I have been really touched by the feedback I have received about my blog so far, especially from people who have either suffered with anxiety themselves, or are close to someone who has/does. Hearing about the different ways it manifests itself, too, has been a real eye-opener. From intrusive and unwelcome thoughts to muscle tension – I had no idea that anxiety could cause such a range of physical and mental symptoms.
I am shocked at how common it is, and how little it is talked about. For example, a good friend of mine had suffered with anxiety a couple of years ago, and I never even knew. She never talked about it (You know who you are – I hear ya, sista). But then, I haven’t ever really discussed it with anyone else before, either, which is why I feel it’s important to now open up the discussion of this subject publicly. It’s almost like an unwritten rule that you don’t share the fact that you’re suffering with anxiety. Is it seen as a sign of weakness? Are sufferers made to feel that way about it? Because I actually see it as a sign of great strength that has been pushed to its limit.
Humans have to have a regulated balance. If there is rough, there has to be smooth. We have a highly capable ability to hold things together and deal with fantastic amounts of stress and, it seems in today’s society, this is expected of you. People working all hours, and not just the ones they are paid for; the constant pressures placed upon parents to do things the ‘right’ way, or it may harm their child…
I’m sure you’ve all experienced this at some time in your lives – When you have a break from work or school, you find that you become ill. Our bodies just give up battling it any more, and the only time we have to rest, we have to then deal with an illness! It makes logical sense that, if we all give ourselves a bit of relaxation time more regularly, we could avoid these extremes. But, really, who has time for that? So, the body and mind have no choice but to go into some kind of physical meltdown when the opportunity presents itself. A head cold. The flu. Maybe a migraine, or worse.
Is there too much stress in our daily lives, or are humans just not made to cope with it? If it’s a case of looking at our current lifestyles, I believe that the introduction of having everything available at our fingertips has a lot to do with the pressures we all feel, especially if these things fail us. Kids no longer have to walk down to the end of the street to call their parents from a phone box when they’re going to be late home from the park. Instead, now, parents worry more when they can’t get hold of a child who has a mobile phone, which should be with them and switched on 24/7. How many conversations have you had where someone says ‘Let’s Google it’ instead of relying on collective memory and knowledge to get the answer to a question (or looking it up in a book)? We no longer have to try. It’s all given to us instantly – Information, comfort, safety, entertainment. Back in ‘the day’ when we didn’t have this constant stream of information at our fingertips, I wonder if life was less stressful. There were no alternatives. Even now, in some countries, this is the case. For example, nobody in Swaziland felt frustrated or anxious when the internet or electricity went down. It happens regularly enough for the locals to be able to manage around it. They have other light sources ready at the drop of a hat, and (in some households) gas cookers or braai pits in case the electricity fails. And, despite it being very expensive, everyone has mobile data on their phones. But, for me, it was extremely frustrating. But, that’s because I have been privileged to have these things constantly available during my lifetime in the UK, and always in good working order (Well, except when Virgin screw up). I remember being in hospital when I was having Nathi in Manzini, Swaziland, and not being able to contact my family back home in the UK. There was no wifi anywhere in the hospital (despite it being a private hospital), and every time someone tried to call my Swazi mobile number, I couldn’t connect to the call. I finally ended up being able to call them, but it cost a lot of money to do so. I really missed that ease of communication that we have in the UK, and I knew my family were worrying about us (My mum thought we’d died at one point, after not hearing anything for quite a while – Sorry, mum, that must have been horrible).
Do all of those little day-to-day frustrations we experience so often really lead to full-blown anxiety, though? Is there an anxiety spectrum? What if you’ve had to deal with something bigger than these day-to-day stresses? Do people have different levels of coping? Could one person’s loss of a loved one equal another’s work worries in terms of how it affects them mentally?
I had a fantastic lightbulb moment about my anxiety last Saturday while chatting to a good friend of mine (which was the inspiration for this post). I realised that it comes up more when I’m not busy or active. How’s that for an oxymoron? The one thing you want to do when you feel anxious is relax but, when you do, your anxiety flares up. I get a tight chest and shortness of breath more often while breastfeeding my son, or sitting with my thoughts and nothing else to occupy my brain, my senses or my limbs. I have found myself trying to find time to relax more often since the anxiety has taken a hold of me, and it seems that I have made the wrong choice. So, what’s the alternative? I just have to stay busy all the time, for the rest of my life? Stay strong, be active, have things to do all day long? Where do I go back and get that ‘regulated balance’, mentioned above, so as to avoid the anxiety flare-ups that I get now? If I’d have known what I know now, would I have been able to save myself? My conclusion is actually to make a more conscious effort to concentrate more on things. Distraction is the key. When I am on the verge of an attack, I need to occupy my mind with something else. Or go for a walk. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. It’s really helping me to deal with my anxiety in a healthy and rewarding way.
If anyone has any comments or answers to some of the questions I have posed in this post, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts, ideas and experiences. Please comment, or contact me privately.
And, if anxiety is something you’re dealing with, know you’re not alone, and you are not weak. It’s OK to let it come to you, and I hope you’re able to get the help you need to manage your way through it. Please talk about it. And, also know that it won’t last forever. Nothing ever does.
(Photo credit: Fernando Cferdo at Unsplash.com)