When 4.7% of the UK population are currently experiencing an anxiety disorder, it is hard to understand why such conditions are still such a taboo in our society. Being part of the special club of people whose brains have decided to punish and torment us with irrational fears and place intangible barriers in our minds preventing us from reaching our full capabilities, I feel like it’s time that more people are aware of how debilitating an anxiety disorder can be, and that having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hide away in some corner of the room, missing out on all the joys life has to offer.
First of all, something that is important to understand is there is a difference between feeling a bit anxious and having anxiety. When you’re feeling a bit anxious, you might twiddle your thumbs or feel a little nauseous. Maybe you’re supposed to be giving a presentation at university and you’re nervous and you go hot and red and stutter a little. Unpleasant? Yes. Full on anxiety disorder? Probably not. However, please never hesitate to go to your GP or the Student Counselling Centre at Clarendon Place to talk about your issues, as they are there to help and get you through any problems that might occur.
Never be ashamed of how you feel, you may not have a mental illness but repressing feelings of anxiety can turn into a disorder, and ultimately, your feelings are your feelings and it is important to own up to them and talk about them so that they can be rationalised and you can learn to cope with them on a daily basis.
Being presented with a trigger when you suffer an anxiety disorder is one of the most distressing things that could happen. Personally, my heart races and I have palpitations, my heartbeat becomes so irregular I worry I’m about to collapse (and this currently isn’t helped by the fact I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis – a blood clot in my deep vein- over Summer and so am on blood thinning medication; anything to do with my heartbeat or my blood is just another trigger. Palpitations give me more palpitations) and I get stomach pains so bad it resembles appendicitis and I feel like I’m about to vomit up my intestines. My knees wobble and my body produces sweat like I’ve just run a marathon and my face rivals Rudolph’s nose.
Triggers include being asked a question in a seminar (whether I have a halfway decent response or not), running into that person, and I even recall an anxiety attack when I couldn’t find matching socks. So I think we can all agree that feeling a bit anxious, whilst upsetting and undesirable, is not the same as having anxiety.
As I have mentioned earlier, something that is extremely important and has helped me tremendously with overcoming (or at least trying to overcome) my anxiety, and other mental health conditions with which I have been blessed, is talking about it. All my close friends are aware of how I struggle and what is likely to trigger an anxiety attack, my personal tutor knows and has very kindly asked to be kept up to date with my conditions, and with encouragement I have told various mental health professionals about my history with mental illness (otherwise, how could I hope to get better?).
I have also learnt that mental health is third date subject matter. Just hold off on the crying in his car. That does freak him out a little…
When it comes to mental health, honesty is always the best policy. Nobody can help you if you never tell anybody what the problem is. If you have a searing migraine with blurred tunnel vision and extreme nausea but you don’t tell your housemates, how are they supposed to know to turn down the TV and stop nagging at you to do your washing up? It’s the same with mental health: if you keep it a secret then you’ll be struggling a lot longer. Sure, the thought of telling somebody that the contents of your underwear drawer is on the floor because you can’t find matching socks and you can’t breathe and oh-my-God-why-is-it-thirty-five-degrees-in-the-middle-of-winter-is-it-just-me-or-is-it-really-hot might be a little daunting, but trust me, it was the best thing I ever did.
Plus, when you can joke about the absurdity of your anxiety triggers it makes it a little less scary.