A lot of talk about anxiety is focused on ways of managing it or “getting rid” of it. But it’s so important to remember that anxiety is, first and foremost, a natural and useful mechanism which keeps us alive. It can serve as a warning and trigger us to take the necessary action to survive. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past is to always pass off anxiety as a ‘dysfunction’ within myself.
I have often experienced an unnecessarily high amount of anxiety, and it can flare up completely randomly (for example, having a panic attack for no apparent reason). But when I look at the bigger picture there is usually an underlying reason I’m feeling so anxious. It could be because of a past trauma, it could be because something really stressful is happening in my life. One of the biggest causes I’ve found, which is often difficult to identify, is when I’m really unhappy or uncomfortable with something that’s going on in my life, but I am denying it to myself. This could be in the form of a relationship that’s making me miserable, a job that’s making me stressed, anything.
Because I know that I struggle with anxiety, when I’m not feeling good I always attribute it to an internal problem. I’m too weak, I’m too nervous, I’m too negative, I’m too dramatic, I’m just always going to get anxious about things. I then minimise the effects that something external might be having on my mental health. Usually I do know, deep down, when something is making me miserable, but I always try to think of another reason. I think that if I was just a stronger or better person I’d be able to go through with this situation. I should be happy in this situation. And I also think, what if I do leave this situation and I was wrong? It turns out I was the problem, and now I’ve lost something that could have been good for me. And so I continue to make myself more and more miserable, more and more anxious, not only by choosing to be in a situation that is making me unhappy, but by denying myself the truth about what I want.
Of course, sometimes in life we have to persevere with things we don’t want to do, things which are making us unhappy. But I don’t think it is as detrimental if you are least honest with yourself. Say you’re studying for your degree, but it’s extremely stressful and you’re really struggling. If you are honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, you give yourself options. You could stick it out, if it’s worth it for you, and you know that eventually it will come to an end. Or you can ask for support. You can defer. You can quit.
But if you deny that you’re struggling, you will not only continue to struggle and suffer, but you won’t seek any support, and you won’t look for other options. You won’t make any sensible decisions if you deny yourself the truth. And, along the way, you might begin to distrust your own feelings and judgement, which can be so detrimental in the long term. I really do believe that if you have a recurring gut feeling that something isn’t right for you, then it probably isn’t.
I have been reading an amazing book called ‘Original Self’ by American author Thomas Moore, and he discussed ‘archetypal psychology’, and how this branch of psychology focuses on working out “what does the soul want?” rather than trying to “force the person to fit more neatly into polite society”. I took a really strong message from this. It’s so easy to imagine how you would like to be in your idea of an ‘ideal’ life or an ‘ideal’ self. But you never really know whether something is ideal for you until you’re doing it. If you get the job you’ve been dreaming of since childhood but it turns out you’ve been in tears every night ever since you started, then it probably isn’t right for you. It’s okay that you thought it was and now it isn’t. Maybe you’re dating someone that everyone else in your life adores, but something just doesn’t feel right for you. It’s you that has to live your life, not them!
I’ve learnt that there are times that you have to be brave and take a risk when something doesn’t feel right. There will always be the fear that you’re going to make the wrong decision. For that reason I would always suggest that you give yourself time before you make any big decisions. Emotions go up and down all the time. You don’t need to quit your job after a bad first week – give it a few months. And you don’t need to leave your partner because of one bad fight. It’s the recurring negative feelings that are, in my opinion, a sign that something isn’t right, and it’s repetition of these feelings which can be so damaging.
Leaving a situation that’s causing you stress and anxiety can be so freeing, and it can truly change your life. Try to be as honest as possible with yourself as you go through life. Do not always dismiss your feelings as being a result of some internal problem. True, having mental health issues or mental illness can massively exacerbate and distort your emotions and I don’t want to undermine that. But our emotions are there to guide us too. If your anxiety seems to be coinciding with something that’s going on in your life externally, it’s really important to be honest with yourself about that.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope that this was interesting or helpful – I found it a huge relief to write because it’s something that has taken me a long time to get my head around! Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts 🙂
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional, and the above is in no way professional advice. I am simply sharing my own experiences of anxiety in the hope that it might resonate with others. If you are, or think you might be, struggling with anxiety or any other aspect of your mental health, I urge you to get in touch with your doctor or a professional. ❤