October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The one day a year that many stop to consider mental health and its implications, and some of us even vow (much like a new year’s resolution) to take better care of our mental health.
But what about those who aren’t able to switch off the other 364 days a year?
Given that 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety in their lifetime, I guarantee that you either know or have been that woman.
If you’re going through anxiety: Firstly, my condolences. It sucks. It really does. It’s relentless, and consuming. I get it. I experience it. Secondly, there ARE ways to live enjoyably, and it doesn’t have to rob you of your fun / career / sense of humour / joyousness / personality – or any of it. But it feels like it does.
For as long as I can remember I have been anxious, though it didn’t have a name until my early 20’s. I remember very clearly around the age of 10 feeling that rushing sensation in my mind of not being able to turn off, and thinking about a thousand negative possible consequences for any action I took. Seriously, I can overthink overthinking. Early on I was anxious because I was gifted at school. I was anxious that I would lose that. I was anxious that my teachers didn’t like me. I was anxious that I was tall (didn’t need to worry about that one though – reeeallly didn’t turn out that way). I was anxious that when I got to highschool I didn’t seem to find it as easy as the other kids (but as it turns out, at least half the year was feeling that way – it was selective school and there were some REAL brains there). I was anxious that my friends secretly didn’t like me, and for a few years I had a very annoying habit of continually asking them “do you hate me? No really, do you?”. I was anxious that I saw the world differently to others, and wondered how I’d fit in – turns out I’m pretty boring and found my tribe. I was anxious that I would never find love. I was anxious that I WOULD find love, and then it would be awkward if I had to break up with them. As an adult I’m anxious about being a failure. I’m anxious about being a success. I’m anxious about being sued – though it’s never happened and seems unlikely as I’m pretty meticulous in every thing I do. I’m anxious that bad things will happen to those I love. I’m anxious when I’m out of control of any situation – this is why I tend to be a creature of habit and go to the same cafes etc and feel really adventurous trying new things. I’m anxious that I’m missing out on stuff because I’m scared. And I’m scared of having a panic attack as a passenger that causes an accident, which is why I’m rarely not the driver.
It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. And so are those people around me who hear me constantly and unnecessarily jump to the worst case scenario. All. The. Time.
The funny thing is, I’m not at all anxious about my capacity to do great work, and bring out the best in other people. I know the shit out of that, and am super comfortable. It’s the one area that doesn’t phase me at all. In an ironic twist, I have supported hundreds of clients over the years to manage their anxiety, with great success! Seriously…
So why am I like this? Who knows. I haven’t been exposed to childhood trauma, and grew up in a suburban, middle classed whitebread 80’s family. Some of it’s probably genetic – looking back through my family tree, the strong matriarchal Scottish women of my dad’s side are riddled with what would could be diagnosed as anxiety. Some of it’s probably just my flair for the dramatic. And some of it is learned behaviour – it’s just what I’ve become used to over the years.
Recently I’ve made the very sensible decision to reign it back in again. It had been many years since I sought help for my anxiety, and after a really stressful time in my life when my dad had a massive stroke and life as we all knew it changed (he’s doing really well by the way with loads of love and rehab from my wonderful mum) I realised it was time again to get my anxiety under control as it was destroying my life. I was waking in panic attacks almost nightly, struggling with tasks around the house, drinking way too much, and my blood pressure was sky-high. And funnily enough, the minute that I asked for help was the minute I began to manage it better…..and FEEL better!
So, what can YOU do to manage your anxiety better, or support a girlfriend who is currently living with it?
Know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! 1 in 3 – that’s a huge statistic. Other women in your social circle, work environment, sporting team, kid’s school – other women ALL AROUND YOU are currently experiencing, have previously experienced, or will experience similar feelings to you. Anxiety can feel very isolating, and you might even question your own sanity – I know I have! So it’s important to fight those feelings and know that it’s in fact really common. With this knowledge in mind – please don’t be afraid to come forward and let others know how you are going, and offer an ear to another woman who is needing to talk about her experience – you don’t need to offer answers, just listen. Let her know she isn’t alone.
Practice good SELF-CARE: Now this is a word that is bandied about all over the place these days, but it’s really super important that we take care of ourselves. We know from ongoing studies (and let’s face it….word of mouth) that the majority burden of domestic chores and care of others falls on women – we’ve become very good at looking out for others but often don’t place the same importance of caring for ourselves. Good self-care looks like: ensuring you have enough sleep (seriously, that load of washing can wait until tomorrow), good eating and drinking habits (women over the age of 40 are statistically the quickest growing population of problem drinkers), being able to switch off and relax (meditation doesn’t have to be all ohms – it can be as simple as focussing your attention on your breathing and recognising the changing feels in your body for two minutes), and maintaining relationships – humans are social creatures (even the introverts) – we’re designed to have down time with others! Phone a friend, send a silly photo, or have someone over for family dinner – it doesn’t have to be fancy!
SEEK HELP! I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll say it again: SEEK HELP. Sometimes we all need to ask for help, and if your anxiety is getting in the way of you living an enjoyable and productive life, then it’s time for you to seek help. Start by letting your GP know what’s going on for you – don’t worry, they’re not going to think any less of you / think you’re mad / call you a failure – they’re going to be able to set you up on a plan that will make life a lot easier! Treatment for anxiety can look different for different people, and it may be that you need to try a couple of different approaches which might include medication, psych intervention, and improving your general health. Be honest about how treatment is working for you – the mind isn’t an exact science, but we have a really good idea of strategies that work for a whole variety of reasons! Don’t be swayed by pills, potions, or oils before consulting your doctor – some of these are actually known to increase anxiety symptoms so always check first! For some great free resources, head to beyondblue.org.au
Acknowledge that YOU are YOU: wonderful and unique. Anxiety or not. As my favourite doctor, Dr Seuss famously said:
"today you are you it is truer than true,
there is no-one alive who is youer than you"
Lauren is the resident Careergony Aunt, and founder of Headstrong Women. She’s a passionate mojo seeker, rehab counsellor and career development expert who loves nothing more than empowering women to make educated choices in their careers and lives. Outside of work, Lauren is a bad ukulele player, opinionated book clubber, and is owned by an elderly Turkish Van.