Anxiety, Low mood,Winter and Me. By Eleanor

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(image: Istock)

I have sat down many times in the past few weeks to try and compose this blog and I havn’t felt able, the weight of it felt too much to put down on ‘paper’. The past month has been a lot more challenging for me, I have had an increase in my anxiety, particularly the social anxiety, fear of judgement and the world in general.

This has meant I have had to cancel media appearances and my book launch for friends and family and I sadly missed an old friend’s beautiful wedding and another old friend’s hen weekend 😦  (as well as missing going to the theatre to see Waitress with a wonderful friend). I have been having panic attacks again about socialising when feeling so vulnerable. This has been really, really hard because I hate letting anyone down, I have just been feeling ill at times and having to cope with the heightened anxiety and its ‘fun’  accompaniment (insomnia, racing thoughts, negative thoughts and chest pain).

My book got published and while that was amazing and a lifelong dream, it also felt exposing as I revealed a lot about my life that many wouldn’t know. So I felt like hiding away because it felt scary (social anxiety again).

Additionally, I started therapy 7 weeks ago to give me tools to a) understand but b) deal with the underlying anxiety about life and while it is helping (I am doing a type of trauma therapy called EMDR), I think it might be bringing issues I have buried to the surface from past trauma. This could be why I am getting triggered in social situations at present. I have a fear of negative judgement and also of crowds. I am working on this in therapy as I have been through a lot so far in my 31 years on this planet!

This time of year is also not helping me at all- the nights drawing in and the gloomy mornings. I struggle with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I start feeling lower this time of year. I am well medicated so my depression is mild in comparison to what it gets like when my medication doesn’t work but it is the anxiety I need to work on and expose myself to feared situations slowly.

To my friends, thank you for your kindness and for trying to support me (and coax me out) through this difficult patch again- you know who you are. If anyone wants to come round for a Disney night with chocolate- please do! 

Despite the negatives, there have been some successes in the past few weeks- seeing family, going to the cinema with Rob to see Last Christmas, going to the garden centre with my sister and bro in law, attending my therapy sessions, promoting the book online, job applying (exhausting but I’ve been doing it), speaking to friends regularly and trying to socialise even if I don’t always make it. I am working on that.

Oh and I have been volunteering for Christmas4CAMHS charity- that provide presents for ill children on mental health wards. I have been helping them gain awareness and raise funds via social media. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have managed to do in the past 2 weeks. Thank you Ro for letting me be involved and giving me some purpose to help others.

Social anxiety and depression are hard things to live with, but I know it will pass again in time and to reach for support if I need it. I am already on anti depressants and anti anxiety meds (as well as the therapy), so will have to wait and see what helps. I have an SAD lamp so need to use it when I wake in the mornings. Perhaps I should push myself to go for walks, although I am currently enjoying being a doormouse. If anyone else is struggling, please reach out- we are stronger together.

 

Guest Interview with Mark Simmonds: Author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’ mental health book.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

 

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What inspired you to write a book about yours and your daughter’s journey with mental health?

It was July 2017 and I was attending a summer party, hosted by the Marketing Society, the organisation that brings together business people working together in the areas of marketing and advertising. Gemma Greaves, the CEO, was delivering a speech, during which she announced that the Society was going to join the mental health crusade. This seemed odd, slightly incongruous. But then it dawned on me that times had changed. Mental health was no longer the taboo topic it was when I suffered my mental breakdown back in 2001.

Everyone was talking about it now. I also had another 16 years’ experience under my belt, including caring for Emily, my daughter, who suffered from anorexia from 2012 until 2018. So, I had no excuse but to come out of the mental health closet and leave a legacy of sorts to the world. And even if that book helped just one person, then it would have been worth the effort.

 

How did you manage to recover from your stress, anxiety and break down, what helped you?

It was the 19th July 2001. Extreme stress at work had brought on the panic attacks, which were soon followed by a mental breakdown and the onset of severe agitated depression. I was no longer communicating with my wife or my three young children, even though we were all living under the same roof. That morning, I went cycling down a country road. My brain felt like a jumble of spaghetti when I collided with a 10-ton truck. It appears I tried to take my own life.

That’s how I recovered from the breakdown, because when I woke up in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford a few hours later, the dense fog seems to have lifted. From that point onwards, I began to behave like a normal human being. No idea why. The physical impact caused by the accident to my brain? The awful realisation that I had come within a whisper of losing my life, my wife and my kids. There are far more conventional ways of recovering from breakdowns, but that was mine.

How did I recover from stress and anxiety? To be honest, I haven’t! I have simply learned to manage it over the years. I have put banisters in place that help keep me on the straight and narrow: I pick the right working environments, I manage my own expectations and set realistic goals. I satisfy my needs as an introvert. I take medication. I sleep well, eat well, exercise enough. But like all mental illnesses, be aware that it’s always lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce at moments you don’t expect.

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(image: Mark Simmonds and Lucy Streule)

Did you find that Emily received good care and how did you help support her?

Yes, Emily received excellent help and support both from the NHS (Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the Highfield Unit and Cotswold House, Oxford) and from the Cardinal Clinic near Windsor. The dedication and professionalism of all the staff was outstanding and they did their absolute best to help Emily through the illness. But here is the thing. The quality of the support and the hours spent coaxing a patient back to health have little effect or impact until that patient wants to recover.

It took Emily 6 years to decide that she had had enough of anorexia. and it was only then she finally got better. Anorexia (or Ana as we ‘affectionately’ called her) was a brutal enemy, unforgiving and merciless. More than a match for even the most qualified, most experienced doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors.

 

As a father, what was it like to see Emily struggle with anorexia and to try and save her at the time?

I have suffered from depression at various stages in my life and have experienced living at the bottom of the dark pit where Emily found herself. So, it was painful to watch her suffer because I knew exactly what she was feeling. The upside was that I was able to empathise and sympathise with her. I got it. And the way in which I talked to my daughter and tried to support her was more in line with what she needed. People who are suffering from mental ill health don’t respond very well to rational or logical arguments because their brains are temporarily ‘broken’. The neurotransmitters are not connecting with one another. They need lots of hugging, hand holding, being listened to and loved. An irrational and emotional approach is more effective than a rational one.

Where are you both now in terms of recovery?

As far as my daughter was concerned, it was just 12 months ago when the full-blown Anorexia Wars came to an end. We are all fully aware that war could break out again sometime in the future. As a good friend described it, all we could hope was “that Ana will get incarcerated and gagged in small section deep in Emily’s brain, a high security area from which she can never escape.”

Thankfully, at the moment, our daughter is flying high. She is living and working in London for ITV, eating well, drinking alcohol in moderation (trust me that is a positive thing!), firmly back on track.

As far as I am concerned, life is great. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I don’t think that you ever escape fully from either stress or anxiety, but I am determined not to let it get in the way of doing great things, trying new stuff, taking risks, saying things that you might regret, taking on people with whom you don’t agree. I want to make sure I end up under the right tombstone.

 

How has reaction to the book been and how was the writing process?

The writing process was a joy! I loved more or less every minute of it. Working closely with Kasim, my editor at Trigger to agree the overall shape and structure of the book, researching stories and expert perspectives/points of view to add colour, collaborating with the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Lucy Streule, around the illustrations. And spending hour after hour with my wife and family editing, tweaking, improving the book. A wonderful experience.

The reaction has been great, both from friends and from people I have never met.

Alastair Campbell comes into the latter category and he kindly agreed to endorse my book. This is what he said: “I loved this book and devoured it in a single day. Whether on his own illness, his mother’s or his daughter’s struggles, Mark writes clearly and without sentimentality. He is brutally honest about the reality of mental illness across the generations with important insights about how to survive it. Though it is filled with sadness and heartbreak, ultimately his story is a testimony to the power of love and of the human spirit.”

 

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Mark Simmonds published his first book, Breakdown and Repair, with Trigger Publishing, in March 2019 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Breakdown-Repair-Fathers-Success-Inspirational/dp/1912478994). It provides a full account of his daughter’s struggle against anorexia and is illustrated by Lucy Streule. It also talks candidly about his own experiences with mental ill health.

You can also follow Mark on Instagram (mentalhealthmark).

 

Dear NHS: The Search for EMDR Therapy by Eleanor

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(image: Freepik)

Today I am writing because I have had enough with the NHS mental health services.  Firstly, I was told that in my area of London, the NHS- national health service doesn’t fund EMDR (rapid eye movement processing therapy- for trauma and PTSD). Why, I have no idea as it is desperately needed. However, I was referred to IAPT wellbeing service (still under NHS), who do have EMDR therapists. Some telephone questionnaires later and I have found that I have been discharged from IAPT – to another team that doesn’t provide the therapy I so dearly need.

I have had years of therapy- CBT x3 and psychodynamic- most had to be privately funded due to the waiting lists in NHS. I need vital treatment for the trauma I faced of becoming so unwell,being in hospital and all I faced during mania and psychosis. My trauma comes out in anxiety and panic attacks which disrupt my daily living. EMDR helps process trauma and I am hoping it will help me to live fully again.

Due to this, the only option with therapy may be to go privately- which is expensive and not ideal for me- I can’t afford it alone. However, I have found an accredited therapist online so this will have to be the route I go down I think. I will speak to the psychiatrist in the other team but don’t hold out any hope as they don’t fund EMDR and there is a 2 year psychology waiting list. Yup, you heard that correctly, 2 years.

I am not doing so well- I have been feeling lower in the mornings and more anxious since having to leave my job. This was another blow today.

Yet….

I am trying to keep myself positive and focused and going. But some days, I just feel like hiding away.

Some positives- I am grateful for:

  1. My new bright pink cardigan is making me smile
  2. Our wedding photos and video come back today
  3. Finding a therapist
  4. Bipolar UK sharing about my book
  5. Love and support from others
  6. Job interviews and book promotion

When people say fund our NHS mental health services, they mean it. People like me are denied access to vital support and put on waiting lists or fobbed off. Its not OK.

Eleanor x

 

A guide to Therapies and finding the right one for you: Guest blog by the Worsley Centre

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(image: Quotir)

If you find yourself at a point in life where you think you might need to seek some professional help, then the decision as to which therapy is right for you can be a daunting one. At its worst, depression and anxiety related disorders can take away our ability to make rational, informed decisions, so how could you possibly know which one is right for you? 

There’s no definitive way of knowing, and even if you start one course of therapy, only to discover it isn’t for you, it’s important to remember it’s not a one-size-fits all decision. If you’re trying to take a long-term approach to taking care of your mental health, then you need to take the time and effort to find the appropriate course of treatment to meet your needs. 

So here’s a basic guide to some of the most common therapies, and how they might be able to help you (although it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list). 

Counselling 

This might sound like a catch-all term to describe all of the therapies below, but actually counselling is subtly different from other types of therapy. Counselling can often be a useful short term strategy to cope with events in our lives which can, quite understandably, cause mental health stresses. These can include bereavement, miscarriage, sudden redundancy, relationship problems or problems with infertility. Counselling sessions normally last for 6-12 weeks, though they can of course be tailored to every individual person’s needs. 

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy is primarily a talking therapy, but may also utilise art, writing, music or drama. Psychotherapy can help with a range of conditions, including anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. This therapy aims to teach you to manage painful emotions and relationships more successfully. 

Psychotherapy basically involves talking with the patient, discussing strategies to solve problems and changing behaviour. 

It’s worth noting that most of the other therapies in this post are forms of psychotherapy. 

Psychodynamic therapy 

This is a form of psychotherapy which focuses less on the patient-therapy relationship. Patients are told to speak freely and openly about any issues that come to mind, whether it be fears, anxieties or desires. It is a more short-term incarnation of psychotherapy. It’s often used to treat people with serious depressive disorders, or who may struggle to forge meaningful relationships in their lives. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy 

Interpersonal psychotherapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy treatment. It’s very structured, and includes a lot of homework and continuous assessment. It primarily looks at ways depression can be triggered by changes in relationships to others, such as bereavement, or relocation. 

It will usually start with a 1-3 week assessment of symptoms, as wells as social history and the patient’s relationships. The therapy aims to come up with treatment strategies to deal with problem areas in a patient’s life; over the course of the treatment the emphasis of these problem areas might change, as will the therapist’s strategies. IPT is a relatively young form of psychotherapy treatments. 

 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy which puts its focus on problem solving as a way of breaking certain thought patterns and modes of behaviour. It’s very much a therapy which focuses on the here and now, as opposed to trying to look for explanations of present day behaviour in past events. CBT has proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

CBT works on the concept that a person’s perception of a certain situation determines their and feelings, and hopefully break free of unhelpful patterns of behaviour. 

Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy 

This is another form of cognitive therapy which incorporates mindfulness strategies and breathing exercises into courses of treatment. Mindfulness techniques use breathing and meditation to place people in the present moment, and MBCT uses these techniques to encourage patients to deal with overwhelming or stressful situations.  Again, it aims to break unhelpful thought patterns which can lead to recurrent episodes of depression or anxiety. As well as mindfulness, patients are taught to understand the relationship between how you think and how you feel. 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapy 

Neuro-linguistic programming focuses on behaviour modification techniques to help improve a client’s sense of self-awareness, confidence and communication skills. Again, it helps people to understand that the way they operate in the world is in turn affected by how they view of the world. 

It’s often used to treat phobias, help people deal with self-esteem problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and is designed to help patients understand the workings of their own mind. 

Couples and Family Therapy 

The title of this therapy is relatively self-explanatory, but basically it encourages individuals to resolve problems in the context of family units, or as part of a couple. This helps people to better understand their role within a group dynamic, and how their actions affect the other person within a family or couple. 

During the therapy, family members are encouraged to work together to solve a problem which may be directly affecting a family member, with each person encourage to express their thoughts and feelings in an open and supportive forum. Family and couples therapy is geared towards making different family members empathise with one another, understand each other’s point of view, and switch roles where necessary. 

The ultimate goal of family and couples therapy is restore healthy relationships. This branch of therapy essentially believes that family life is like being part of a system, which is only as strong as the individual within it. Family and couple therapy ultimately aims to restore balance to this system. 

These are, arguably, the most well-known and high-profile forms of therapy. As outlined at the beginning of this article, it’s not an exhaustive list; there are many more specific types of therapy which may prove to be the right one for you. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s perfectly normal to try a few of the therapies on this list, as it might take a few referrals before you find the right one for you. 

The Worsley Centre offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions for couples, individuals and groups in the Greater Manchester area. 

https://theworsleycentre.com/ 

 

An Increase in Anxiety: Panic attacks and Therapy thoughts.

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(image: Your Tango)

Hi friends,

It has been a while since I’ve shared a personal blog and I want to be as honest as possible.

It has been a whirlwind of a time- I got married to my wonderful husband in July- we really had the best day, I have been editing and finishing writing my book Bring me to Light and I also started a new job at a charity in May- which has meant I have been blogging less. I love my new job however I am much busier!

This has meant an increase in my anxiety levels and panic attacks in the mornings at times, related to social anxiety. I worry about the day ahead and sometimes don’t feel able to leave home. I have been trying to combat this but its been really hard and is still ongoing for me.

I have had a lot of CBT and talking therapies but believe my anxiety to be trauma based re what happened to me 5 years ago, being sectioned and in hospital. As such, I would like to have EMDR therapy, a type of therapy that helps to process trauma through focusing on images and rapid eye movement. It is hard to describe but I believe this is what I need in order to keep my anxiety disorder under control- and get rid of most of it.

In the mean time I have been leaning on my support network and have been prescribed beta blockers for when the anxiety is at its highest. I have also been referred back to psychiatry in order to get a referral for EMDR.

Except…. my NHS borough don’t fund EMDR therapy so the only route in is via a service called IAPT. It may be that I have to go privately if the NHS standard of therapy is not good enough but there we are. There is still a 2 year waiting list to even have an assessment for therapy, but via IAPT it is quicker, so I hope I can get some form of help for me. The funding for mental health in the UK is atrocious and I hope this will improve….

Having the support of my parents, Rob and family has been hugely helpful to me and my new amazing colleagues who believe in me and have been very supportive.

But, it has been exhausting.

Panic attacks make me want to sleep, blank out and sometimes you can’t do that. You have to face the day and fight. That’s where the beta blocker meds come in for me right now as they calm the body down when you need to show up to something (deep breathing doesn’t do it for me). Usually, I feel better once I don’t react to the anxiety negatively and try to dig deep and push through, but its not easy.

This week, we are going on honeymoon in Italy and I am looking forward to a relaxed, sunshiney break by and in the pool, beach and spa with Rob and eating lots of delicious Italian food. A break is desperately needed and I hope I won’t have any panic attacks on holiday, but have a restful time!

Here’s hoping I will find something that will help ease the panic. I have tried so many things for so many years and it’s still here.

Eleanor x

 

Mental Health Awareness Week: The Mental Health Foundation: Body Image 13th-19th May 2019

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(image: Mental Health Foundation)

This week, starting today is the Mental Health Awareness Week by the UK charity the Mental Health Foundation. Its theme is looking at Body Image, how we think and feel about our bodies.

Mental Health Foundation say ‘Body Image can affect us all at any age- during this week we are publishing new research and campaigning for change’    .

They continued,

Last year we found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people.

Body image issues can affect all of us at any age and directly impact our mental health.

However there is still a lack of much-needed research and understanding around this.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week:

  • We will be publishing the results of a UK-wide survey on body image and mental health.
  • We will look at body image issues across a lifetime – including how it affects children and young people, adults and people in later life.
  • We will also highlight how people can experience body image issues differently, including people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities.
  • We will use our research to continue campaigning for positive change and publish practical tools to help improve the nation’s relationship with their bodies.’
  • The good news is that we can tackle body image through what children are taught in schools, by the way we talk about our bodies on a daily basis and through policy change by governments across the UK.’

For more on how you can get involved see : https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

 

Royal family launches Shout UK- a Mental health crisis text line: Guest blog

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Be Ur Own Light is supporting the incredible initiative from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sussex- Shout UK, a new text support line in the UK for people in mental health crisis- anyone who is struggling. They have teamed up with Crisis Text line to reach vulnerable people.

I feel privileged to live in a country where stigma is beginning to fall and where mental health issues are beginning to be understood better. Texting would have helped me as an ill teenager with bipolar!

Shout are looking for volunteers too to man the text lines as crisis counsellors.

Thank you to the Duke and Duchesses for the incredible profile they are giving mental health. #GiveUsAShout

See more here: https://www.giveusashout.org/

Spring Rebirth: Waking up my Mental Health by Eleanor

 

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(image: Eleanor Segall)

Its that time of year again here in England. The candy- floss pink cherry blossom are on the trees. The sky is a cornflower blue and the sun is streaming down, just waiting for the odd April shower. And I was outside to see it and enjoy it today.

Why is this a victory? Because over the winter I was mildly depressed and hardly leaving home. The lack of light had really got to me and I just wanted to curl up inside with a blanket. Now the days are getting longer and the spring is here, I am thinking about rebirth, waking up anew and starting afresh.

I am writing my book still (cover and title to be revealed) and I will be starting a new job in PR soon. Tonight, Rob and I are going out to celebrate that over dinner. Our wedding is 3 months today 🙂 and coming round fast.

Theres a lot to do, plan for and a lot of change (mostly positive but still a shift). I know that this is not a bad thing however this week I did start feeling overwhelmed. That was because my step grandpa passed away and we had to go to Wales for the funeral, followed by a week of mourning in our home. It was a challenging week, he will be so missed.

Yet what I have learnt from life is that there may be constant intensity or ups and downs, with everything happening at once but we have to learn to try and go with it.

Going with the flow is not something I do well. I get anxious, overwhelmed, tired, stressed, sad like any other human. I hope and I pray and I try to see signs from God and the Universe. Getting fresh air and sun is good for me and you too .

Ultimately I am learning life is a blessing but I need to guard my mental health carefully (and thank goodness for medication and a strong support network)

How are you this Spring?

Eleanor x

How Horses can help Mental Health issues through Equine Therapy: Guest post by Lyle Murphy

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(image: Unsplash.com)

Modern medicine continues to reveal new complementary treatment methods that enhance the health care solutions we rely on every day. Equine assisted therapy is one of the most exciting and versatile treatment methods available. Research published in medical journals support the use of equine assisted therapy as an essential part of holistic mental health treatment for conditions as varied as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and anorexia.

Despite longstanding success in using therapeutic horseback riding and other equine assisted therapy techniques in health care treatment, many people aren’t familiar with the benefits. This information is especially relevant for parents caring for children who have mental health problems. Read on to find out exactly how therapeutic riding can make a huge difference in a patient’s quality of life.

Understanding Equine Assisted Therapy 

Equine assisted therapy actually covers a wide range of activities and therapeutic techniques that leverage the unique dynamics between a patient and a horse. Treatment methods are supervised and directed by a medical professional, differentiated from recreational equine activity through a local ranch or social club.

Horseback riding has been shown to contribute to the development of improved coordination and balance, directly aiding the physical rehabilitation process. Additionally, activities like grooming and feeding can help to improve motor skills and problem solving. More advanced treatments may be performed under the direction of an equine therapy specialist.

Equine Assisted Therapy Treats Several Mental Health Issues 

This list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the medical conditions that can be treated with equine therapy. Instead, it provides a sense of the how broadly the treatment is already being utilized.

Across the country, equine therapy has already been incorporated into mental health treatment plans for adults dealing with:

       

  • Mood and behavioral disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Trauma and grief
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Sex and gambling addictions

Holistic Mental Health Care Through Equine Therapy 

Successful engagement with a horse is a physical, social and emotional challenge. That’s why it’s such an ideal complementary treatment for patients dealing with mental health issues. By working through the demands of horsemanship under the guidance of an experience medical professional, patients are able to work to build better habits and develop strategies for managing their symptoms.

 

Identifying Emotional Triggers 

One of the most important benefits of equine assisted therapy is the relationship between a patient and their horse. Horses are extremely sensitive to human emotions, making it difficult to ride if a person’s emotions are running wild. The plus side is that this sensitivity can also be used to identify emotional triggers and help patients discover the root of their mental health issues.

Building Communication Skills 

Due to their sensitivity to emotion, herd animal social dynamics, and relatively high intelligence, horses are strong communicators. They can also be easily agitated, making it important for patients doing equine assisted therapy to practice keeping their emotions in check. These lessons in self-control help the patient build skills they will likely rely on for the rest of their lives.

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(image: Unsplash.com)

Overcoming Physical Challenges 


Even the act of getting into a saddle requires are certain level of coordination. Unrefined motor skills are a very common symptom of a wide range of mental health problems. As a result, equine assisted therapy puts a focus on refining physical skills.

Gaining Confidence Through Goal Setting 

Ultimately, becoming a good horseback rider requires individuals to master a long list of skills. The step-by-step process of learning to ride also naturally provides a set of goal posts for patients to reach for and overcome. The opportunity to set goals and achieve them is an important part of the emotional development process and a key perk of equine assisted therapy.

Explore More Equine Assisted Therapy Benefits 

Another advantage of equine assisted therapy is that it offers patients an alternative, promoting holistic care. There is a time and place for medication, but  I believe that the current cultural climate pushes for treating most conditions with pills and often fails to take a more holistic approach.

About the Author:
Lyle Murphy is the founder of Alternative to Meds Center, a holistic medication tapering and addiction treatment facility in Sedona, AZ. Lyle has dedicated his life to holistic mental health.

Social Anxiety: How I stopped feeling nervous about talking to others. Guest blog by David Morin

 

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(image: Yellow Co )

This is my story on how even when things look dark, there might be change just around the corner.

You see, I grew up deep inside the Swedish countryside as an only child. My parents were rather old when they had me, so people often assumed them to be my grandparents.

In school, I was an outcast. Because I had only socialised with adults, I had a hard time bonding with people my own age.

Naturally, this made me socially awkward and anxious in social settings, especially around strangers and large groups.

One time, a friend convinced me to join a party. When I finally showed up, I felt everyone’s eyes on me, like radar-tracking from all directions. I locked myself into the bathroom. Looking at the person in the mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with him.

Later, I learned that my awkwardness and nervousness was much more common than I had first thought. It’s just that everyone hides their chaotic inner under a calm surface (just like I did).

I started studying behavioural science. As it turned out, social anxiety often starts small in life. But when we start avoiding social settings, our anxiety snowballs into a monster.

We can’t overnight break the shackles of social anxiety. But what we CAN do, is take small steps out of what we normally do.

I started doing things slightly out of the ordinary. Instead of looking down the ground, I forced myself to hold eye contact with people I walked by on the street, if only for a split second. After a few weeks, when that felt normal, I tried to hold it a bit longer, and maybe even smile.

My smiles were forced and awkward, and I probably looked like a weirdo. But over time, I could interact with people in a warm and relaxed manner.

Thanks to taking small steps and challenging myself a little every day, I became more confident as the years went by. Not just with other people but in life in general.

7 years ago, I started a blog where I teach people how to stop being nervous. That confirmed to me that I wasn’t lonely. We’re one big nervous family all in this together. So why not help each other?

I recently got the opportunity to leave all my friends and family in Sweden and move to New York City – a place where I knew no one. If I hadn’t had the confidence I have today, I would never have dared to do it.

Challenging my anxiety was my key to living life to the fullest.

But back then, in that Swedish forest, things looked dark. Thinking back to that time taught me a lesson:

Just because things are hard at the moment, doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. Life is ever-changing, and that’s what makes it so exciting.  

 

This blog was written by writer David Morin who used exposure therapy to help his own social anxiety and find recovery.