Anxiety Awareness – A Case Study
By Kelly Duggan
This week is mental health awareness week and in light of this I decided to write a little bit about anxiety. These are just my thoughts and experiences. I am by no means an expert, but I can relate to those who also suffer as I’ve lived with it for years. There are many mental health problems that are often misunderstood unless you have been affected by it personally, either yourself or through a loved one, I feel anxiety is one of these. The reason for this is that at some point in life everyone will experience a moment of anxiety, be it preparing for an interview or attending a hospital appointment. It could be fleeting and then resolved. This kind of anxiety is usually short- lived and you will understand the reasoning behind it. For people with one or more of the anxiety disorders out there this isn’t the case and when feeling anxious becomes a part of daily life it can be debilitating. When it seems to strike from nowhere and you have no reason that you are aware of to explain it, this can make life difficult and at times unbearable.
Although anxiety can cause symptoms that can be seen I believe there is an invisibility aspect that goes hand in hand with it. Many people would have no idea that I suffer because I’ve become good at hiding it, at putting on a front (at times). Anxiety makes others uncomfortable, maybe because they might not know how best to help and therefore to avoid causing them discomfort we try to conceal it. Sometimes it may be because we just don’t know how to explain the feeling, we don’t know what has brought on an attack and if we don’t understand then how can someone else?
Anxiety manifests in many forms, these are just a few that I experience:
- Health anxiety – Worrying about being ill or getting ill. This can cause excessive worry.
- Generalised anxiety – Worry about everyday life events.
- Separation anxiety – Afraid of being separated from a person or persons.
- Social anxiety – If you suffer from this kind of anxiety you may find yourself avoiding public or social events. Interacting with groups of people, especially if unknown to you can elicit an intense fear of being judged or talked about. Feelings of inadequacy.
A few of the characteristics I struggle with the most are:
- Analysing everything constantly.
- Unable to switch off and relax.
- Sometimes knowing you are overreacting but unable to listen to your logic mind.
- Sometimes not knowing what has made you anxious and feeling overwhelmed anyway.
I find it’s the anticipation, the lead up to something that causes the worry. Once I actually do or achieve the thing I was worried over or obsessing about I’m fine. The build up towards it is the worst part. And I believe this is what makes us stronger. Being scared, worried or anxious about a task and still doing it anyway is a sign of strength.
I used to have anxiety/panic attacks on the way to pick my children up from school. My heart would race, my breaths were harsh and tears would stream down my face. Hardly ideal when walking down the street. I’ve paid to watch a film at the cinema and left after 10 minutes because I just couldn’t cope with the amount of people. I’ve let friends down by avoiding get togethers and parties. I’ve had to avoid social media and technology because it can cause panic. I often don’t answer my phone in case the caller has something to tell me that I’m not prepared to hear. I’ve stopped my children from having sleepovers.
Anxiety is all about avoidance.
Avoiding calls and trips
Avoiding confronting our fears
Avoiding anything that seems too overwhelming.
Because of this I try to be a people pleaser in other areas of life. Aspects that I’m relatively comfortable in and have some sort of control over. I actively seek praise and encouragement, and purposely steer clear of any wrongdoing. I can’t bear the look of disappointment or berating. The thoughts that will taunt me all night over something I perceive that I have done wrong.
I keep trying to retrain my brain to be more optimistic instead of always thinking of the worst case scenario. At times I triumph. At times I fail miserably.
Many people say to voice your worries to others or to ask for help. I can only speak for myself but my anxiety limits me from doing that. I internalise and feel safer knowing my worries are in my head and others can’t hear them. Sometimes I feel that giving life to these concerns or intrusive thoughts will cause them to happen. I often know that I’m overreacting or overthinking and that what I’m panicking about is pointless but there is always a little voice that says ‘what if you’re right?’ ‘what if this isn’t anxiety speaking?’
The one type of anxiety I found most challenging was separation anxiety. I knew children could have this but didn’t believe it was something an adult could have. Until I had it. The thought of being away from my children used to terrify me. I hated taking them to school because they’d be away from me and I couldn’t help them if they needed me emotionally. Letting them stay with their grandparents who I 100% trust would turn me into a wreck. I wouldn’t value the child free time for myself, I’d sit and panic and ring or text them too many times. The thought of going back to work after so long spending quality time with them brought me out in a cold sweat.
But I did it.
I started a new job this year. It’s a huge learning curve and I love it. Instead of making my anxiety worse it’s helped to combat some of it. I know I will never be free of it entirely but knowing I’m appreciated and providing for my family is a huge sense of achievement for someone who thought they’d be relatively housebound forever. Being busy is a great anxiety beater. Because we don’t have time to get caught up in our thoughts, to let them run riot and overtake logic. When we’re busy or occupied they don’t have free rein. Doing something new can be the boost we need, however hard that seems at first, once done it’s something we can be proud of. It can give you the motivation to ty something else scary.
One day at a time. One task at a time. One leap of faith at a time.
I was lucky enough to have early access to Brightlink learning’s new CPD Courses – Mental Health and Wellbeing Awareness and Understanding Mental Health and Wellbeing. These courses were so informative for those who may be looking to help a colleague but are unsure where to start. There were some tips that really resonated with me, such as meeting a colleague and walking into work with them. This may not sound like something that causes difficulty but believe me, I will not walk into a place I’m unfamiliar with even if it’s just to use the toilet. If I am familiar with surroundings I still won’t enter a building alone. I need the comfort of knowing someone is with me. Little everyday tips like these that people who don’t suffer with anxiety take in their stride are a brilliant resource for understanding what challenges someone is facing and how to help them. These units didn’t ‘preach’ to me. I’ve found sometimes that well intentioned people try to give advice but it can come across as belittling. These units were helpful, informative and valuable. They won’t provide a quick fix for your mental health but they do provide tips and techniques to guide you in starting.
You can find these courses on these links for lawyers:
And these links for front line support professionals:
Anxiety often runs in families, not because it’s hereditary but because it’s learned behaviour.
I don’t want my children learning life is scary (even if it is). I don’t want them living in fear of their thoughts. I don’t want them to be held back from new opportunities because they watched me do it.
I want more for them and I’m learning to want more for myself.
By changing my outlook, by forcing myself to do things that seem impossible I’m also changing their future.