My name is Eilis, and I have anxiety. That sounds like some sort of AA introduction… why do they call it anonymous when the classic intro includes your name? Odd. OK, not what this blog post is supposed to be about, moving on. Anxiety is like that – I get side-tracked easily, one thought leads to another and before you know it it’s an avalanche of could bes and what ifs. Sometimes it feels like my head isn’t screwed on straight – other times it feels like it could burst. In the most obvious way, it takes a mental toll on me, but it has physical effects too. When it’s at it’s worst, my stomach feels as though it’s knotted up and tying itself tighter each second, and I feel lightheaded and nauseous. One of the many misconceptions about mental health issues is that the knock-on effects are all mental – physical effects can be devastating, including a weaker immune system, an increased risk of heart disease, and chronic fatigue. Everyone knows they need to take care of their body, eat healthy, exercise, get your five a day, don’t play in traffic (I hope this one is self-explanatory!), but do we take mental health as seriously? Probably not – even though we should! A happy mind truly does translate to a happy body. Even if you’re a gym bunny who drinks 2 litres of water every day, gets at least 8 hours sleep every night, has a 10-step skin care routine and has a diet full of fresh fruit and veggies, if you don’t check up on your mental health and keep it in tip-top condition, your body will show it.
My own personal journey with anxiety has been a long one. I have always been ‘the worrier’ – so much so that as an 8-year-old child with no responsibility or cares in the world, I couldn’t get to sleep night after night and would panic about the consequences. Why can’t I sleep? What will happen if I don’t sleep? What if something happens while I’m asleep? I was 8! Ever since, I’ve had a habit of overthinking myself into a black hole of despair – something I’m only just, at age 22, managing to get control over. I know what you’re thinking. What happened to this girl to make her act like this? The answer is absolutely nothing. I had a great childhood, I never wanted for anything, I had plenty of friends and my family life was good. Nothing particularly tragic or scarring has ever happened to me. That’s the thing about mental health – it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you’re doing great in life or if you’re having a hard time, it doesn’t care if you’re excelling in your career or in a dead-end job with no future, and it doesn’t care if you’ve been happily married for 20 years or if you’re forever single. It just doesn’t care. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime – isn’t that a bitch?
Thankfully, if you’re reading this and thinking “oh my god, this is so me” – you know you’re not alone! There are so many people that suffer with anxiety and there’s a lot of things you can do to soothe it, both in terms of self-care and professional help. Personally, I found that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helped me a lot, which I accessed via the NHS. There’s a lot of support available even if CBT isn’t your thing – medication can help, other types of therapy and even group therapy. For me, self-help has been the most important thing in my journey to mental wellness. I’ve recently got back into going to the gym regularly and eating well, and I looked into other factors that might make my anxiety worse, such as my contraceptive pill and lack of vitamins (B12 and iron are extremely important, so if you’re not taking them on a regular basis, try it!). All in all, I’ve got it under control 90% of the time. Will I ever get to 100%? Maybe not – most likely, it’ll be a long-time struggle, but I know I’m not alone in that, and neither are you. Speak to someone; your friends, your family, your teachers or tutors or boss at work, your aunt or uncle – it doesn’t actually matter who as long as they’re prepared to listen. Usually getting something out in the open is all you need to feel that weight being lifted. Or, if you want to talk to a stranger, message me at @eisobella on Instagram or message the All Ears Instagram page at @allears_mha. And remember – you’re not alone.