Friday, 19 May 2017

Anxiety vs Nerves


Anxiety is something that I can’t remember not ever having. A few years ago I didn’t even know that anxiety was a thing, I just thought I was weird and called it my ‘funny feeling’. Then I saw it being talked about more and more online, and spoke to my Auntie, a Gestalt Psychotherapist, about it and we figured out what it was. As it’s mental health awareness week, I thought it was a suitable time for me to shed light on my experience and some vital things I’ve learnt about looking after your mental health. 

As I’ve grown up I’ve met both in real life and online many people who battle with mental health issues. I am lucky in that the only illness that affects me directly is anxiety. I always found it quite a strange term as it is often used loosely (e.g. the Kardashian family commonly devaluing the term by throwing it into every other sentence). It’s important to distinguish the difference between nerves and anxiety. It is very normal to get butterflies before a test. It’s not normal however to fake being ill because it’s raining outside and you’re too scared to go to school because you have to go outside into the rain. It’s normal to get jittery and feel sick before an interview. It’s not normal however to get yourself so worked up about the likelihood of your food making you ill that you’re physically sick before you even get to the restaurant. The fundamental thing to remember about anxiety, and that I’ve come to realise, is that it comes in many different forms and is triggered by many different things. No one will experience the same kind of anxiety. And this is the vital difference between nerves and anxiety.

Personally, I experience 3 different types of anxiety.

The full blown panic

I rarely have full on anxiety or panic attacks now as these are triggered by situations I can’t get out of. I’ve come to learn how to manage this, for example focusing on breathing whilst I’m on a busy train, or putting my earphones in and focusing on every single lyric when I’m on a bus that is running late. However sometimes, the combination of multiple panic factors (i.e. being stuck on a boat in the middle of the sea, huge waves that even the skipper is worried about, the only way to get to safety is to endure a long wet scary boat ride to shore) bring on an overwhelming panic in my body that make me so stiff that I can’t move, I struggle to breath, I want to be sick but I can’t etc. 

The ‘weird feeling’

My earliest memories are due to this trigger. Speaking with my Auntie we think a situation may have happened when I was really young where I was outside in rain and/or dark on my own feeling scared. This may sound strange as it definitely does as I’m writing this, but since then, I get an overwhelming anxious want and need to be inside in a safe place when I’m outside and it’s raining and/or cold and windy.

Day-to-day triggers

I feel like this is how anxiety is commonly experienced, nerves brought on by a certain trigger such as a place I’m in, food, people, being late, that develop into anxiety.

Like many others, I initially tried to manage anxiety by avoiding situations I knew would trigger it. Even though I’ve moved to Australia, which for someone with anxiety seems like a ridiculous choice, I feel very safe thanks to having my boyfriend here every day. I’ve also been working on my perspective of how we, as a society, think and speak about mental health. We spend so much money looking after our skin and body and house and pets, but how much time do we spend looking after our mental state? Mental illness is often degraded as a weakness or something you can throw pills at and it will go away. It’s also not a problem that is physically noticeable to those on the outside.


Whilst ‘taking a chill pill’ isn’t always the best advice, calming the f**** down has helped me a lot this year and put things into perspective. Remembering that anxiety comes in different shapes and sizes for everyone is super important, as well as raising the awareness that everyone is fighting their own mental demons.

Whilst all these crazy triggers and things spiral out of control and morph into panics that are so far from the real situation at hand, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. Those who know me well remind me so often of how quickly I can create a mountain out of a mole hill. When I get anxious I imagine some crazy minion style people running round in my head screaming and over-reacting. Similar to how some people react when they notice a bee and scream and run a few miles. Although this time it's because the bus I'm on is running late and I might only be 5 minutes early instead of 20. These crazy thought minions though don't define me and they don't define my choices.

Speaking to others (although this seems so ridiculous as the thought of speaking about something you're struggling with can often trigger anxiety) about what's going through your mind at that second can really help relieve some of the over-reacting minions running around in your head. Talking is always recommended because off loading all your worries and made up problems and barriers in your mind can help you unpick what the real fears that you've conjured up are.

Taking care of your mind and taking time for your mind is just as important as taking time on your make up or your hair. And really, your mind is arguably one of the only things that is in it for the long run. 
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