It took me years to get my head around trying for a baby. Not because I worried about losing my freedom, or how it might affect my relationships, or change my body. But because I was crippled by fear. I wasn’t only fearful about pregnancy and beyond, but I feared being judged, for choosing to be a mum with anxiety.
I faced a lot of fears during pregnancy and feel stronger on the other side because of it. Something I’ve often found is that when I have no choice but to cope, I cope. But so much of anxiety is in the anticipation, and I will always be an anxious person.
Reaching out to people you trust can be a powerful tool, but mental health issues aren’t always an easy subject to broach. Typically, as a mum, conversation with friends naturally revolves around the children, it doesn’t feel easy to just drop in ‘oh by the way I have an anxiety disorder’ on a play date.
But if we felt more comfortable talking about it and unburdened ourselves, perhaps we’d actually feel a bit better?
If you have ever wondered how to help a friend who has anxiety, here’s what we want you to know.
We don’t necessarily need, or expect, others to understand our fears.
We’ve dragged our fears around for so long that there are deep, well-worn paths in our brains – on a hair trigger those reactions can be provoked and we are on our way to panicking. Some of our fears and phobias seem so irrational, and often are – but that doesn’t make them any less real to us.
Panic attacks are a double-edged sword.
Experiencing a panic attack is hard enough on its own. The other part of the battle is then worrying that people are staring at us having a panic attack. And as anyone who has had one knows – trying to hide it often makes it so much worse. Being able to tell someone gets it out of our heads and allows us to distance ourselves from it a little.
Sometimes the symptoms aren’t obvious to outsiders.
“You don’t look like you’re having a panic attack?”
Panic attacks are different for each individual. Just because someone looks ‘normal’ doesn’t mean their panic is any less real. The social stigma and our worries about being judged mean we’ve become skilled at hiding it if needed.
The fact that we’re pumped with adrenaline means we’re hypersensitive to our surroundings. If you’ve ever seen an action movie sequence where the volume increases and everything goes into slow motion and it’s all a bit trippy – that’s what the height of anxiety can be like. But to anyone observing, we might just look a little edgy. It’s different for everyone. Along with all the bodily sensations and your spiralling thoughts trying to tell you the worst is about to happen, it can be pretty terrifying – whether it’s your first or your thousandth.
Sometimes we feel like everyone else is ‘normal’, share with us your anxieties.
Anxiety has a habit of making us think in a very ‘black and white’ manner. We might make sweeping generalisations, such as ‘everyone else in normal’, ‘no-one else has the same fears as me.’ Maybe you don’t like lifts. Perhaps you can’t stand the dentist’s chair. Tell your anxious friend, it might help them feel less alone.
You can help just by being there and being you.
Ask “Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?” Be a gentle cheerleader. Encourage but don’t push. Congratulate us for speaking up – it’s brave. It means we don’t want to make excuses any more and want to be honest and authentic about a part of ourselves we are not wholly comfortable with.
Sometimes, having an ally is the difference between doing something outside our comfort zone and not attempting it, instead staying back in the shadows where we’re comfortable.
We are still the people you know and love. Thank you for being there.
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