Sometimes in life we have to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes we have to face demons that we don’t want to face. It’s easy to hide away, close the curtains and shut off the entire world. That’s a safe place; trust me, I know. Sometimes I need a day (or week!) in my safe place. But do we ever feel better for it? Does it just make the anxiety about facing reality worse?
Recently, I found myself in a bad place where I didn’t want to be with anyone or leave the house. I wanted to close the curtains and just scour the internet for SOMETHING that would make me feel better about the situation I was in. So, I did just that. I took a whole week to just do nothing because I couldn’t bare to face the world. To everyone else, I was just feeling unwell. I suppose really, I was unwell, but mentally rather than physically.
Everyday, my anxiety grew at the mere thought of having to face the world and go back to work again. I was simply putting off that anxiety by spending my days in bed. Eventually, I would have to put a fake smile on my face and get outside again. My friends were worried because I wasn’t replying to our WhatsApp group, my family thought I was finding excuses to not see them and my partner was finding it difficult to help someone who just didn’t want to help themselves.
I’m not saying to just put up with it or get over it. I know that it is impossible to just stop feeling how you do. If you need some time alone, you do what you need to do, I’m absolutely not saying there is anything wrong with needing time to feel low before you can feel better. What I am saying, however, is that you won’t make anything better, you’ll just be putting off the inevitable; you’re going to feel anxious about going out and socialising, you’re going to feel anxious about getting back to work – I am generalising here, but please imagine this within your own circumstance if it helps. The only thing that I do know is that you can face that anxiety and that it can only get better if you challenge it.
My therapist said to me that anxiety goes up and down. When we avoid the things that make us feel anxious, the anxiety goes down quicker, but will come back up again when we have to face it again. (Or if you have OCD, your anxiety can be ‘tamed’ by checking/cleaning/whatever compulsion you undertake, but it will build back up again until you feel you need to give in to your compulsion again.) A bit like a rollercoaster! Now that we know that anxiety goes down in time, we can face some of our anxieties head on. Even if it will take a bit longer and may feel excruciating, we know that our anxiety levels have to come back down.
Refer to this diagram below. Once you see anxiety reach its peak level, it comes back down:
The title of this blog is what you could say to yourself before facing that anxiety head on. Be bold and be brave. Here is an example where I have used it:
Avoidance (what I used to do most of the time)
Meeting my grandma for lunch. I feel anxious and my body is tense. I decide to tell her I am unwell and rearrange for another day. My anxiety recedes and I feel better. Until the next time, when grandma rearranges. The anxiety is back. It may even be worse.
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway (what I aim to do instead)
Meeting grandma for lunch. I feel anxious and my body is tense. I go anyway, despite how anxious I feel. At first I feel shaky and don’t think I can get through it. For the first 10, 15 minutes I am tense and irritable. But nothing is going wrong, nothing bad is happening. I’m here with my grandma who loves me anyway and is treating me to a nice lunch. My anxiety levels are dropping, slowly, but they are. Next time I see grandma I may feel anxious again, but not as much, because now I know that my anxiety levels will drop.
This may not work for you, after all, you’re a different person to me. However, what I can tell you is that things will get better. They may not seem so right now, but if you’re prepared to persevere and beat the anxiety, things can only improve for you. It’s not always easy, as I am still learning to practise what I preach!
Just remember, be bold and be brave.