When this article was nothing but an embryo in the womb of my mind, it was originally a response to the Vice article ‘Stop Confusing Your Nerves with Having Anxiety’. For anyone who hasn’t read it, the author states “nothing is as fashionable right now as anxiety disorders”, as well as claiming that people often confused nerves relating to social situations as having anxiety. They also use case studies as examples of people who have extreme anxiety disorders, to support this idea. While I agree with certain points that the author makes, I believe that the ‘my mental health is worse than your mental health’ attitude is extremely damaging.
We live in a country where the largest cause of death in males under 30 is suicide. I firmly believe that this is due to our society’s reluctance to speak about mental health problems, instead sweeping them under the rug and ignoring them. Furthermore, 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental illness in the UK during any one year. 1 in 4. Next time you’re in your office, out at the gym, or sat round the table at the pub, remember that. It’s something that we can’t escape, yet something that we are very good at not talking about. Therefore, while I understand the author’s frustration at people labelling pre-speech-nerves as suffering from anxiety, I also think that that is the exact thing that could deter someone who is genuinely suffering from speaking out, and getting the help that they need. A person with an anxiety disorder may be reluctant to speak out anyway, and reading articles like the above one may prevent them from speaking about it, instead thinking to themselves “I don’t have it as bad as this guy, so I don’t need to get help”. When in reality, talking is the first step towards getting better.
(As a side note to this, I really dislike the author’s belittling attitude to celebrities with anxiety disorders, stating “Hey, Kim and Kendall: Getting lightheaded on a plane is not the same thing as having a panic attack”. FYI, Kim got robbed at gunpoint, so of course she would suffer from anxiety afterwards, and Kendall suffers from sleep paralysis. But this isn’t a Kardashian blog, so I’ll end this here).
As a person who has dealt with mental health issues both personally and with my loved ones, I understand the importance of being able to talk about it. So, rather than belittling other people’s illness and claiming that mine is worse, I thought I’d help people out with a list of tips for living with anxiety. And fuck it, if the author of the VICE article reads this, they’re also great tips for coping with nerves.
- Get a Meditation/Wellbeing App
There are tons of these to choose from, and my personal favourite is Headspace. These apps allow you to train your mind to relax and teach you breathing techniques, as well as aiding with meditation, which can be key when you feel like you’re about to have a panic attack. Most of them are free, and you can spend as much or as little time on them as you need. For me, spending 10 mins a day using Headspace to meditate has often alleviated anxiety.
- Talk About It
I can’t stress this enough, and it applies for all forms of mental illness. Opening up about how I’m feeling – while often daunting – has been the single most helpful resource when living with an anxiety disorder. It also makes it easier for people to understand why you might be flakey, or not acting your usual self.
- Understand That Not Everyone Understands
This is a tough thing to accept, but unsurprisingly, not everyone understands anxiety disorders, no matter how hard you try to explain it to them. I’ve had several instances when I’ve told someone that I suffer from anxiety, only for them to turn around and say “what have you got to be anxious about?”. At my worst, a simple task such as going to the shop felt like the mission to Mordor, for reasons I can’t begin to explain. Not everyone is going to get that, and that’s okay. You just have to be prepared for it.
- Cut Down on Drinking
This is the one thing that no one wants to hear, but reducing the amount of alcohol (and other recreational substances) you take is key to reducing anxiety. While drinking alcohol initially relaxes you – think about that feeling you get when you have a vodka after a long day – the changes it makes to your neurotransmitters means that the next day, it can be worsened – think about how you feel mentally when you wake up hungover. I used to be absolutely mad for the sesh, but reducing how frequently I go out and get wasted has helped me to reduce my anxiety, and improved my quality of life.
- Sleep More
This goes hand in hand with step 4, but getting in 8 hours of quality sleep every night is proven to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as making you feel overall better. Sleep is the best medicine for pretty much everything, so it makes sense. Plus, sleeping is the best, so crack on and indulge yourself with a solid eight hour session of quality snoozing – and do it regularly.
- Remember That You’ll Get Better
It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset of thinking you’ll be ill forever – especially with all the worry than anxiety brings. But, just like you get over a stomach bug or the flu, you can get over anxiety as well. It’s not something that sticks with you for life – if you take the right steps, and seek the right help, you can improve your symptoms.