- Being alone for too long
- Being around others for too long
- Being happy
- Being wrong
- Being outside alone
- Being centre of attention
- The possibility of letting someone down
- Worrying about lots of things at once
- Worrying that I am about to have a panic attack
- Publishing anything on social media
- Meeting new people
- The future
- Waiting a long time for a reply
- Spending time in a large group
- Doing something for the first time
- Thoughts that I am never going to recover
- Thoughts that I am annoying or am a burden
- Thoughts that I can’t achieve anything
- Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts
This is not a definitive list, but these are my most common anxieties. It’s important to note that not everything on this list makes me anxious all the time. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes these depend on how well I’m looking after myself. Other times they can be triggered by external factors that are completely out of my control.
I just spent 24 hours with one of the human beings I love most in the world and it was wonderful. Only, when it came to part ways, I became incredibly anxious and on the verge of tears. Acknowledging that my worries actually stemmed from the irrational fear that I have of being happy (which comes from the beliefs that it can’t last and I don’t deserve it, amongst other things) helped me in a big way. So I decided to make a list of some of my other anxieties as a future reminder to myself that it’s all part of the illness that I’m learning to overcome.
I also wanted to post this list because I know a lot of people who get embarrassed by the things they get anxious about. Some people think that they are ridiculous for getting worked up by such small, irrational or insignificant things and end up beating themselves up about their own feelings. If something upsets you, it’s not insignificant by default. And just because something is small or irrational doesn’t mean that you can easily stop worrying about it. And you know what? That’s OK.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is, ‘It’s okay.’ It’s okay for me to be kind to myself. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to be flawed. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to move on.
– Hayley Williams
I want to emphasise something. It is impossible to control how you feel. Seriously. Anyone who claims they can do so is lying. Some people may have the ability to hide their feelings or cover them up, but the closest you can get to controlling a feeling itself is by suppressing it. Which is unhealthy, by all accounts, and will come back to bite you eventually.
I’ve tried it all. Hiding, covering up, suppressing, lying, faking… you name it, if it’s an unhealthy reaction to unwanted emotions, I’ve given it a go. But the only thing that has ever worked for me is acceptance. I accept my feelings as they are, let myself feel them and react to them as I need to.
So what if I’m a little more sensitive and cry more than most people? So what if sometimes I need a little extra time to get over things? As long as I process things the way I need to, and I am not hurting anybody else in the process, then there is nothing wrong with that. Same goes for the rest of you, anxiety sufferers or not. There is no shame in feeling too much or too little or somewhere in between. The only shame is in making others feel uncomfortable for how they deal with things.
A couple of tips on processing difficult/unwanted emotions:
- Acknowledge the feeling. Don’t blame yourself or become frustrated because you’re experiencing a difficult emotion. Everyone has highs and lows. Feelings are just feelings. They do not define you, good or bad.
- Focus on the feeling. It sucks, but you have to think about the thing that’s causing you pain. I try to focus on the feeling, rather than the unhelpful thoughts that are surrounding it. Consider, why am I feeling this way? Is it rational? What evidence do I have to support this fear?
- Accept the feeling. Breathe. Let the waves of emotion pass over you. You’ll be surprised how much quicker the storm passes if you don’t try to fight against it.
- Release the feeling. Go for a walk. Preferably, a power walk. If you’re extra brave/have the right shoes, a run is even better. Anything to work up a sweat and help to release all the extra negative energy.
I learned the above through a combination of CBT and Mindfulness. Mindfulness is great and is all about connecting to the here and now. It taught me a lot about acknowledging and accepting my feelings, but not letting them consume me.
If you have a course near by, I’d recommend doing one of those to get started. The one I go to is at a local yoga studio and is a ‘Mindfulness and Meditation’ class. I believe I am correct in thinking that these courses are also endorsed by the NHS, so it might be something you can ask you doctor about.
There are also loads of helpful books and apps. I found Mind Whispering by Tara Bennett-Goleman very useful (there’s a strange bit about horse whispering at the beginning that confused me but just plough through) and there’s a meditation app called Headspace which I like but you have to pay for anything past the free 10 day trial (I just reuse those 10 days over and over because I’m a cheapskate but it’s probably worth the couple of quid if you’re really into meditating).