Monday, 29 December 2014

Growing Your Confidence and Anxiety

Up until two/three years ago I was chronically shy. Not to say that now I am the most confident person ever but I now manage (for the most part) to go about my daily life and more without quaking in fear or feigning illness to avoid it.

 When I was younger I always used to hide behind my little sister. She would be like six and I'd be ten and I would make her ask for things in shops or if I was buying something she would have to take it to the till for me because I just had no confidence. If I ever had to do a talk in front of the class in school I'd get worked up and ill for weeks before and I'd often beg teachers not to make me do it- sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't. If me and my family ate out in a restaurant I made my mum order my meal because I was just too anxious to do it- why? It all sounds so silly typing it out but for anyone who suffers from anxiety or chronic shyness then you'll totally be able to relate to this.

I was what I would call painfully shy, it must have been actually painful for people to watch. I just couldn't do anything, I wouldn't answer the phone, couldn't speak to people I didn't know, would never answer the door and I couldn't even answer the phone to people I knew. When I got to high school in the first few years I wouldn't spend any time with friends outside of school. I was so anxious that outside of school we'd have nothing to talk about or they'd see how boring I was and not like me anymore. So while all my friends went out and socialised I sat in my room and read books or played Sims, sad but true. I didn't know at this point I had anxiety, I just thought I was awkward and I hated myself for it but I couldn't find the confidence to change. School always made me really anxious, it was so unpredictable because I could be asked to read out loud, or asked to run an errand for a teacher or have to do talks so I would pretend to be ill as often as I could. I would snuggle down in my bed and read book after book so happy to not have to be at school and later on in school I developed anxiety around lunch time. I'm still not entirely sure why but I would get so anxious that I had to go home for lunch even though by the time I got home I only had like twenty minutes in the house. Then when my mum worked full time I couldn't go home anymore because it was too far to walk so I would walk to my grans which meant I had to run there, have 15 minutes in the house and run back. That for me was still better than having to sit in a crowded dining hall because it made me feel safe and less anxious. It wasn't until my last year at school when my gran couldn't have me visiting at lunch anymore due to circumstances that I was forced to go for lunch with my friends at school and actually started to enjoy what I'd once dreaded.

There's no exact solution for 'curing' anxiety and it is so much harder when people don't know you have it. That's the problem with mental illness and it is a mental illness, is that people can't see that you're not well so they treat you like everything is fine. So if anyone joked about me being shy or told me I was being ridiculous it hurt because it wasn't something I could actually help and that actually makes you hate yourself more. I genuinely am a sensitive person too so sometimes if people are joking about me -it's not funny and it does actually hurt?? The worst part is when people don't accept that and continue to act in a way that they know upsets you just because they believe it's silly to get upset over it. I've had people say horrible things such as call me bipolar, say I have no friends, call me names, laugh at me but do they really know that there is a war raging inside my head? With anxiety other people can't see your pain but you sure as hell can feel it. If people just stopped to think well why is this person tired, moody and upset.. maybe there's something more than just being 'grumpy' or 'awkward'. These were things said to me by people really close to me which hurt me deeply and is still something that makes me really sad. Something that really does help battle anxiety though is to do what you hate, do something that makes your heart race and your palms sweat because it works.

When I left school and had a massive holiday before I was to start university my mum and dad told me to get a job. I didn't want to because this was something that involved so many things that would make me anxious and panicky so they sent off applications for me. A week later I got an interview for a job at Tkmaxx which filled me with dread but I forced myself to go because I knew I couldn't avoid it forever, I practiced and rehearsed potential interview questions over and over and I went and it was fine - I survived and it wasn't too painful. I ended up being offered the job an hour after my interview so a positive came out of something that I had been scared to do. When I started the job it involved me answering phones from internal calls and also external calls (among other things) which as I mentioned before was something I could not handle. However, as it was my job I literally had to do it and I also had to make tannoys across the store. After having to do this for weeks and weeks I soon started to find that I didn't get that feeling in my stomach anymore and my hands didn't sweat every time the phone rang. This then transferred into me being able to answer my own personal call and my house phone and now I don't even think twice about picking up my phone and making a call. I do still like to plan out what I'm going to say (if it's not to someone i'm close to) but it's a massive improvement from where I came from.

That was when I really realised that if you push yourself out of your comfort zone, they soon become things actually in your comfort zone so by pushing yourself you expand your area of comfort and less things become fearful. I started accepting invites to go out with my friends and instead of anything going wrong I would have a good time and again this would boost my confidence. I would have family members laugh at me for having no friends, yes family but I did have friends I was just too terrified to see them outside of what was familiar to me. I guess you could say I was anxious about change too and still am. I stopped hiding behind other people and forced myself to do things that made me anxious e.g. ordering food, returning items, speaking to strangers. Years on and I now do so many things that only a couple of years ago would have had me crying the night before even simple things like meeting a friend.

Another big thing for me is faking it until you make it. I know it's a cliche but it's so true just think about it nobody knows you're shy unless you let them know. Nobody can tell by looking at you what your personality is like especially strangers that you'll only meet once. Just act confident until you naturally feel confident.

I forced myself to go on a plane last year on a family holiday to Italy because I knew I couldn't let this conquer me anymore. I had flown once to Paris a few years previous but it was still something that scared me and made me really anxious. The fear of flying led to me turning down to holidays to France and a holiday to New York with my friends which I would have loved had I had the courage to face the flight. I went on the plane and although I panicked and my anxiety was at a peak, I landed in Italy alive and safe having had no problems with my flight. Flying is never something that I will enjoy but I now would never turn down a holiday or allow it to be a factor preventing me from doing something I would otherwise enjoy!

At university now presentations are something I often come across and have to do. Do not get me wrong this is something that I still get very, very anxious about and is something completely out of my comfort zone but I do them. My last presentation was a 9 minute one and I genuinely sat down and thought I can't do this it's too difficult, what if I go red, what if I mess up, what if I stutter over words or fall over and this contributed to 60% of my overall module mark. Then I thought that could happen but I could also revise it really well, get a really good mark and feel really good about myself. I've not come through two and a half years of intense hard work to walk away with nothing over a presentation potentially going wrong. I did my presentation and you know what I got 70% in it which is a merit and my module leader said in her feedback that I'm 'really good at presentations' which are words I never thought I would hear. Now looking back I feel so silly that I nearly walked away from a law degree that I'd more than halfway achieved over something that could have potentially happened but didn't.

I'm not trying to say hey I'm so great, I beat anxiety because I haven't and I still have internal battles most days however you can help yourself to make anxiety more manageable. Think of it as an opponent and that everytime you don't do something because your anxious, it wins and you lose out. You really do lose out because you never know what will come from you doing things that scare you - you might meet 'the one', you might get your dream job opportunity, you might meet your best friend or you might just feel totally amazing that you have conquered a fear!

I'll let you into a secret- for many years I wanted to start a blog, since I discovered Zoella on youtube about four and a half years ago but I didn't because of anxiety. I was worried people would find it, judge me and think I was weird or that nobody would like me and want to read it so I didn't do it. I only started a year ago because of my friend and her mums persuasion and I absolutely love it and wish I had done it earlier. My blog has led to so many amazing opportunities for me that if I'd continued to hide away from I'd never have had and I've made so many amazing friends through it too.

Anxiety is a pain in the ass but it doesn't mean you can't thrash it down, throw water on the fire and make it a smaller pain in the ass. From doing those things that make you anxious and scared you will begin to build confidence, I promise you. I would loveee to hear your thoughts on this down below and let me know your experiences with anxiety. I'm so sorry if this post was too rambly and not your cup of tea but it was a spur of the moment post where I just poured out my thoughts and feelings but hopefully it will help someone out there.

Lots of Love,

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