Everybody gets a bit anxious about something coming up that they be worried about, say an exam or driving test, but I could never imagine being anxiety-free. How lovely it would be to walk up to someone and say ‘hi’ without any worries at all. Or go to a shop assistant and ask them where something is, which is probably one of the most challenging things for me. All of these are example of things I can’t do because of my anxiety.
More people are talking about their mental health than ever. A lot of people are talking about having anxiety and some say it’s become somewhat of a trend. It’s actually a debilitating condition that can make everyday life difficult, with complex diagnosis and treatment. Everyone’s anxiety is different, and below is my experience with it.
I’ve never been the most extroverted person, and probably never will be. But the examples I gave at the top of this post are just some of how my anxiety affects me. I don’t have “traditional” panic attacks by crying and hyperventilating, but this picture below demonstrates other ways of anxiety manifesting someone.
When I started my job, I was understandably anxious and nervous to meet everyone, build contacts and enter the world of work. I would get heart palpitations as I approached the building and sit in silence most of the day, choosing to not interact with anyone as I got myself introduced to working life. As it came up to Christmas though, three months in, I still felt like that.
I had something that’s known as “imposter syndrome” and the definition is exactly what I thought in those first few months: that I would be found out as a “fraud” for not being good at my job and someone would report me, resulting in me being fired. Also phone calls with anyone literally terrified me. If the phone would ring, I would choose not to answer it (something I really wouldn’t recommend), or if I did, I was shrouded in worry about how I would come across to anyone, even my colleagues who are always lovely.
These dreadful feelings continued, and I took a shit-tonne of Bach’s Rescue Remedy every day just to get through the day. I thought I was going mad – no-one told me it was normal to feel like this for so long. I told my manager about how I was feeling (which is so important) and she was so lovely, offering me support and recommending me to call our mental health assistance service. Confronting my anxiety and phoning someone literally turned my stomach to mush but I did it.
The counsellor I spoke to said I had something called “conscious incompetence”, where I constantly believe that I’m incompetent at my job (as I described) and I needed to change these thoughts to “unconscious competence”, as shown in the graphic below. I also kept reminding myself that I’m not in danger, nor do I have anything to be scared of. The lady also said that it took 6 months for her to feel OK in her new job, so it’s completely normal, it was just something I’d never experienced before.
I think the fact that the Winter months affect me so much didn’t help (as I detailed HERE), and I was more anxious and on edge than normal. But the turning point came as I woke up one day at the end of March and the feelings of anxiety were gone. Just gone. I remember feeling a weight lift off my shoulders as I strode into work feeling great – that has since continued until this very day, where I know I’m as competent as I can be at my job, if I don’t understand anything I can ask someone, and even secured some wins for myself and my confidence.
Phone calls have gotten less scary too, I just think of them as a new way to contact someone and build a professional relationship. I think that’s down to having command of the Press Office phone for two weeks, where I was forced to speak to strangers who were looking for different things, and you can’t not answer the phone in a press office, so was great exposure therapy for me.
Some things still need work, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come in the last year/18 months. I know I’ll never be anxiety-free, but through trying new coping methods and techniques, I can be close. I’ll settle for that.
What are your experiences with anxiety? Are they ways you could share to help someone going through a tough time? Let me know.