How long do panic attacks last We have created the video below to hopefully help sufferers of panic attacks. I cannot remember how old i was when i suffered my first anxiety attack, i think it was when my parents split up when i was about 9 years old and ended up in divorce. To make […]
This post is the first in a new series of guest conversations called Voices on Mental Health. I am honored to showcase inspirational people with unique and important perspectives on mental illness.
The first conversation in our series is with Joe Sifer. Joe is an Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton with over 30 years of experience in engineering, technology, and consulting services – click here to view his bio. He also lives with PTSD and is a fellow survivor of childhood trauma. I asked Joe to offer some reflections on being a successful professional while managing a mental health condition – something that has been a real challenge for me over the years. When Joe shared his story with me, I was struck by his incredible ability to advocate for his mental health needs at work. By taking ownership of his diagnosis, practicing self care and communicating with his colleagues, he has forged both a successful career and an effective treatment plan for himself. He is also the first at his company to engage in a corporate fellowship with Give an Hour, a high-impact mental health nonprofit. I am inspired by Joe’s commitment to emotional wellness – both for himself and for his colleagues.
Amy: How has your own personal experience with mental illness played out in your professional life?
Joe: I suffer from PTSD, stemming from prolonged trauma during my childhood and teen years. Surviving that trauma forged me into who I became as a young adult and helped me to develop good attributes, such as independence, perseverance, insightfulness, and toughness. From college age to the early days of my career, before I was diagnosed, I propelled myself forward by drawing on these strengths and did quite well: scholarships and fellowships, three college degrees, and positions at prestigious engineering and technology firms. There were signs of my suffering, but they were largely obscured and buried. Every once in a while, in the early days of my career, they did leak out when stress would build, or when something happened that was not according to plan or my liking. But my colleagues, family, friends, and I would just write it off to my sometimes being moody and not in the best of humors at that particular time. Anything that did flare up would subside soon enough, meaning nothing lasted long enough to be of special concern. When I started to advance into management and leadership roles, however, the effects of my PTSD became more pronounced and sustaining, and nearly derailed my career.
Amy: Was there a “tipping point” when you felt that you needed to talk to a co-worker about your mental illness?
Joe: There was a tipping point, yes, but from the other direction: my colleagues and bosses came to me. I was in my early 30s, had about 10 years of strong work experience, and had moved into my first significant management role at Booz Allen Hamilton. This position involved leading nearly 100 people and managing the details of their efforts on millions of dollars’ worth of projects annually. The role was an order of magnitude larger than any I had before, and the stress levels and demands that came with it were truly off the charts. These conditions brought out both my very best and my very worst. As time went by, the bad dimensions of my behavior overpowered the good, and I went into crisis mode, taking my team with me. I became belligerent. I would intellectually bully people. My comments and feedback were caustic and belittling. I was ill-tempered, quick to anger, and rarely happy. I worked way too many hours, did not get enough sleep, and took poor care of myself. I created a very unhealthy work environment. Understandably, people became fearful of me and fatigued by my reactions.
A few close colleagues confronted me about all this, and others reached out to my boss’s boss and higher, to express their concerns and shed light on my behavior and the toll it was taking on the team. A senior executive of the firm essentially conducted an intervention with me, and that led me to seek mental health care, at first just to keep my job but in time to get well.
Amy: What happened after the intervention?
Joe: So, there I was in my early 30s and I found my promising career as a business executive off track. As a condition to keep my job, I agreed to see a “leadership coach” who turned out to be a psychologist. I went to see him because I had to, and at first I did not share much. In time, I recounted what had happened at work and how that led me to him. We talked a great deal about my emotional reaction to the stress and pressure I had experienced at work. He believed that my behavior and its emotional charge, while very real to me, were truly out of place and not justified in the moment. He explained that, in all likelihood, my reactions were latent responses to past trauma, triggered by the stress I was under at work. I was skeptical. I hated the idea of blaming my past, or evening delving into it, but he explained that for me it was not the past, but very much alive in the present. Like it or not, I owned it now. It was not someone else’s behavior but my own and I had to take accountability for it and resolve the underlying matters in order to stop my downward spiral.
And so, we talked about the trauma I had experienced growing up in an anger-filled and at times violent, often unrelenting alcoholic household, starting from when I was 5 or 6. The abuse continued through the rest of my years growing up at home, and reached still further into my life after I left home. He explained that as a result I had been left with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness caused by my experiencing distressing trauma on a repeated basis during my formative years. We talked about how the level of stress I had experienced recently, being beyond anything I had endured since my childhood and teen years, had triggered in me emotional memories and responses connected to my past, vice the realities of my current day. This triggering was the source of my misaligned and disproportionate responses at work, and explained to me the fundamental disconnect I had with my team and with myself in coping with the pressures at work. Like any other chronic illness or malady that I might have, I learned that I needed to treat my PTSD and that if I did, it could be managed and not become any more of an impediment to career success and personal happiness.
Amy: How did sharing about your mental illness impact your career?
Joe: At first it saved it. Over time, it propelled it forward more strongly than ever before. During the first two or three years of my treatment, I learned enough and healed enough emotionally to get back on track. I earned an important promotion, having achieved a level of emotional wellness that was sufficient for coping well at work. As I continued to improve over the next four or five years, I attained a greater degree of emotional wellness that benefitted me greatly on a personal basis in my relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. I was thriving at work and at home. I was experiencing happiness and emotional fitness on a sustained basis in a way I had never before, and it made all the difference. I earned another promotion, this time into executive leadership, as a partner and vice president. With all my strengths on display and my new-found emotional grounding and sophistication, I came to be offered new and exciting roles in the business, the kind that brought with them stress and pressure much greater than before. I thrived now under these conditions and succeeded, earning promotions to senior vice president and then executive vice president.
I learned to pay attention to myself for any signs of challenges in coping with the stress and pressure of my varied roles. I continued with my therapy, as I do today, and consulted with my doctors on the impacts of new stress levels. I decided to avail myself of anti-anxiety medication when it became evident that the new levels of routine stress I would experience could be even more effectively managed through the combination of therapy and medication. This has allowed me to chart an aggressive, risk-taking trajectory in my career, to include some of my most recent roles where I was entrusted with turning around large business units.
Amy: Tell us about your fellowship with Give an Hour. How did that opportunity come about?
Joe: This past December or January, it became evident that I had achieved a number of the key milestones I needed to in my current role at Booz Allen. About two years before, I took over a business unit that was in distress and needed to be turned around. I thought it would take another year to get there, but the solutions we put in place worked well and more quickly than expected. I was approaching the point where I could turn my role over to others and take on a new role in the firm. Usually I would be excited about that prospect. But the role I had been in was a very difficult one, from start to finish. We essentially achieved in 18 months what I thought would take three years to do, not because we wanted to overachieve, but because we had to in order to turn things around or risk losing them for good. I conducted some very taxing investigations and assessments to surface difficult truths, and bring these forward to our executive council to get the backing I needed to address them. The process was grueling. I had to make some very difficult decisions. I had to drive myself and my team very hard to meet non-negotiable deadlines. I had to conceive of a model that would bring success and I had to build and sustain consensus for the model in order to implement it in a timely way. And I had to prove it out in execution over the past year. I could measure success or failure quite tangibly in terms of tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs lost, protected, or added.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved this challenge and thrived on it. In many respects, all my experience to date had led me to this point, and made me ready for this challenge. Still, the intensity of this role took its toll. I saw that it did among my team members, and I helped them each address this. Later, I came to see it in myself. I found myself becoming impatient, less cooperative, inconsistent, and even erratic at times. These were subtler symptoms of my PTSD, but symptoms nonetheless. I talked these through with my therapist and doctors, adjusted my medication, and came to see that I needed a change, but not to another pressure-cooker situation, at least not immediately. I spoke with our CEO, Horacio Rozanski, about some options to recharge and renew, and this coincided with some discussions I was having with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Founder and President of Give an Hour, about deepening Booz Allen’s relationship with her organization (www.giveanhour.org) and its initiative The Campaign to Change Direction (www.changedirection.org). This led to the creation of the Visiting Corporate Fellowship role I now have with Give an Hour. I am so fortunate to have a CEO and an executive council at Booz Allen that “gets it” and “gets me”. They have enabled us to create this win-win situation with Barbara and her team at Give an Hour.
Amy: Do you see a need for professionals to enhance their practice of emotional wellness?
Joe: Absolutely. Wellness has many dimensions. Physical, of course. Everyone first thinks about that. But that is only one dimension. Emotional wellness is an equally important dimension. Humans are emotional, soulful beings. We cannot be truly healthy if we are not both physically and emotionally fit. Learning to value and achieve both is first and foremost the work of parents, and families, and family doctors, and support systems. As young people become adults and launch their professional careers, hopefully they have the good habits that promote good physical and mental health. My professional career now spans 30 years and I have spent most of the past 20 years as someone who has been emotionally aware and fit.
I see that most of the professionals around me do much more to take care of their physical health than they do their mental health. One of course helps the other. Exercise is good for mental health but more as a side benefit. Fewer professionals directly address their emotional wellbeing and I think doing so would allow more to unlock their full potential. I find much more of the mentoring I do now revolves around how a person is maturing emotionally and bringing emotional awareness to bear in their approaches to work and career development. More often now the insights I offer, or the development actions I suggest, have to do with someone addressing an emotional challenge, shoring up emotional resilience, or becoming more sophisticated in working with the emotional responses of colleagues and team members. In short, there is a tremendous need for professionals to enhance their emotional wellness and the benefits of doing so are significant.
Amy: What are some practical ways that you would like to see leaders incorporate mental wellness into their own professional development?
Joe: We all have a state of emotional health, on a continuum that stretches from one extreme to another. At any given time, we are at one point or another along that continuum. We can improve where we are at, and how long we stay at an improved point, by more directly taking care of our emotional health. I would encourage leaders to do just that and model the way for their team members. Be a visible example in this regard. We can do that by getting emotional health check-ups for ourselves, just as we do for our physical health. Talk about this dimension of our health with our doctors, or with a lay or religious counselor, and take actions to improve based on these discussions. We can take steps in our daily routine to promote mindfulness, whether that is creating quiet time to reflect, or meditate, or pray, or stretch. Setting aside our smart phones, tablet devices, computers, and all the rest, and taking some time each day to check in emotionally with ourselves and re-center. Deliberately managing our energy is another step we can take, by working to maintain a good rhythm between performance and renewal, while avoiding survival and burnout modes.
We can also all learn the signs of emotional struggle—agitation, withdraw, hopelessness, poor self-care, and personality change—and be on the look-out for them in ourselves and in our team members. When we see them in ourselves, we need to reach for assistance—through our company’s wellness or assistance programs, or through our family, doctors, counselors, or friends. When we see them in our team members, we can ask them how they are and draw them out to assist them, suggesting additional resources or offering additional help. I believe that the best way I can model mental wellness as a leader is by engaging with my colleagues and showing I care through my actions.
The post Leading by Example: Joe Sifer on Mental Health at Work appeared first on blue light blue.
as i dashed across campus i breathed in the smell of falling leaves and smoke in the air. it was a bright and windy october day during my senior year in college. i had just finished up a long afternoon class and was looking forward to a night out with my girlfriends and a weekend of fun. i had forgotten my phone in my dorm room so just needed to pop in and pick it up before meeting them for dinner.
i was rushing so didn’t look down at it right away but as i walked down the stairwell i paused for a second to check the screen. i had 10 missed calls from my mom. i froze, knowing immediately that something was wrong. she was supposed to be on a flight overseas so i shouldn’t have been hearing from her at all. i gripped the phone in my hand as i sprinted back up to my room. the excitement i had felt about the weekend had vanished as quickly as the warm summer days and i was left with a cold, panicky feeling inside.
i called and she picked up immediately. “mom – what’s wrong?” she paused and then said, carefully, “i don’t want to scare you. but i have cancer.” i felt a loud rushing sound in my ears and stood as still as a statue while she told me. told me that she had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. that she didn’t know how advanced it was. that she would have major surgery in one month to determine what stage she was in.
as i listened something broke inside of me. the wall that had been holding back the pain and anguish and fear from my father’s suicide cracked. and out flooded the panic and the sadness that i had tried to hide away for so long. while i knew that it was unlikely that her cancer would be life-threatening, this latest crisis rocked my sense of safety and stability. every single night in the years after my dad’s death i would pray an extremely long and elaborate prayer (i defy the catholic church itself to match its complexity), begging god to keep my family safe. not to let anything else bad happen to us. and for eight years it seemed like that had worked. and then one october day it didn’t.
i began to cry. all the time. by myself. i would cry in my car, i would cry in my closet, i would even cry, silently, in the toilet stall. every night i would lay face down in my bed and cry myself to sleep, so quietly that my roommate never knew. i lost my appetite and stopped eating meals. i just wasn’t hungry. i couldn’t stop thinking about my mom being gone. that something outside of our control could take her away. that there was nothing i could do about it. and just like when my dad killed himself, i didn’t feel like i could relate to my friends. none of them had experienced (or shared that they had experienced) family losses and challenges like mine. i began to feel very alone.
i went home for my mom’s surgery in november. i watched her put on a gown, get on a stretcher and wheel away from me down a sterile white hallway. my only parent. i was the adult who spoke with the surgeon when she told me that, thankfully, the cancer had been caught so early that my mom didn’t need chemo or radiation. not so thankfully, my mom began to have complications from the surgery almost as soon as it was over. recovery was going to take a while.
two days after her surgery was thanksgiving. it was one of the worst holidays i can remember. my mom was still in the hospital. i had been awake for over 48 hours. my little sister and i came home to an empty house, got into bed and just slept. grateful for a break from the sadness we were surrounded with. when my mom came home several days later i cared for her, waking up every few hours to give her a barrage of medications. i helped my sister with her college applications, as the deadlines were looming and essays needed to be written, family crisis or no. i was like a terrified little adult, trying to keep everyone else afloat. at one point i was so overwhelmed and sleep deprived that i passed out cold on the kitchen floor. i gave up a scholarship to go to ireland and study traditional celtic religion as part of my senior thesis during my winter break. they needed me there. and i needed to be there too.
in the months after my mom’s surgery i continued to struggle. i felt vulnerable and scared. exhausted and overwhelmed. isolated and uncertain. i was drinking too much. i was smoking too. i was as skinny as i ever was – smaller than a size zero. i was shrinking into myself. a feeling of persistent sadness began to follow me around, enveloping me in its mists. i began to think that maybe i couldn’t handle whatever life threw at me. that maybe i wasn’t as resilient as i thought. for the first time i felt hopeless. i wanted to go my home and lay down in the yard and be absorbed into the ground. or press myself into the walls of the house so that i could never lose it. i wanted to become a part of my landscape of loss. no more changes. not one more – i just couldn’t take it.
one night, just after my 22nd birthday, i was at home. my mom had fallen asleep early – the medication she was taking made her really drowsy, plus she had a horrible cold. my sister was in bed too. i was alone. i went outside and got into my car. i put on my oasis cd, on repeat, and began to drive. i circled the george washington parkway and then the beltway, over and over, for hours. crying, crying crying. crying for myself, crying for the whole world, crying like it would never stop. i felt like i had stepped outside of my body, like i was watching myself drive and cry, drive and cry.
several hours later i went home and, sensing that i needed help, called my therapist. the one i had seen for the first five years after my dad’s suicide. the next day i found myself sitting on her couch. telling her about last night. and the last six months. she listened, nodding as i numbly tried to describe how i felt. when i finished, she leaned forward and said, “honey, i think you have depression.” several phone calls and a psychiatrist’s appointment later i had an official diagnosis: major depression. and a prescription for medication.
“no, oh no,” i thought. “not me. not me too.” on that dark december day i didn’t know about coping. i didn’t know about recovery. i didn’t know about self care. i didn’t know how to talk about, how to feel about my dad’s suicide. all i knew is that i didn’t want to have a mental illness and i was looking down at a piece of paper that said i did.
on my way home from the appointment i listened to this song by alison krauss. over and over. tears streaming down my face. just driving and crying, driving and crying.
in this world i walk alone
with no place to call my home
but there’s one who holds my hand
on rugged road through barren lands
the way is dark, the road is steep
but he’s become my eyes to see
the strength to climb, my griefs to bear
the savior lives inside me there
in your love i find release
a haven from my unbelief
take my life, and let me be
a living prayer, my god, to thee
take my life, and let me be
a living prayer, my god, to thee
Falling in love is scary. I think we can all agree that, no matter how old we are, giving our heart to somebody can be frightening. We’re unsure if it’ll work out or if your love and trust will be betrayed by the very person you’re freely giving it to but, despite this minefield of ‘what ifs’, we pursue what our heart thinks is right.
When people say ‘you’re crazy – it’ll never work out’ or ‘you’ll only get hurt’: do we listen? Of course, not. Why? Because any glimmer of hope is enough for us to cling onto with dear life and commit to. We want to make it work – even with the odds against us – we understand that love could be forever.
We understand that love… True love, is rare and, to couple this with anxiety, it can:
Overthinking is our thing. We worry, we stress, we over exert ourselves to please somebody else: to put somebody else’s happiness before our own. We spend so much time pre-empting what may happen: instead of enjoying or reacting to what’s happening right now.
A slight change in the number of kisses you receive in a text could trigger a string of ‘is everything okay?’ replies. We believe that one less ‘x’ at the end of a message could suggest that something is changing but, the reality is, the kisses you don’t receive over the phone, are compensated for when you’re together.
We spend our time analysing changes in facial expressions and tone of voice that we often forget to enjoy the moments of pure, raw emotion. We overlook the greater picture and instead focus on the pieces needed to create the perfect masterpiece: even if those pieces aren’t missing in the first place.
Being in love is hard but, being in love when you have anxiety, is so much harder.
I’m guilty for this and I wish I could change it. I believe that because I’m dealing with my own mental battles daily that I’m the only person that matters: like I expect people to grant me a ‘free pass’ for being a dick because I’m having a bad day.
But, when you’re in a relationship, this just doesn’t fly. You simply cannot trample over somebody else’s feelings and believe they will continue to accept this forever.
Everybody has a limit and, one day, you’ll push too hard and ruin something incredible.
The brutally ironic part is: I already overthink everything so I kind of know I’m breaking the very heart I crave and adore but, I can’t do anything about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m holding my head underwater – my lungs are burning; my body takes over and tries to save me but my beautifully destructive mind would prefer to see me drown than to let my body do its fucking job.
The heart simply cannot defeat the brain if you continue to feed it’s (your) self-obsession. You must understand that, as a partner or as a best friend, you need to learn to let go of the very thing which will eventually kill you.
Considering how powerful and persuasive my mind is, on its own terms, it is seemingly very fragile and non-responsive when I really need that extra push to get through a difficult time in my relationship.
‘Oh, you had a bad argument about pretty much nothing? Here, let me just go to sleep whilst you deal with that.’ Says my brain, always. Fucking… always.
It sucks and it hurts, not just me, but the person who I would give my life to… No, scratch that: it hurts the person who I want to give my life to. I just don’t know how.
I’d much rather walk away from a relationship than to see myself suffer any longer than I already do. Having an argument is like feeding time in a Lion den when you have anxiety. Even if the person opposite you is screaming out ‘I don’t want to lose you, I want you to stay’ – your mind hears ‘Get out, leave whilst you can, if I can hurt you now – don’t give me the chance to do it again’.
It’s an exhausting game of tug-of-war between my heart and mind. I’m scared that both will become weak and they won’t work again.
You’ll know (or maybe you don’t) but people who suffer with anxiety have this feeling of eternal impending doom looming over their heads 90% of the time. It’s like constantly walking on a tight-rope from a skyscraper, with no harness on a very windy day.
So, if you feel as if somebody is falling out of love with you, even if they aren’t, you fall into this state of ‘I need constant reassurance that everything is going to be fine…’ and, if this isn’t given to you in a way which you see suitable, your fear of the future can manifest itself into quite the unpredictable temper.
I feel angry because I can’t feel what they feel, I can’t see the good which they see… I’m more scared of them not loving me anymore than I am of anything else.
I’m like that spider your parents try to tell you about ‘He’s more scared of you, than you are of it’. When I’m in love with somebody, that’s how I feel. I’m terrified of them breaking my heart and leaving me in the unstable, incapable mess in which they found me and, because of that, my body’s defence mechanism is to use anger as a substitute for seeing truth.
I can’t be weak and I’m foolish enough to think that, anger, makes me seem stronger.
That’s what my mind thinks and, unfortunately, I’m strapped in to this ride forever. There’s no getting off, there’s no ‘please slow down’: it’s a swell of different emotions that I’m involuntarily throwing myself into to see if I’ll drown or whether I’ll come back up for air.
Because, well, I want to be in love with somebody and, despite the countless reasons why somebody could not love me, I want to feel like I can be loved, too.
I don’t want to feel lost in my own thoughts – I want to share them with somebody and for them to just understand. That’s all I want. I don’t need pity or to be made to feel different: all I want to feel is loved and understood. I suppose that’s paramount in any normal relationship.
It’s just, if you fall in love with me, you don’t get ‘normal’ and that’s what scares me. I hope weird is enough for you… Because, with you, the feeling of love is all I need to get better.
The road to recovery takes time and I have plenty of it. I hope that you can take the time to get to know me and realise that, my illness does not define how I truly feel.
I’ll be honest with you and I’ll love you more than anybody else dares to… if you give me the chance.
The post Falling in Love When You Have Anxiety is Fucking Hard [Guest Post] appeared first on Anxious Lass.
One of the most common types of emails/messages I receive from you lovely, wonderful people, is how you struggle to make friends or maintain friendships that already exist because of your social anxiety.
It’s tough making friends when you constantly worry about social situations and how people perceive you. Where do you meet people? How do you get people to like you? How do you keep friends when you often have to cancel plans? I know that when I was younger, I felt like I would never make any friends or at the very least never have any true long-lasting friendships.
You can make friends when you have social anxiety though and you can maintain great friendships. Here’s a few tips on how to do that…
If you find it hard to make friends because you’re always worried about why someone would like you, maybe you feel like you might not be much fun, or you feel like you’re not interesting enough or that you’re social anxiety will only annoy them… You need to stop right there!
Making friends is not about you, or about what is great about you! It’s about how you make that person feel. If you’re too concerned about whether or not people will like you, or if your personality is good enough to make friends, then that is the reason you aren’t making friends right now.
Quit with the self focus and focus on making them feel awesome instead.
So how do you make people feel good around you? Listen. Listen. Listen.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk ever, it just means you need to listen better. Often when we’re in a conversation, our social anxiety gets us all concerned about how we look when we’re talking, whether we’re smiling properly or what that person thinks of us that we forget to actually pay attention to other person.
When you’re having a conversation from now on, I want you to try to focus on what the person is actually saying, pushing away any urge to think about yourself or what you’re doing. Focus on THEM.
Listen out for a person’s name when meeting them, so you can actually use it when talking to them. People respond really well when you use their name, it makes them feel like they’ve known you longer and they feel more connected to you. So try using their name where you can.
Give them compliments and make it genuine. If you really want to be this persons friend, it should be easy enough to think of something nice to compliment them with. Tell them you love their style or what they’re wearing. Just a simple compliment that will make them feel good being around you.
Talk more about them and less about yourself. Ask them questions about themselves, what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, where they grew up, what they love doing in their spare time… make the conversation more about getting to know them instead of worrying about talking about yourself.
If you’re going to make true friends then you need to be yourself, not who you think people will like. Trying to fit in isn’t going to win you a group of best friends, the best kind of friends will love you for who you are, so you need to give people a chance to know YOU.
I know it’s hard when you have social anxiety to voice your own opinion and not agree with everything someone says but people will respect you much harder if you are an independent person who doesn’t come across as fake.
Be yourself. If someone doesn’t like who you really are, they are not going to be a good friend for you anyway.
A lot of the times I hear you guys say that your friendships are often strained because you feel you’re clingy. Your friends have their own lives and they probably aren’t able to hang out with you as much as you’d like, so you feel insecure in the friendship, like you don’t mean as much to them perhaps. Really the truth is, your friends probably have a lot going on and it’s nothing to do with how they feel about you but guilting people into spending more time with you can be damaging so we don’t want to get to that point.
A good starting point to making friends and maintaining friendships is to be comfortable being alone as well as with other people. If you rely solely upon your friends, you’ll put too much pressure on the friendship. Value the quality time, over the quantity.
The best way to make friends who you know you will get along great with, is to meet them through a hobby. Maybe taking classes for something you enjoy or joining a club or even going on a local group or online forum that caters to your hobby/interest and meeting people that way.
You instantly have something to talk about with them, so the ice is easily already broken.
I think that often our social anxiety stops us from talking to people at school or work because we assume they’re not going to like us, or that they’re too different from us. Sometimes we just talk ourselves out of initiating conversations in case they go horribly wrong.
You will likely be surprised though at how many people you could make friends with, people you already know as acquaintances but haven’t had the chance to get to know them better.
They might have completely different hobbies and interested to you but that doesn’t mean they can’t become brilliant friends. I have lots of friends now that are polar opposite to me, people who I thought would never like me or would think I was weird.
Ask them how their day off was or talk to them about something anyone can relate to, to get the conversation started. You might be surprised how much you do have in common actually.
Meetup.com is a network where you can meet local people for drinks, trips to the cinema, photography walks, lots of different things. There are different groups for different kinds of stuff, depending on your area.
This might help as you already know the people using it want to meet new people and make new friends.
I know that sometimes avoiding a social situation when you have social anxiety is inevitable, as you’re going to come across things that are just far too much for you to handle but if you’re invited into a social situation that you know you could do but it makes you fairly anxious, try not to avoid it altogether. The more you avoid social situations or cancel plans, the less you’ll be invited in future because people will just always assume you won’t be into it.
Try and say ‘yes’ to as much stuff as your social anxiety allows and while you might find that you maintain good friendships that way, you may also find your anxiety decreasing each time.
Some friendships just aren’t meant to be. If it makes you feel stressed or down, or if you feel like you’re being walked all over, then it’s perfectly okay to end the friendship and go your own separate way. A toxic friendship is no good for your mental health and really it just wastes your time!
I mentioned in a previous post that I was attempting online dating again and that I might be meeting up with a guy from one of the sites. Well we did end up meeting up, and things have gone really well so far. I’ll need to write about our first date at some point, actually, as it makes for a funny story, in terms of how mortifyingly/ hilariously (depending on how you look at it) awkward I am. We’ve been going out for almost two months now, and I now have a boyfriend (!!!) Trust me when I say that no one is more surprised than I am! I was thoroughly convinced that I would never be in a relationship, given my mental health issues, unattractiveness, and low self-esteem. I still can’t really believe it now. This is a very prolonged and elaborate dream that I’m having. I really don’t want to mess this up, but I’m worried that all my issues that I mentioned above will inevitably ruin things. He knows all about my social anxiety and history of depression, and has so far been extremely patient and understanding, but it is still a worry. I have zero relationship experience (and not even much experience with friendships), and, as I mentioned before, being in a relationship/ getting close to someone is the area in which my anxiety and low self-esteem are most intense. I am also absolutely dreading meeting his parents (he has already met all of my immediate family, but his parents live up in the Highlands, so it will be some time before I have the opportunity to meet them, if everything continues to go well), even though they seem like lovely people. Everything in a relationship is so new and daunting to me.
While I’m of course really happy about finally having found someone I really like (and who apparently likes me) enough to be in a relationship, I am having huge issues with cognitive dissonance. For example, I can’t believe him when he says that he really likes me or that he finds me attractive, because most of my previous life experiences have taught me that I’m unlikeable/ unlovable, and that I’m hideously unattractive. Therefore according to the sum of my life experience and conditioning, he’s lying. And then I get suspicious and start to worry about what else he might be lying about. Stupid brain. All of this has made me realise that low self-esteem is my biggest issue/ obstacle. I’m currently reading a book on self-compassion in an attempt to address this. Another thing that I’m worried about is that I have intense anxiety/ issues around physical intimacy (I find it really difficult to talk about that kind of thing, but will hopefully write about it in more detail at some point, as I imagine it’s quite a common issue in those of us with SA). Even though he’s been super patient and understanding about this so far, I worry that my issues with this will eventually cause his patience to run out. Anyway…negative rant over.
It feels so great to finally have someone special in my life. I thought that romantic relationships would only ever be something that happened to other people, not to me. I’ve been so lucky to find someone so caring, patient and understanding when it comes to me and my mental health. I had the courage to be open with him about my issues, and he has accepted me, anxiety and all. I feel like this is someone that I may actually be able to trust and open up to completely. Although there are a lot of things about getting close to someone that make me really anxious, I have become so much more comfortable around him already (probably like a different person compared to how anxious I was on our first date), so I am hopeful that I will continue to improve and won’t let my anxiety get in the way of this part of my life. Even if things ultimately don’t work out, I’ve still really enjoyed our time together, and have some new happy memories to add to my collection. Any friendship or relationship that I have in my life is very precious to me. I won’t take this for granted, and I will certainly cherish this far more than most people.
Dear George, (or Mr Freeman if you prefer), Senior Advisor to The Prime Minister herself, and Head of the Number Ten policy unit. My oh my, where to even begin? Well I suppose we could start by addressing the giant elephant in room, the one with a mental illness and currently showing you the bird. Did you really mean what you said on BBC Five Live? You know.. the part about […]
A new study from the U.K. finds that living in a neighborhood with more birds, shrubs, and trees may help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Researchers studied hundreds of people and found that being able to see birds, shrubs, and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighborhoods.
University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland study involved a survey of mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes, and ethnicities.
Researchers also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.
After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon of three communities, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon.
Researchers studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighborhood on a daily basis.
In the study, common types of birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits, and crows were seen. However, the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden, or in their neighborhood.
Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low, suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.
University of Exeter research fellow Dr. Daniel Cox, who led the study, said, “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”
The positive association between birds, shrubs, and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighborhood deprivation, household income, age, and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.
The current study expands an earlier which found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature.
Source: University of Exeter
i live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). which means that anxiety presents itself to me every day throughout the day. as much progress as i have made in therapy i still find myself getting sucked into what i like to call the anxiety vortex. part of my recovery has involved recognizing when i start to head down into the rabbit hole and using tools to take a step (or a lot of steps) back. i hear from more and more people that it’s a challenge to identify anxious behaviors for what they are, so today i am going to talk about some of my own red flags and what i do to help myself when they come up.
develop body awareness. an important place to start recognizing my anxious behavior was my own body. many of us perceive that anxiety is all in our heads when in reality it is also very much physical. when my thoughts start to race and indecision kicks in i turn my awareness away from my mind towards what is physically happening to me. when my breathing has become faster, when i start sweating, when my palms tingle and when i sweat, i know that my anxiety level is increasing. our physical reactions to anxiety are highly individual – some people experience headaches, stomachaches or backaches, while for others the breath becomes quick and shallow. beginning to notice what happens in my body and how it feels has given me a powerful way to spot anxiety symptoms. even if i’m not sure what is making me become anxious, taking note of my physical changes helps me to slow down and…
take deep, slow breaths. the first time i learned about deep breathing was in the psych hospital. yes! i thought. i’ll just breathe and the anxiety will stop. it didn’t work. i was still panicking. while i doubted if it was helping me at all i stuck with it for months and months. mainly because every therapist and psychiatrist told me to do it so i figured there was something to their advice and at that point i had nothing to lose. it took a lot of practice for breath work to make a difference. while taking deep breaths in the midst of a panic attack will help to a certain extent, i have found that the real power of deep breathing happens every day. when i am thinking ahead about my day, or driving to work, or at my desk or cooking dinner. i don’t wait until i am in a full-blown anxiety crisis to breathe deep. as soon as my thoughts start racing or i feel any of my physical symptoms, my deep breathing kicks in. sometimes i leave my desk for a few minutes and stand outside and breathe. or i pull over and inhale, exhale. it’s something i can use anywhere to help me hit the pause button and reconnect to my body.
examine the everyday. for me, anxiety isn’t as focused on major catastrophic events. rather it’s hidden in my daily activities. from choosing what to wear to planning an event to buying a gift i become obsessed with finding the perfect solution. from small decisions to big ones, i will compare and check every and all options until i have exhausted myself. before my episode of major depression and anxiety in 2014 i didn’t think that i had an anxiety problem. shopping, overachieving, people pleasing, fear of failure – now i can look back and see that anxiety defined many of my personal and professional habits. becoming educated about anxiety disorders has helped me a lot. now i know what to call it. i know what the symptoms are and can connect them to my own behavior. as frustrating as it can be at least it makes more sense. and i’m not afraid to get professional help or take medication. it sure beats trying to deal with it on my own.
intervene in the moment. anxiety is like a snowball – once is starts rolling downhill it’s very difficult to stop it. body awareness, breathing and knowing my symptoms are only one side of the coin. the other is actually changing my anxious behavior, which in the moment is extremely difficult to do because the momentum is so powerful. whatever need is driving the anxious behavior feels urgent and dire – and for me that is usually an underlying fear of rejection or not being good enough. over time i have found that i can almost always look back and see that choosing the perfect dress or arranging the decorations just so wasn’t so important in the grand scheme of things. often times anxiety isn’t really about what we are anxious about.
there are a few tools that help me intervene with myself in the moment. one is just walking away. if i am getting sucked into indecision and keep checking, researching or going back and forth, i gently encourage myself to drop it or just leave it for now. or i set myself a timer on my phone – ten more minutes to check different options and then i need to stop. i keep a bottle of lavender oil in my purse so that i can pull it out and smell it at moments when i feel the anxiety rising. it distracts me and engages my senses in a different way. i talk to myself, sometimes out loud, and recognize that i am feeling scared and ask myself what else i can choose to do to help me feel safe. exercising, going for a brief walk or even just standing up and stretching helps me to reconnect with my body and takes me out of the intensity of the moment. having some backup activities handy helps – cooking, crafts, watching a movie or cleaning can help me choose a different path.
don’t be afraid to ask for help. i have come to realize that anxiety is common. in fact it’s the most common mental illness in the united states. so very many others experience symptoms of anxiety, even if they aren’t diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. while i don’t wear a sign around my neck that says ANXIETY PROBLEM, i do talk to family, friends and even some colleagues about it. i can’t underscore how much this has helped me. it has shown me that i am not alone. i learn from how other people cope with it and i help them by sharing my own experiences. and i feel less isolated when things get tough. those who are closest to me can help me recognize when my anxiety is becoming stronger, and while that isn’t always easy to hear i do appreciate it. they wouldn’t know how to be there for me if i didn’t share.
getting to know my own anxiety has been the key to help me unlock it. i used to gloss over behaviors that concerned me and didn’t tune into how my body reacted to stress. while it has been difficult to face, it’s almost a relief to understand how GAD impacts me from day to day. the more awareness i develop the less often i find myself sucked down into the vortex. without that knowledge i couldn’t get the help i needed from others and most importantly i couldn’t get the help i needed from myself.