Mind//Matter #5: Explaining Anxiety to Someone Without Anxiety.

How I learnt to think outside my own head and get better at explaining my anxiety to people who just don't get it.

Anxiety is such a brewing pot of different emotions, thoughts and stressors. And if you have it, it often feels like you’re on your own. 

Even talking to someone who also has anxiety doesn’t always help. After all, most people’s experience of anxiety is completely different, and their symptoms and behaviours manifest in different ways.

But one of the most difficult things about living with anxiety is explaining it to people who just don’t understand it.

It’s not like they’re choosing to not understand it. And (most of the time) it’s not like they’re belittling your condition, if it even is that. 

But describing how anxiety makes you feel, and WHAT it makes you feel is incredibly difficult, as that person isn’t in your head.

Now, there’s no single definition for anxiety that accurately describes how everyone who goes through it feels. 

For me, it’s like a brick wall. A brick wall that reaches into the heavens and stretches as far as the eye can see.

I could try and climb the brick wall, but how do I know that it ends - after all, I can’t see the end. I could walk left or right and try and go around the brick wall, but if I go left, how do I know that going right was not the best option? I could try and dig, but if it stands that tall, it has to go down pretty deep.

Faced with this seemingly never ending brick wall, my brain choose to sit down and do nothing.

That’s one way in which my anxiety manifests.

The other way is as if someone asked me to eat a dog. Now, it’s definitely not impossible to eat a dog. Nor is it likely to kill you, as long as you cooked it correctly. In fact, there have almost definitely been, across history, cultures or societies where eating dogs was acceptable, even the norm.

But if someone held a little Chihuahua, or even a slightly podgy Beagle to my face and said “eat this”, I’d sooner die than eat it. Because the barrier between not eating the dog and eating the dog is all psychological. 

Most practical people, if starving to death would eat the dog. They are able to think logically, and transfer those thoughts into their actions. 

But as someone who lives with anxiety, I’m not always able to transfer those logical thoughts into my actions. I suddenly stumble across the wall. Or someone holding a lightly seasoned Labrador to my face. 

In a startup environment, especially when you’re in high growth phase, this anxiety is often pushed to the limits, something that we know all too well.

And explaining to a co-founder, colleague or boss why you can’t join them pitching to investors, speaking directly to users, or even just scheduling a few social media posts, because of your anxiety is really difficult.

I think the first major step to improving how you deal with anxiety in a stressful work environment is accepting that sometimes you’re going to have good days and sometimes you’re going to have bad days. Sometimes you’re going to be in situations where your anxiety has seeped out of your brain and is affecting your work, which is why being able to talk to people you work with about it is so, so important.


Activity: The 5-Word Journal

One trick I was taught in dealing with anxiety and being able to speak to others about it, was to keep a 5-word journal.

Every day I’d right down 5 words relating to how my anxiety has effected me that day, or how I’d overcome it, or how I’d managed to not let it take me into a dark place in my head.

Sticking to just 5 words really forces you to identify the key stressors, the main things that helps and the unique ways in which your anxiety affects you. It also made it a lot easier to talk to people about it.


Community Update: Sorry!

OK, hands up. I can’t stick to a monthly newsletter. At least, I can’t keep to the publishing the latest Mind//Matter at the end of every month. Mind//Matter is a little project that I’ve been working on that has grown quite quickly, way quicker than I thought. I intended it to be a little outlet of mental health/tech related ramblings with the hope of maybe helping a few others. And I didn’t even think for a second that it would get featured by Substack, amongst other publications and websites. 

Support Mind//Matter

Aside from Mind//Matter, I’m preparing to launch a Kickstarter at the end of the year, and as anyone who has launched a Kickstarter will attest to, there’s A LOT of work to go into a crowdfunding campaign. I also run another newsletter, whilst holding down a full-time job at a tech company. This means that, whilst I will always try to publish Mind//Matter at the end of every month, I can’t always deliver on that. It’s one of the main reasons that M//M isn’t a paid publication - I don’t want to let anyone down, let alone paying subscribers. Therefore, I will try and keep to an end of the month schedule, but sometimes (like this month) the latest issue may be a little late. Thanks for your understanding, and here’s a little gif to make up for it.

The GIFs in this issue came courtesy of Ioana Harasim & A.L. Crego.

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