Anxiety is f*cking horrendous
This was a hard one to write because it elicits many emotions (anger, shame, regret) about my relationship with anxiety and how it’s so often misunderstood by those around me.
If I tell a friend that I suffer from anxiety and am given nothing but a dazed look I immediately close off, ashamed and about as comfortable as a fresh sunburn in midday heat.
Then, I can no longer be honest when I hate the bar we’re in. I just let it fester inside of me, hiding the truth, before a flash of panic strong arms me into shouting “this bar is fucking shit and I hate every single person in here”.
Friends now think I’m unreasonable, and because I didn’t confess “I’m anxious”, who could blame them?
Instead of being able to say: “I’m feeling anxious today, please ease off me for a while.”
This happens: “Wow, Joe is crazy. I’m going to back away slowly now and keep him at arm’s length.”
Sometimes I want to tell my friends to fuck off for their lack of understanding and I’m sure they would say, “ditto”
Look, it’s frustrating for anxiety sufferers and their friends/family/coworkers/pet goldfish. Both sides need to be confident and comfortable enough to communicate.
Because David is so helpful, dedicated and awesome, I asked him how to best respond to the standard cliches that us with anxiety are given all too often:
Cliche: Just don’t worry about it. Relax.
My usual response: Do you think I want to fucking worry about it? If it was that easy I’d stop right now, idiot.
What happens: They get angry at my “childish reaction” which makes me even more angry, creating an endless cycle of exchanging expletives between one another.
David’s suggested response: The key point for me is to get across is that mental health isn’t a light bulb one can just switch off. Most mental health conditions aren't apparent to those around you. Often sufferers will hide their symptoms for fears of being judged.
Anxiety is a stress response. It's how the brain automatically responds to signs of danger.
Anxiety can also instantly turn to panic and feelings of terror, with massive amounts of the hormone adrenaline being released. Here, our fight or flight, and freeze mechanism is being activated.
Worry plays an important part in protecting us. Without it we might never take the green cross code seriously.
Pretty much all worry is future focused. You're scanning possible future events and bringing a scenario back in the present to analyse it.
Immediately, you’re starting to play the ‘What If’ game and will be negatively biased in so doing (Confirmation Bias). Nothing positive comes from this process, as you’re only really interested in proving that you’re right. The more you drive the problem downwards, the more you spook yourself into finally believing that you’re f*cked! So what starts off as an anxiety, starts turning into a depressive thought: I'm f*cked!
It's important to grasp that in scanning into the future and worrying over a possible event, one really needs to focus upon one point: it hasn’t happened yet, and therefore there are few, if any, facts to it. All that you’re doing is analysing an opinion. So you’re spooking the bejeezus out of yourself over nothing because it hasn’t happened – yet!
People who tend to operate more from the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) domain of their Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), will tend to be vulnerable to worry and depression. Adrenal fatigue and Cortisol levels are also a factor in this. In seeking to hold back the adrenal calvary from being let lose into a full charge, one needs to recognise the symptoms of this all too familiar pattern of negative events that are about to be unloaded
So STOP - Disengage! See a big red STOP sign in your head. Notice your heart rate and how it’s starting to rise. Step back. Start working through a 7 second deep breathing cycle (in through your nose, out through your mouth). Continue doing this for several minutes as you notice your heart rate starting to stabilise.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I reacting to?
- Is this fact…supported by evidence, or is this just an opinion I’m focusing upon here?
- Am I overestimating the danger, while underestimating my abilities to cope?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen and how important is this anyway?
- Is this worry just crystal ball gazing?
- Is there another perspective to this worry?
- Can I find a way of visualising the situation positively?
Adrenaline has been released and we need to burn it off. Disengage, and if possible, go out for a short burst of sprint running around the block. Should you live in a tall building, the emergency stairs are also ideal. There are many ways of burning off adrenaline once released, I’ll go into them on in a later article.
Cliche: Why are you so quiet?
My usual response: I’m just not in the mood to be here or talk to anyone right now. Leave me alone.
What happens: They’ll usually leave me alone, but when I’ve calmed down and want to talk to them again they’ll feel like they’re walking on eggshells.
David’s suggested response: Life can be a smooth and gentle wave for some, a rollercoaster for others.
Ask yourself this question: what do I want out of a relationship?
Where are my boundaries and how compatible are these with the person I’m in this relationship with? Do they absolutely clearly add definable value to my life?
Turning to someone and asking whether they’re okay or not can be viewed as good manners, at the very least. However, for some, they just want to have a bad day! It’s often best to accept it and remove yourself from the situation.
Cliche: Everyone gets anxious, stop using it as an excuse.
My usual response: This hurts me so much.
What happens: They continue doing it because I haven’t been able to explain to them the difference between feeling anxious and suffering from anxiety.
David’s suggested response: A broken leg is visible and some wish to sign their name upon the cast. On the other hand, when the brain becomes stuck it’s easy to unstick it, right?? Your anxiety is invisible and few want to genuinely help you!
Many times I hear clients talk about loved ones coming out with the “everyone gets anxious” accusation. Of course, they mean well, yet often fail to grasp that they’re adding additional unnecessary pressures on those suffering, contributing to them feeling even worse. As with a broken leg in a medical setting, qualified therapists can diagnose a mental health issue and treat it accordingly. Seeking professional therapy will help your friends and family understand that the problem is more than fleeting feelings of anxiety.
Those around you that don’t understand anxiety won’t recognise why you react negatively. Follow David’s advice (STOP, deep breaths, remove yourself from the situation) to help you to cope without hurting your relationships.
Saying that, if your friend really doesn’t try to understand and continue to make your life difficult they’re clearly not right for you and you should break away from them calmly and maturely. Or, if you’re like me, just tell them to fuck off.