How to cope with anxiety
I have had anxiety since I was a about 15 or 16, which got more severe as I got into my 20s. It stopped me from doing a lot when I was younger – I’d finish school and go back to my bedroom exhausted from overthinking and worrying all day. I wouldn’t sleep and I’d replay things over and over again from years ago, situations where I embarrassed myself, or felt like I'd said something I shouldn't have.
Throughout my early 20s, feelings of my friends hating me and that people were only talking to me because they felt sorry for me became really overwhelming. I didn’t want to go to parties because I thought people wouldn’t want me there, even though I was invited. I didn’t like to eat in public. I didn’t like to socialise in big groups of people, and would overcompensate with things like alcohol, leaving me with worse 'hang-xiety' the next morning. In the end, I started to avoid situations that gave me anxiety, rather than put myself through the whole ordeal of that sicky feeling, butterflies, and intrusive thoughts.
Now, ten years later, anxiety certainly isn't something that's left me. But I would no longer describe myself as an 'anxious person', and I don't think my friends would either. The older I've got, and the more anxiety-inducing situations I've found myself in, I've realised that anxiety isn't always a negative thing. We tend to talk about it negatively, as if it's something that instantly needs 'fixing'.
But anxiety is your body's natural response to a perceived threat. It's your body's way of trying to protect you. It's logical, but it's often irrational. It's a useful emotion that everyone feels, and it's normal to feel it. And often, once you do the thing you were anxious about, your anxiety leaves, and the outcome isn't as bad as you thought it was going to be!
It's important to experience anxiety, and not avoid the thing you're anxious about. When we avoid situations that make us anxious, it feeds our anxiety. Your body is prepared for fight or flight, and avoidance is essentially choosing 'flight'. This helps you feel safer, reinforcing the anxiety.
A more effective way to help you feel safe is to talk through the anxiety, or to go ahead in the situation you're in while feeling anxious. Talking through your anxiety will help you process it, making you feel safer. This will, in turn, reduce your anxiety toward the situation, without you avoiding it, reinforcing that it's okay to be anxious, you can talk it through, and then continue.
If anxiety is affecting your daily life, you should still seek medical attention. I started taking medication and had some therapy and it definitely helped. But while the medication helped physiologically, the therapy mostly helped me to see my anxiety differently, and reframe it. Talking through your anxiety can help you process it, taking you to a safe place, and helping your body understand that it's not at threat. The more you do this, the less threatened your body will feel by the situation the next time you encounter it.
What's important is to understand your anxiety. Acknowledge your fear. Recognise it. Name it. Let anxiety sit with you. You can still do the thing you're anxious about. Think "This is the feeling I get when I do ___". Most people get anxiety when they speak in front of a crowd, go to busy places, and take a test, and that's okay! Remind yourself that, although you're feeling anxious, the situation will be okay, and nothing bad will happen. Something good might even happen!
Key things to remember:
Acknowledge the fear and accept the anxiety
Avoidance = more anxiety
Talking it through gets you to a safe place, reducing anxiety
You can do things with anxiety. Emotions come and go. You don't need to wait for it to go!