14th March 2018 / Katy Moore
As I’ve grown older and had the opportunity to speak with people from many walks of life, the more I realise just how prevalent anxiety in our current society is, wherever you live in the world.
Although in my experience it can certainly decrease if you move from the busy and frantic concrete jungle city of London, to a calmer and more outdoorsy way of life in Sydney, however, it’s still something that can still bubble up from within. Not even a sunnier climate and sandy beach can cure it totally, unfortunately.
I guess it comes as no surprise that although technologically we’ve advanced dramatically in the last few years, our biological make-up hasn’t necessarily caught up and the ‘fight or flight’ mode remains strong, even if it comes in different forms now.
Anxiety and mental health is still a taboo subject, maybe it’s time we all started talking about it a bit more?
I know now what exacerbates my anxiety, but even when I write it down in black and white it seems so inconsequential; namely lack of sleep and those dreaded hungover blues, which I’m sure many experience but for me they can feel quite extreme.
Externally the triggers may seem small, but the feeling can be quite overwhelming and hard to rationalise. The best way I can describe my anxiety is a rising feeling in the pit of my gut, a shortness of breath and feeling tense all over with a particular tightness in my
head. It’s a feeling that jilts my normal secure stand point and makes me feel out of control.
Perhaps, I’ve made a mistake a work, or maybe I think I’ve said something hurtful to a friend, or felt like I just had a few too many drinks over the weekend and it suddenly takes a grip, like an iron fist clamping my brain and all of a sudden I feel paralysed, and the worry of the original worry becomes bigger.
Then, the forecasting to the future begins and I think of all the things that could now unravel and start to go wrong. A bit like a nightmarish domino effect, and the worst part is that when it takes a hold it can really hit my self-esteem. I’d say I’m a pretty strong individual but it’s as if I lose perspective on the bigger picture and become blinkered to the microscopic detail of the worry, which then spawn into worries, plural.
It makes me feel on edge, and un-nerved, out of control. Out of ‘control’ is a key word for me because I’m a perfectionist. I don’t think I’m alone either. In a society in which social media often portrays everyone else’s life as ‘perfect’, even if we all know pictures never
tell the full story, if you feel your own life is crumbling, it’s hard to keep it together! In a city full of millions, you can suddenly feel alone.
So what do I do to combat?
I try and sit with the feeling as I feel it rising up, which was really hard and uncomfortable at
first but has become easier over time. It’s like the experience of
having a really bad physical pain but realising the fighting against is actually makes it worse.
There’s something about embracing the anxiety, an acceptance which has a kind of peace to it. Like being sucked under a wave and instead of thrashing helplessly, giving into it and just learning to float, going with the sensation of being swirled around without a clear idea of when you’ll come up for air but putting your trust in yourself that
you will, eventually. Maybe I’ve lived in Australia too long, but the ocean analogy just seems to work!
Finding the things that pull my attention away from the anxious thoughts and into something physical, like the gym, works well for me too. Often people give credit to exercise helping to decrease anxiety and it couldn’t ring truer for me! When I feel my body and muscles working and becoming stronger, I start to feel more in control of my mind and my wondering thoughts.
Maybe most importantly though it’s about being honest with myself, allowing myself to feel okay that I’m not okay. In a world where there is a lot of pressure to be consistently strong and ‘winning at life’, it’s a relief to admit vulnerability, which by the way, doesn’t equate to weakness.
After all, happiness is a temporary emotion, not a promised constant, and our life is to be lived within the whole spectrum of emotions. Striving always to be happy surely leads to unhappiness and more anxiety! Perhaps the key is not to strive for happiness, but a deeper sense of inner contentedness. So, whatever wave of emotion comes over you, underneath there is a calm to help anchor you, a peace inside, which is all yours and nothing can affect that space.
Anxiety is not something to easily dispel from life, but for me aiming to be more at one with it, knowing it’s just a thread, a part of my make-up, but only a facet, and certainly not the defining feature, makes it okay to feel not okay sometimes.
Maybe we need to start admitting this more to each other too, because behind some of those perfect social media smiles there might be someone else feeling not all that okay underneath the filter either.