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This week’s blog post is from HJ – our very own… well, we’ll let her tell you! Writing on how to support those with anxiety

Hi! I’m HJ, a 27 year old thingymabob and Freedom of Mind’s PR Coord. I have had severe anxiety since I was 4 years old. It is not triggered by social situations, however I can draw parallels to the feelings when describing social anxiety. Everyone is different, but I have decided to write a ‘how to…’ article, drawn from my own experiences, to shed light on how to look after those in an anxious state.

Enjoy, and always be kind. X   

Don’t laugh about the situation, until it’s calmed down, and then stay light.

It sounds so simple writing it down, but we live in a world with a very ‘laugh it off’, ‘yolo’ or ‘soldier on’ attitude. This is a fleeting, quick fix attitude that resolves nothing. Don’t laugh at the person, even if it’s meant innocently. Take it seriously, and then when they have got to a better place, try and crack a smile about something around you, or something that happened unrelated to this current attack. It’s not all doom and gloom.

 

Take responsibility

This one is a slightly trickier concept, but one I am most familiar with and need to stop. Do not blame someone’s anxiety as being the problem if you yourself have done something to cause someone’s upset – take responsibility for your actions. Also, if you are the one with anxiety, don’t think it’s automatically your fault – it’s not always (I’m still learning) people are always allowed to feel anxious. People like to shift blame, and there’s no easier way than doing so on a vulnerable platform of anxiousness. But check-in on your actions – is this the person’s anxious fault, or have you been a bit of a naughty human? A lot of the time my anxiety stems from something quite real.

 

Don’t say ‘calm down’.

…or don’t say anything obvious at all. Listen buddy old pal, wouldn’t it be lovely if I could just calm down?! Then we wouldn’t have this mess in the first place – I’m not an idiot. I recently got told ‘you shouldn’t think about that right now.’ I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes you can’t control your thoughts. So instead of ‘stop’, try and calm the person down so it comes to a natural halt once they’ve taken back control.

 

Ask the person to explain what the matter is

If they can, let them talk, talk, talk. And LISTEN. Do not interject their outlet with power speeches and strategies. You cannot read people’s minds, so clearly and calmly ask if they could let you know what is going on in their mind.

 

Keep your calm for them, and step by step explain what’s going on.

This can come after step 4. If you can imagine everyone having a bottle in their tummy labelled ‘calmness’. When someone is anxious, their bottle is empty. If yours is full of calm, or you have some spare – fill their bottle up. Be outwardly calm. Fear drives fear. Calm explanations are a perfect way to distribute calmness from one to another. I will never forget when I was in India, I was so scared of a bus journey I was on. Someone held my hand and so calmly said ‘can you explain what you’re scared of?’, after listening and remaining un-phased, she explained what was going on right now, through the perspective of a calm eye, so that I could see a different perspective, and be reminded to stay present. (Thank you, forever.)

 

Reassurance NOT attention.

I spoke with a table of wonderful people about this the other month. It was regarding relationships, but I realised I could apply this to anxiety. We were debating the difference between people that need ‘attention’ in a relationship (‘You look beautiful’, ‘I’m looking at a bunch of girls right now and no one compares FYI’(?!), ‘I’m so lucky to have you’, ‘Have you SEEN this girl/boy?! She’s MINE.’), compared to the people who need reassurance (‘I love you’, ‘You’re doing a great job’, ‘Everything’s cool’, ‘How are you?’) It’s a soft line of difference. But it’s something easily grasped with emotional maturity and intelligence. Anxiety isn’t looking for someone to be attached to them the whole time and to make a spectacle of. It’s quite the opposite. I’ll need reassurance, NOT attention.

If necessary, distract.

On the same bus journey I was talking of previously, someone else in my group got me to sit away from the window (I was afraid of what was going on outside) and we put a blanket around us and watched a funny movie. She was cracking up (she was Canadian and hadn’t seen something as British as ‘Four weddings and a funeral’ before) Her laughter and watching something else, while creating a soft, safe environment (blankets have always been a winner for me!), gave me a sense of calm. (Thanks again, I was lucky on that trip, ey.)

 

Be honest, and be honest in what you can give them.

Dishonesty is probably my biggest trigger to my adult anxiousness. If you crack my trust, you give space for self-doubt, over-thinking and anxiety to get through. Please don’t get to the point where you say, ‘I didn’t want to say anything to worry you.’ Lies worry me, not truth. Once you lie, it becomes a constant guessing game. Do not tell people what they want to hear, they are not idiots (quite the opposite, they are normally hyper-observant). Tell them what’s real, in a convincing calm way – I promise it’ll make you feel better, too.

 

Stay patient.

I don’t think I need to go into this point much more. There will be a time when they’re not as anxious, but if you think you’re going to cure someone’s anxiousness with one 5 minute PowerPoint explaining how great they are, then go and try and build Rome in a day. Ciao.  

 

It is fucking tough. Grow some.

I have a huge admiration for people that stick by their loved ones during anxious moments. I can only imagine how exhausting and tough it is. It is not for the faint-hearted. Here, I would like to thank my family and friends that do so.

I would also like to stress the element of ‘grow some’. To kill stigmatization as it stands, we cannot treat it as a weak and defeatist element of a character, and to pander to that. I never want anyone to make excuses for me just because I carry anxiety in my backpack sometimes. Surely, we are the strongest if we have more weight to carry sometimes?

 

…And remember the light.

To put it in ways you may understand: If you want abs, you’ve got to put hours in the gym, and your abdominals are going to hurt a lot of the time. If you want a 100k job, you’ve got to put in the hours. If you want to see the world for real, you’ve got to stop drinking buckets in Thailand and go and sit on the streets with the children dying from poverty. If you want a nice meal – you’ve got to put the time in to create it.

You see where I’m going with this? If you want to be an extra-sensational person – you’ve got to have your pain, and your difficulties. If you want to love an extra-special smile, you’ve got to understand how hard it is to get that smile in the first place.

 

If it’s you – remember your light. If you’re loving someone else – remember their light. It’s a thing.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.


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