Anxiety At Christmas

The festive season comes with all sorts of pressures and expectations which is a shame because these details detract from what should be a relaxing time in the company of loved ones. The ideal Christmas image leads us to think that we have to achieve perfection in everything we do; in how we decorate our homes, buying expensive ornaments and gifts, maintaining completely harmonious family ties, being a social butterfly and flitting from one Christmas party to another and immersing ourselves in an environment centred around food, alcohol and indulgence. Whilst all of these things are part of the Christmas image we are sold and look good in the Instagram pictures we are inundated with, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in the many people who worry that they cannot achieve or keep-up with this level of so-called perfection.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be about competition; who’s got the best Christmas tree or how many designer gifts someone has received but the airbrushed images we are presented with lead us to believe that there is a certain standard we have to live-up to, no matter how unattainable it really is. For many, anxiety can be produced as a result of fearing failure or worrying about external expectations. When it is expected for people to attend their big work Christmas parties, for example, fear of being overwhelmed by the hectic environment and the unnecessary pressure to do everything in excess are not a part of the conversation. So, each person who struggles with anxiety at this time of year feels isolated and alone, like no-one else is going through the same things as them.

The following can be sources of anxiety during the festive period:

  • Christmas shopping in busy areas
  • Seeing relatives you do not meet with often
  • Christmas parties
  • The expectation to be festive and merry in all of your interactions
  • Buying gifts and worrying if they are adequate
  • Receiving gifts and stressing about opening them in front of the giver
  • The expectation to indulge in food and alcohol when, for many, our relationships with these things are complex

And so many, many more situations, which others may view as tiny details in the bigger picture of their Christmas, can be anxiety-provoking.

Christmas is meant to be a time we feel the opposite of isolated and fearful of judgement. So, let’s make mental health and inclusion a part of the discussion within the bigger picture of Christmas this year and make sure that no-one feels iced-out of the celebrations.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

Here are some more of my Christmas-related posts:

The Christmas Tag

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

 

Don’t feel alone this Christmas (resources about the festive period and mental health):

Support at Christmas – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas – The Priory Group

Real Christmas – Samaritans

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I’d Be Invisible

You know when you’re asked as a kid what superpower you would chose to have if you could? The answer has always been the same for me, without doubt or question; I would chose to have the power of invisibility.

The power to become invisible at will has always been enchanting to me. Perhaps it’s because I am someone who suffers from anxiety, perhaps it’s because I am cynical and instantly see threats around every corner and a potential bully in every set of eyes. Either way, invisibility seemed a perfect superpower to summon whenever it was needed.

If I could be invisible whenever I wanted, I could drift through the journey from flat into Uni, rather than have to look at every person crossing my path and wonder about all the thoughts which could possibly be crossing their mind. If I could be invisible, going to put the rubbish out wouldn’t have to be an ordeal, wondering whether I might see someone as I walk down the stairs and panic about what on earth I would say to them. If I could be invisible, I could attend lectures without feeling sick at the thought of other people seeing me.

In short, the shame and worry and wracking fear which churn my stomach would no longer plague me if I could summon my power of invisibility at the drop of a hat.

Perhaps then I would not be trapped inside my flat fearing the threats which lay outside my door, agonising over the assassins which I am convinced lie in wait for me. Invisibility could solve a lot of problems, it would be the superpower above all superpowers for people like me.

Therefore, it follows that people like me have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that invisibility is not a superpower we can conjure onto ourselves whenever our thoughts threaten to overcome us. Instead, we set about making ourselves appear and feel invisible instead. So, the next time you see someone with their hood pulled over their face or shaking when they hand the cashier their money, do not snicker and laugh or wonder ‘what the hell is their problem?’ Have some empathy and realise maybe, just maybe, they are wishing themselves invisible in that moment too.

Finding Comfort In A Bottle – Part Two

I love the seizing ache
As it spreads across my chest,
Powerful and raw like wildfire;
It blazes a trail down my body
Resting in my stomach where it burns
As my whole body yearns towards it.

The longing to seize this power
And draw it down me never ends –
It’s a part of me –
The portion of my whole which craves
More destruction, the release
Coming from such sickly, manipulative liquid.

Despite the warnings, the stop signs,
Before it reaches my mouth,
The liquid release settles inside me anyway,
Leaving it’s mark burnt into my being
And caressing the lost parts of me
Which it makes a point to find and seek.

 

The first instalment of this poem can be found here: Finding Comfort In A Bottle

 

 

Flawed Hope

I might suck the vitamins from my tongue
Lame as a tamed, feral animal,
However, their colourful bottle fools me;
When promise comes in a capsule
Your ground has already slipped away.

Under The Puppeteer’s Control

Do you know what it is like,
The electric charge in my head?
It sends shockwaves to my fingers,
Vibrates the crux of my bones
And sends me skidding into the night.

As uncontrolled hands fly over my head –
My body a veritable war zone –
I look to my feet, scolding them,
Before I remember the puppeteer is above
So dominant, it kills my control.

My Anxious Chest

Anxiety has a smothering hug;
Like a mother bear who pretends to protect you
Whilst it goes about suffocating your existence,
To the point where your lungs are a cage
And the locked bars on your lips allow no escape.

Anxiety has the manipulative claws of a monster;
It pretends to protect you from potential
Doom, then goes about crushing your skull
With the pressure of an invading force
Which, guiltily, you let in in the first place.

Welded into a cage designed by your fears,
What lies outside the bars is always a threat,
Movements and sounds are menacing
When the sky cannot even by trusted
And your hope for a future comes crumbling down.

I Am Not Me

All at once I feel everything.
Then a confused blank of nothing at all.
A sick game of hide and seek
Spins me like a top around corners so quick –
I don’t see the wall coming.

Nothing is me; my character is hollow,
I knock and knock knowing no-one is home
Until I return to stand over my lifeless form
And feign empathy for myself
In death.

 

 

YOU CAN FIND ME HERE…

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00

How Mental Health Stigma Has Hurt Me

TRIGGER WARNING: REFERENCES TO SELF-HARM.

When I was 15, I was told by a family member that I was ‘over-sensitive’ because I had completely shut down whilst suffering with depression. My memory of that depressive period are incredibly hazy. When I try to think back to that point in my life all that really springs to mind is a cold, heavy feeling in my chest which takes me back to the days on end I spent sitting on my bed in a grey, miserable bubble. I remember glimpses of conversations I had with people at the time, such as when I was labelled ‘over-sensitive’, other than that it is a chunk of my life which remains shrouded in a cloud of fear I’m not really ready to make my way through just yet. However, the phrase ‘over-sensitive’ still hurts me to this day. It is an obvious example of someone buying into the stigma around mental health and trying to tell me that it was a character weakness of mine which was causing me to suffer, erasing the fact that depression is a serious illness.

I remember the first time I went to see a counsellor. I was scared stiff and my anxiety was the only thing my mind and body had space to feel. She asked me what I was worried about and I told her that I was scared she would think I was ‘pathetic’. I was 16 at the time and my self-esteem had been completely decimated by the narrative that suffering with your mental health makes you less of a person. I carried that weight around with me everyday as I avoided people’s eye contact at school and went to elaborate lengths to hide the fact that I was having to leave lessons early to go to counselling sessions. Stigma had taught me that my mental health was something to be ashamed about and a part of me to be hidden at all costs.

How many other people in the world have felt that way too?

Stigma around anxiety led me to skip school rather than tell my teacher that trying to make me do a presentation in front of the class was unacceptable when he knew that I was suffering at the time and could barely vocalise my thoughts in front of one person let alone a whole class. I thought that he would laugh it off or tell me that I would have to grow-up one day and make me do the presentation anyway. So, I missed a whole day of school because I knew how widespread the stigma around anxiety was (and still is).

I waited for years to tell anyone about my OCD because I thought that they would call me ‘crazy’ once I explained my rituals and intrusive thoughts. Stigma around OCD means that it is not talked about much in society other than in regards to people who clean obsessively when, in reality, the disorder is a lot more complex than that. So, I purposely did not mention these symptoms throughout all of the counselling, therapy and assessment sessions I had. If I had not been so worried about the labels which I thought people who attach to me due to my experiences, I could have gotten my OCD diagnosis so much earlier.

The stigma around mental health led me to suffer with self-harm alone. I was petrified about what people would think of me if they found out and I imagined scenarios in which people would call me an ‘attention seeker’ for what I was doing. So, quickly my habitual self-harming thrived in my silence as keeping it a secret meant that there was no way for anybody to intervene or convince me to stop. Reaching out for help seemed like an insurmountable task because of the judgements I knew people held about self-harm, such as that it is ‘a trend’ or ‘a cry for help’. When I finally did tell a family member, I got shouted out and had angry, accusatory words thrown at me which felt like a slap in the face when it had taken me so long to open-up.

The stigma around mental health is dangerous. These experiences I have documented above affect millions of people in varying ways across the world. The stigma ingrains in us a shame around talking about our mental health and makes us feel weak for struggling. People die every year because they cannot face telling people about what they are feeling – these are the real effects of stigma. It’s time that we all break down these barriers, no matter who you are or where you come from. Normalise conversations about mental health, make it a topic that you talk about often so that others will hear and begin to think that, if they needed to, they could talk about it too. Don’t let people suffer in silence, reach out and offer an understanding shoulder to cry on. Start the conversation and others will follow.

 

Resources for help with mental health:

Information & Support – Mind, the mental health charity

Samaritans

Contact – Childline (for under 18s)

5 Ways To Combat Anxiety During University Seminars

Personally, I find seminars the hardest part of my academic obligations at uni. Doing the reading during my spare time, prepping essay answers and all of the other academic tasks I have to complete are, at some level, manageable for me (in a non-arrogant way). Lectures are difficult because of the amount of people I am surrounded by in the theatres during them, as well as other issues I have such as overstimulation. However my attendance rate for lectures is always better than it is for seminars. This is because I find seminars to be the most similar to a collaborative, high school classroom sort of setting. Group work, presentations, individual contributions, teachers calling on students and inter-group debates are all features of seminars which make my anxiety sky-rocket. As a result, last year I would either avoid going to some seminars completely or, if I did go, I would end-up getting nothing useful out of them because my mind was so preoccupied with the anxious frenzy going on inside my head and body.

Through time and after speaking to lots of different support workers, mentors and tutors, I have found ways to not eliminate my anxiety but at least lessen it to a non-brain-shattering level during seminars. If you struggle during these uni classes like me, then these might be a worth a try for you. However, everyone’s mental health is different and each individual will find that they respond better to differing techniques. So, please don’t think that if these things do not work for you then you are untreatable and powerless to combat your anxiety because that is simply not true. There will be other methods and techniques out there more suited to you, it’s a case of waiting and researching to find the right support structures you need to put in place for you.

Without further ado, here are my 5 tips for combatting anxiety during University seminars:

1. Seek out your room beforehand

I find new, unfamiliar places to be overwhelming, so I certainly do not want the first time I visit a place to coincide with my first day of class and the first time I meet my classmates. On the whole, that is just way too many firsts and new experiences to be bundled together and experienced by me. So, I would recommend that if you have a day on-campus before teaching starts, then try to find the rooms your seminars (and lectures) will be in during the year. That way you can familiarise yourself with the place and not worry about having to find your way there and possibly being late on your first day. If you can remove the anxiety of not knowing where you are going that is another weight you can ease off your shoulders before your seminars start. Also, it might help you feel more in control if you know the layout and look of the classroom in advance.

2. Use other people’s know-how

From my knowledge of Universities, they all have a student support/information service which all obviously vary in size and other factors but have a responsibility on campus to try and help students who come to them with specific needs and issues. So, if you find that you ares struggling in seminars, make use of this service rather than struggling in silence. It is perfectly valid to set-up an appointment with a member of staff at your support service and ask them to email your tutors to notify them that you would rather not be called-upon in class to answer questions, for example, because the anxiety this provokes detracts from your learning. If your tutors are made aware of this then they can adjust accordingly and, if they do not accommodate your wishes, then you have a point of contact to go back to at the support unit who is already aware of the situation and can take things further. On the whole if you are honest and open about your struggles, I have found that people are a lot more ready and willing to help you.

3. Write it down

If I am ever called-upon during a seminar to answer a question or contribute in any way my mind goes completely blank; any knowledge or opinion I may have had two seconds beforehand disappears from my mind and I am rendered to a complete state of confusion and panic. So, if you are aware of study questions for that session in advance or if you have readings you need to do for that seminar, jot down some bullet points. That way if you are put on the spot at least you will have some words written down in front of you that you could be able to credibly use to escape the awkward silence of a non-answer. In all honesty, this has not always worked for me as I have still been unable to get words out even when they were in front of me but it is worth giving this tactic a shot anyway.

4. Fidget/stimming tools and toys

In any anxiety-provoking situation I find fidget toys useful. From making an airplane journey to walking down the street, fidget or stimming toys can have huge benefits in lowering your anxiety and allowing you to feel more relaxed. You can take out some of your anxious energy and re-focus your mind on them by using them under your desk or in your pockets. Personally, if I allow myself even just a minute of withdrawing from my current setting and focusing solely on the feeling and texture of my fidget toy (such as a tangle or fidget cube), I am sometimes able to regain some semblance of control over my thoughts.

5. Use your perspective

I have a tendency to plunge myself into catastrophic thinking whenever I am in the midst of struggling through a seminar. Feeling anxious and not being able to speak become the only things I can think about and a spiral of self-loathing and negative thoughts enter my head. What I’m still working on is implementing a different perspective during these moments. Rather than falling into a black hole of criticism and slating myself, I try to remind myself that seminars are not the centre of my world and are not the be-all and end-all of my academic career. At the end of the day, I am not graded on how I do in seminars and neither should me self-worth be based on them. I blow the experience of seminars out of proportion and let them define the tone and mood for the rest of my day which is both unhealthy and completely unnecessary. 

I feel like a bit of fraud talking about this because I still have not conquered seminar anxiety myself. Hopefully though you will be able to find something in my ramblings which will at least help to ease your struggle a little bit and you won’t do what I did in my first year which was avoid even going to a crazy amount of seminars which is the start of a slippery slope.

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00

Why Anxiety Sufferers Are Misunderstood As Rude

During my course of CBT a couple of years ago, my therapist warned me that I probably come across as rude to other people whilst I am fighting off my anxiety in a social situation. In fact, she said that it’s likely I put people off and make them wary of me because they will view me as cold and distant. To a certain extent I can understand what she was saying, however I also maintain that people with anxiety should not be blamed for the way they appear during social interactions.

People who do not have experience of social anxiety can often misunderstand the internal workings of anxiety sufferers. For example, I fidget quite often during conversations and constantly try to avoid eye contact, so others can perceive me to be disinterested and aloof when really I am just battling to keep control over my mind as anxiety increasingly eats away at me. At other times, I have difficulty vocalising what I want to say; the words may be begging to be said at the front of my mind but they feel like they get stuck in my throat. As I panic more and more, I am unable to speak, my throat constricts further and the waiting words get squeezed so much that there is no hope of me getting them out in the air. Whilst all this is going on for me internally, the person awaiting my response in conversation may misunderstand me and think that I have nothing to say or believe that I have abandoned the interaction. Again, this situation ends-up in me being viewed as rude when really I am trying desperately hard to stay in the social situation whilst all my impulses scream at me to run away immediately.

I cannot blame other people for wrongly perceiving me as rude or distant because I display all of the normal signs of being exactly those characteristics. People judge each other on first impressions and keep those judgements in their minds for a very long time. The problem is that when I meet someone for the first time, my anxiety symptoms are often at their most extreme and pronounced. As a result, I come across as the most rude I can possibly be and, after that, I am condemned to glares across the lecture hall for the rest of the academic year all because of the disastrous first interaction I had with someone.

It’s difficult to conclude this post. If general society was more aware of the effects anxiety can have on the whole of people’s lives, then maybe these misunderstandings could be avoided and the pressure on sufferers to act okay when they are not could be eased. However, everyone has some measure of insecurities during social interactions, so we cannot pile all of the blame on people who become offended when they see the person they are talking to start to shuffle and look away into the distance.

I would love to know everyone’s thoughts about this topic and what people think can be done to ease the pressure on anxious people when they are in social situations.

Here is a link for information about anxiety and panic attacks if anyone wants to read-up on this further:

Mind – Anxiety and Panic Attacks

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00