“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home
Anxiety is in the news. Hurrah.
Well, not “hurrah” because the statistics are pretty damn high and it seems that more and more of us are plagued by irrational feelings, self-doubt and anxious behaviour that we don’t know the cause of, and we certainly don’t understand how to handle.
I’ve made no secret of my own on-going battle with anxiety and have mentioned it a few times on Emma Is Writing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m about to bring it up again because it is important.
I am not ashamed of being affected by this condition, but there was a time not so long ago that I was so embarrassed by my irrational thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that I kept them to myself, locked them all away only to coax these thoughts out at night and let its contents invade my sleep and sanity.
I had insomnia for five years, which is hilarious because now I love nothing more than a good snooze.
I was medicated for two of these but weaned myself off sleeping tablets when I didn’t like how lethargic they made me feel the next day. Plus they gave me a mouth like a badger’s bum which, for those who get hangovers, is not a pleasant experience.
I know this may seem like a crazy amount of time to suffer in silence but, for me, my anxiety and insomnia started off as a product of a traumatic event it my life and then it just festered because I let it.
By day I was OK, fully functioning at work, holding down a good social life, but I was still a fraction of my previous bubbly, happy self. I often felt like I was watching myself laughing and having a good time but not actually feeling that elated. I felt like a fraud.
For me, night time was when I would eventually let these thoughts invade my head. As mentioned in a previous blog post, things finally came to a head when my mum spotted the signs.
I’m not being dramatic when I say that I felt like everyone was against me. That my friends must dislike me. That I was a bad person and deserved the bad things that happened in my life. Looking back I recognise these as irrational thoughts. Let’s face it, even I think they’re pretty bonkers.
I still struggle with other people’s perceptions of me and can sometimes find it difficult to cope if I argue with people or have a particularly bad day at work, and I will probably always be affected by this, but I am learning to address these thoughts and feelings. For me, often talking them over with someone else is a good way of banishing them all together.
So why am I talking so openly and candidly about this mega personal issue? It isn’t for sympathy. I can assure you that I thought long and hard about being so frank in this blog post for fear of upsetting others, including my friends and family, but I decided two years ago when I started Emma Is Writing, that I would like my little space on the internet to be a positive place where people can realise they aren’t alone.
According to Stylist magazine, anxiety is “fast becoming the most common affliction of the modern age.”
Sarah Fletcher, who wrote this recent article for the popular magazine, narrates a story that resonates deeply with me. She writes:
What’s surprising is that anxiety – a feeling that starts in the amygdala region of the brain (the section that controls intense emotional responses) – is quickly translated into a physical reaction…the reason that happens,’ she explains, ‘is that anxiety is essentially our fight or flight response. All very well (and useful) when faced with a wild animal who fancies a light snack, not quite so appropriate when we’re trying to locate the fitting rooms in the Topshop sales.
The problem is that in our non-stop, fast-paced existence, sometimes our brains are simply unable to differentiate between physical and non-physical threats, meaning that our bodies are on edge far more often than they should be.
I hear you!
She goes on to reveal the shocking statistics of anxiety amongst adults in the modern world.
“Anxiety is all around us, and it’s on the rise. A 2008 Harvard Health Publication, Anxiety And Physical Illness, stated that out of the estimated 57million adults who have anxiety disorders, two thirds are women. In 2013, the Office of National Statistics published statistics that showed nearly 20% of the UK population over the age of 16 displayed evidence of anxiety and depression, with women (21%) more likely than men (16%) to report symptoms. Dr Michael Rutherford, a psychiatrist at London’s Springfield Hospital agrees: “Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than men.”
“Anxiety disorders affect a significant proportion of the population,” adds Dr Rutherford. “But many suffer in silence.”
The real figures are disguised by the fact anxiety is such a nebulous beast. The term covers everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to phobias, to OCD and panic attacks. To complicate matters further, it often goes hand-in-hand with depression, making it harder still to pin down.’
It is indeed a “nebulous beast.” Often we feel down, worried, and a bit blue – our busy modern lives see to this – but how do we recognise that its becoming a problem and, most importantly, how do we overcome these irrational feelings?
It is utterly terrifying to be in the grasp of such uncontrollable thoughts, especially when you experience the physical manifestations of the problem – panic attacks and insomnia are no walk in the park, I can tell you, but luckily there is more and more being done to help identify these issues and help people to overcome this, often, blip in their otherwise healthy lives.
Along with the informative article, Stylist have come up with a helpful list of tips to combat anxiety, or at least alleviate the symptoms. It’s all about training your brain to think differently and taking the time out of your busy life to put yourself first and think about your own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
So, although World Mental Health Day has come and gone, I’d like to propose we all take better care of ourselves and that we all get a little braver. Share your stories with each other – and me – don’t be ashamed, help someone who you think might be having a tough time, and just look after each other.
Thanks for listening, you gorgeous lot.
Along with my #itsnotgrimupnorth series where I wax lyrical about all things Manchester, I’ve decided to start another new series on the blog! (Hurah, I hear you all cry) called #getbrave where I’m hoping I can get you lovely lot involved with sharing words of wisdom, tales of inspirations and ways to keep each other motivated.
Sometimes all people need is a little support, a chance to shine, or just someone to listen. Lets help each other out!
Like the sound of this? Visit me over at Twitter @EmmaYatesBadley or leave a message below with your pearls of wisdom