Having dealt with an anxiety disorder since I was eleven, you’d think by twenty one I’d know how to ‘cope’ with it.
Truthfully, I don’t think anyone with an anxiety disorder or suffering from social anxiety ever really knows how to cope with it. It’s something that is always changing and can be difficult to keep on top of.
Each person’s mental health is unique to them but there are strategies that everyone can use to make living with social anxiety and anxiety disorders productive and enjoyable.
For me anxiety is a daily obstacle which affects me from when I wake up to when I go to bed at night. Granted, some days are harder than others but on the whole I get through the day like a functioning person.
The best way I can describe the feeling is like knowing you’ve forgotten something important but not knowing what it is. As a result my brain is constantly buzzing and the lack of concentration means I’m quite scatty and easily panicked.
I’ve always complained of having a loud head and find it incredibly difficult to switch off and relax.
At times it can be torturous with the constant negativity and over thinking. At the worst of times it can push you to your limit and influences the way you think about everything.
However, it’s not always like that. On a good day - and I do have them - the buzz and loudness are still there but I’m able to channel them into something more enjoyable. The anxiousness is overshadowed by enthusiasm. Extreme enthusiasm it may be but it’s an alternative that I’d much rather have.
For me anxiety is living with extremes.
The sadness I can feel is devastating but at the other end of the spectrum, the happiness I’m capable of feeling is so empowering. Some people can’t relate to such extremity and while I envy that they’ve never experienced rock bottom, I consider myself lucky that I know what the high feels like.
Winding down time is a key coping strategy for me. Relaxing is not my strong point. I find it really difficult but there are things I have made part of my evening routine that I think help my busy head slow down a wee bit.
● Logging out of social media apps and putting my phone away at 9ish. Everyone on there has an opinion and the last thing to need are patronising quotes that make you feel worse about yourself.
No screens before bed is a good habit to learn!
● Herbal tea is another thing I go to for an infusion of calm. At night time I like a chamomile and spearmint. It even smells calm.
● Books are a fabulous thing over an overactive imagination. One of the only places that I feel like I’m actually outside of my head is inside a book. These are easy and achievable things to implement into an evening routine. I’m not saying it’s always effective, anxiety tends to slap you in the face and some nights, no matter how hard I try, I cannot switch off.
To say I’m a control freak would be an understatement. I like to know what’s coming and be prepared for things. Naturally, the lack of control we have over life affects my anxiety and I tend to cling to things I can affect.
● I keep a diary of everything from parties to the mundane things like when I need to renew my prescription. I’m a visual person so physically being able to see what my week/month is made of gives me comfort.
● I love a morning routine. Morning is my favourite time of day and knowing what works for me helps start my day off right.
● Lists. I love them. The feeling of ticking off the things you complete is rewarding and a nice way to give yourself credit for things. It’s such an easy way to keep organised and reminds me to do things like packing a bag for the next day to save having to stress about it in the morning.
● Planning also keeps me sane. If I have a night out or something coming up I can get worked up over it and spend most of the lead up dreading it. I like to sort out transport etc beforehand and if it’s somewhere I’ve never been, I’ll look into it so that I know what I’m going to.
Ridiculous though it may seem, it makes me feel easier.
Exercise has been the key for improving mental and physical health with doctors prescribing exercise classes to patients. I wish I could love the gym but it gives me the fear and I avoid it at all costs. For me it’s about getting moving in an enjoyable way. Walking is a life saver for me. The distance I walk isn’t what matters, it’s about getting outside every day, breathing fresh air and surrounded by nature.
The best advice that I could give anyone is to tell someone. For years I kept it all to myself and that did me more harm than good. These things are not always the easiest to speak about but support from others is a huge part of dealing with anxiety disorder and other mental health problems. If we can speak honestly and openly, it will destigmatise the subject and change the discourse around it!
Confiding in close friends and family is a hugely positive step. It’s a comfort and a relief knowing that there is someone there in case you have a panic/anxiety attack. Being honest to people about how you’re feeling or why you’re cancelling plans is liberating and support from others is something to be embraced, not embarrassed about.
Key points that I hope people can take away from this is, find what works for you. Surround yourself with supportive people and things that make you happy for instance books, films, a creative project.
Be kind to yourself.
Social anxiety can affect you in the strangest of ways, acknowledging them is better than ignoring them. Having a warped sense of perspective makes the most insignificant thing seem like a huge obstacle: give yourself credit where it’s due. It’s okay if some days it's too much.