Monday, 11 April 2016

16 Things That Make Me Anxious

Imagine you're about to walk into an important exam you've not prepared for. You meant to cram revision the night before but you fell asleep with your head on your desk and woke up half an hour before the exam was due to start. Imagine the exam was going to make or break something important to you.

That tangible feeling of dread and panic inside you? Imagine that, but every day, about things that other people don't even have to consider.

That's anxiety (most commonly, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD), but no one person with anxiety experiences it quite the same. This makes it hard to recognise, hard to come to terms with and hard to understand: despite dealing with it most days of my life since a young age, I had no idea what I was experiencing was clinical anxiety until my twenties. The more we talk about it (as well as depression and other mental illnesses) and the more widely it's understood, the less likely people are to suffer in silence.

For this reason, I thought I'd make a list of the main scenarios around which my anxiety centres itself.

Quick foreword: these stressors and stimuli aren't "scary" to a lot of people, at least not to a serious degree, and there is generally very little logic involved. Remember, though, anxiety does not have to make sense to you for it to be very, very real for me.

1. Phones - answering them, talking on them, hearing them ring.

Answering the phone is a common one amongst anxiety sufferers. If I had to reason a guess as to why, I'd say probably because there is nowhere to run or hide and all of the focus is concentrated on your words and what you're saying like having a really focused audience and because it is the devil.

And lets talk a sec about those times when people ring more than once in a row. I GET that you want me to answer but there is a reason I didn't answer the first time (see above) and if you call twice in a row, you are forcing me to run through every single loved one in my head and imagine life without them after the fatal accident they have had which you are inevitably calling to tell me about. Be less selfish, you know?

2. New places

New places, particularly restaurants, cafés and bars - oh god, bars - are a nightmare for me in general and especially when I'm having an already anxious day. The more build up (i.e. the more time that passes between finding out we're going and actually arriving) the worse it gets. Weirdly, I don't quite feel the same about clubs; I think the anonymity that comes with darkness and huge crowds helps to ease things a little. Plus I haven't arrived at a club sober since I gave up alcohol for a month or so back in my second year of university and well... dutch courage helps.

3. Walking somewhere on my own

"Things that are terrible: being anxious and walking from a place to another place." This is part of a tweet thread I did recently and also part of the inspiration for this post. Walking from A to B is awful. Walking from A to B involves a lot of sweating, heart palpitations and often teary eyes. And walking from A to nowhere-in-particular? Not gonna happen, boo.

I actually spent a good chunk of my time at university getting a taxi from my house to campus (a 15-20 minute walk) because I needed to eliminate one anxiety-inducing element of going to lectures. It was not a cheap year.

4. New people, sometimes

Sometimes I'm the loudest, most confident person in the room, other times I'm the awkward quiet friend that looks a bit sweaty and flushed. Nothing makes me angrier than when I'm socially awkward, and I often am when meeting new people. Pressure I guess. That said, sometimes when I meet new people I'm not sweaty or flushed and I don't stumble on my words or let my sentences trail off. Who knows.

5. Trains

People everywhere, small spaces, sitting next to - or even FACING - strangers, no possible exit until the next stop at the earliest... anyone who knows me well knows that trains are my hell. I hate them. I HATE them. Want to torture me? Put me on the Leeds-Manchester train at 6pm on a Friday when there's a football match on.

Just thinking about this is making me a bit sweaty.

6. Deadlines (and anything pressing on my internal "to do" list)

I mean, everyone hates deadlines, sure, but the feeling of panic, dread and the difficulty concentrating when dealing with deadlines alongside anxiety is on another level. So, so many times in my life I've said to someone "I can't make myself do it" and not been able to put into words quite how strong the pull in the opposite direction was. As soon as you place a deadline over my head, I WILL NOT be able to focus and I WILL put it off and procrastinate.

I used to think I just needed extreme pressure to work, but actually, procrastination is a big part of anxiety. I put off everything from returning calls to blogging (clearly) to going to the dentist (like, my wisdom teeth are agony and all my bottom teeth have moved so they're no longer straight but yet I still have not made an appointment in three years). And yes, it does make me more stressed, thank you so much for your insightful observation. So helpful.

7. Dressing up, or big events

Weddings. Proms. Big parties. Anything that puts an emphasis on dressing up beyond the standard "night out" attire (though even that can stress me out if I'm not going to the kind of place which welcomes trainers with open arms). Nope.

8. Shopping solo (or particularly oppressive shopping experiences)

This one's like an extension of no. 3 (walking places on my own): solo shopping trips are an absolute breeding ground for anxiety. Shops are so light and bright and full of hot people. And if they're not terrifyingly open-plan they're suffocatingly claustrophobic. What gives?

Alright, so it's a fine line for all my friends and acquaintances to tread: when I'm anxious and we're shopping together and I can't see you or reach you in under five seconds, I will (mostly internally) lose my shit. When I am not anxious and we're shopping together you're gonna NEED to take a few steps back. Stop following me around like a lost puppy. I can feel your puppy breath on the back of my neck - get out of my grill.

9. Someone knocking on the door

Whaaaattttttt no why are you arriving at my door unannounced? Who does that anymore? If it was someone I knew well they'd have texted me first so who is this imposter?

Level up: someone knocking on the door when I'm a) unshowered b) without makeup or c) in bed.

10. Beaches

The more crowded, the more I'm going to want to curl up in a ball on/in/consumed by the sand and cry. Walking to the sea from the beach AND BACK AGAIN is my worst nightmare. There are people. Here is my body. There are people.

11. Being late

Hey friends if you're reading this, I know I'm famously never on time, ever, and I know it's annoying (but also endearing?) and I know this seems like a strange one to include considering. Being late to stuff you're not meant to be late for, though? That's different. I can't stand being late to things like seminars or the cinema, for the attention it brings me. Anything that puts the spotlight onto me

That's a point, actually...

12. Walking into the cinema


13. Smelling. Body odour or bad breath

I am a BO-phobe and the best thing you can ever say to me is "you smell nice". One time, a few of my friends told me I always smell good and I cried. I also chew gum constantly when I leave my house (sorry) lest my breath be anything less than minty fresh. Writing this is actually making me quite anxious because what if people read it and start noticing my breath or something?

14. Hearing someone scream

If I'm inside my house, particularly if it's night time, and I hear a scream, that is me not sleeping for the night. Instead, I'll be peeking through the curtains, worrying about what to do, theorising what happened, writing my own internal crime thrillers...

14. The dark

I am so, so scared of the dark. Probably because my imagination is so vivid and because almost everything I worry about is irrational. Looking out of windows when it's dark is a no. So is walking into a dark room. There are so many things that could go wrong in the "girl walks into dark room late at night" scenario, you guys.

15. Public speaking

Be that in front of 5 people or 50, I will hate it and my palms/face/whole body will sweat. More than once at university I faked being sick to get out of doing a presentation, it just did not feel worth it to me, even if I lost marks on my overall grade. There is a gravitational pull away from any instance where I am in the spotlight, talking. This includes at parties etc. when I get asked a question in front of more than a few people I don't know. I was so happy being a party wallflower please leave me alone.

16. Bad skin.

Blemishes are my nemesis. They make me so paranoid and so self-conscious and heighten every anxiety I already experience. Everything feels worse when I have spots. I would lock myself in my room every time I got a spot if I didn't have them 98% of the time. Writing this, my skin is the worst it's been in months and I want to claw my face off I'm so stressed about it.

So there's my main anxiety triggers, what are yours? I tweeted to ask...
...and here's some of the answers I got:

Where do you find yourself most anxious? What triggers your anxiety most?

Illustration by Elliana Esquivel

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