. When my anxious brain gets fired up, it seems like everyone around me is doing life so much better.
Don’t stress, they say, stop worrying. This is what I might’ve said say to someone in my position, if I didn’t know what it was like to drown in your own thoughts.
It’s easier to blame all the events that may or may not have affected you, or the stress of work or lack of sleep for anxiety, and so much harder than to admit that you simply experience anxiety. Acknowledging the label can be a tough part of the journey.
I’m absolutely not qualified to attempt to resolve anxiety or offer the solution. I just don’t want anyone to feel alone. Sometimes feeling like nobody understands what you’re going through is the worst part.
Out of curiosity, I posted a tweet mentioning that I was seeking some insight from anxiety-sufferers to help with this article.
The tweet garnered a big response.
As it happens, ‘everyone else’ is fighting their own battles too.
I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of friendly strangers that wanted to talk about their anxiety with me. What struck me was the professions of these people. A radio presenter, a life coach, an events manager. People who represent success stories across a variety of industries.
One of the responses was from Nick Elston, a motivational speaker and the entrepreneur behind ‘Talking Anxiety’. Over an email exchange, Nick told me that anxiety hasn’t necessarily become more common in recent years, but that “our nation has suffered behind a stiff upper lip for too long, and is opening up to the conversation now”.
Nick still suffers from anxiety, but told me that public speaking has helped him overcome it. He suggested that there is no ‘perfect candidate’ for anxiety, and that it can and does affect anyone:
“Of the tens of thousands of people that I have spoken to, I have seen anxiety affect people of every background, career and financial situation. I continue to be surprised and shocked by how much it affects everyone in different ways.”
Sarah Cannata is a PR consultant and founding editor of This Woman Can, an organisation which helps girls and women realise and maximise their career potential. She suffers from what she describes as ‘medium anxiety’, and experiences stomach cramps, nervousness and catastrophising. Her coping mechanisms include meditation, listening to music and making sure she has time for herself, but she still struggles to switch off when her mind “races uncontrollably”.
While Nick uses his public speaking as a tool to combat his anxiety and Sarah meditates, many others have their own methods of coping. Personally, I train at the gym, swim, walk and read. Those who don’t know are shocked to hear that I’m ever anxious, contrary to the huge, fluorescent label I imagine is stuck to my forehead sometimes.
We are all going through things in life, and if anxiety has taught me one thing, it’s that you really don’t know what people are dealing with behind closed doors. Anxiety comes in different shapes and sizes. Everyone is different, and that’s fine.
“I think the tides are slowly changing and people are talking more about issues like anxiety, depression and mental health in general,” said Sarah.
The conversation has opened up. Don’t shy away from it. The more people speak about what they’re going through, the less alone we all feel, and the more we can educate ourselves on how to deal with whatever we’re facing. Ask a work mate how they’re feeling. Check in with an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Do your bit where you can.
And if it’s your door that anxiety has come knocking on, remember this: You can be a success. You can be a leader. You can be whatever you damn well want to be.
Be patient with yourself, allow yourself to feel how you feel, and above all, be kind to yourself.