I could make this a pretty short post because life in general is hard when you have anxiety. But I thought it would be useful to give some specific examples, share the thought processes and offer some potential solutions.
1. Making phone calls.
- What if I have the wrong number?
- What if the line is unclear and I can’t hear them properly?
- Maybe they’re busy. I shouldn’t interrupt.
Tempting Solution: Never make a call again. Ever.
Realistic Solution: I’m going to assume you’re like me and only make calls for essential things like appointments. Sadly, we are yet to reach the stage when they’re no longer necessary. So, the best course of action here is to jot down a script to follow when you make the call. You should keep the pen and paper handy in case they give you any information you need to remember later! For other matters, a lot of places have alternative options, like a live chat via their website. If you don’t require an immediate response, an email may suffice.
2. Taking something back.
- What if they don’t believe me that it’s broken/doesn’t fit/other?
- Did I misread the receipt?
- Everyone else in the queue will stare at me.
- I’m just being awkward, I’ll just keep hold of it.
Tempting Solution: Keep everything you buy, regardless of whether it’s suitable. In the process, waste money and miss out on other things you actually want.
Realistic Solution: While you can donate your goods to charity and prevent the accumulation of useless items, that doesn’t solve the money issue. I tend to wait until a good brain day to return things, or I ask Neal nicely to do it. You could ask somebody to do it, or at the very least accompany you. Double check all of the information on the receipt so you know what’s what. Approach the sales assistant in a polite way and there shouldn’t be any issues.
3. Getting a haircut.
- There’s going to be lots of small talk – argh!
- What if they mess it up and I look terrible?
Tempting Solution: Let your hair grow down to your ankles.
Realistic Solution: If it would make you feel more comfortable, invite someone to go with you. I sometimes feel more at ease with a familiar face around. Also, there are plenty of salons to choose from. If you go to one and don’t enjoy it, try a different one. Once you find one you like, you can stick with it and make it part of your routine. Try to keep in mind that 1) the hairdresser is probably making small talk to be friendly and 2) hair grows back.
4. Meeting new people.
- They’re not going to like me.
- Why am I so awkward?
- Will they think I’m rude if I don’t say much?
Tempting Solution: Avoid all social interactions with strangers.
Realistic Solution: I feel this particularly example is where “your thoughts are not facts” really comes into play. You don’t know this person and they don’t know you. You can’t read minds so how are you to say they won’t like you? Anxiety is causing you to assume the worst. Those thoughts are not necessarily true. Besides, if you meet someone new and for whatever reason they don’t like you, that’s their loss. Evidently, they weren’t supposed to play an important part in your life!
5. Ordering food.
- That dish with the fancy looking name sounds divine but there’s no way I can pronounce that.
- They’re staring at me – am I taking too long to order?
Tempting Solution: Accept the fact you don’t need to go out for food. Have every meal in the comfort of your own home.
Realistic Solution: The majority of larger chains have their menus available online. Take a look before you head out and choose a few things. This way, you have a backup option if your original choice isn’t available. As for them staring at you, it’s purely to show they’re paying attention and not to put any pressure on you.
6. Sharing something you’ve done.
- This is lame.
- They’re going to think it’s rubbish.
- It was probably better in my head.
Tempting Solution: Keep everything you do to yourself.
Realistic Solution: Tell the people that you trust. Once you’ve had their feedback, you can choose to share it with more people, if you want to. Oh, and by the way – we are 100% our harshest critics so, chances are, whatever negatives you’ve thought of will never even cross their mind.
7. Buying presents.
- What if they hate it?
- Do they even still like this stuff anymore?
- They always get me great presents and mine will suck.
Tempting Solution: Skip Christmas, birthdays and any occasion where gift-giving is involved.
Realistic Solution: Where possible, get a second opinion. Then pass the blame if they don’t like it ;). Okay, that second part is a joke. In all seriousness, you can discuss your gift ideas with someone else who knows them to get a bit of reassurance. Alternatively, they may know of a better option!
8. Job hunting.
- No one is calling me because they know my C.V. is a lie.
- What if I never find a job?
- I have an interview, I think I’m going to be sick.
Tempting Solution: Pray to all the powers that be that some sort of perfect job will pop up out of nowhere.
Realistic Solution: Let’s face it, everyone’s C.V. is a little bit over the top. That’s the point of it – to big yourself up so an employer snaps you up! Most companies are inundated with applications and it’s simply not feasible to respond to everyone in a lot of cases. Following on from that, job hunting requires a lot of patience these days. It can feel like you’ll never catch a break but you will! As for interviews, they are nerve-wracking at the best of times, let alone when you have anxiety to contend with. The best advice I can give for this is do as much preparation as you can and remember to breathe. You’ll be okay!
9. Going somewhere for the first time.
- I’m going to get lost.
- What if I can’t find my way in?
Tempting Solution: Stick to what you know.
Realistic Solution: When I started counselling, I had some idea of where the office was but I wasn’t 100% convinced. The night before, Neal and I had a walk along so I could check it out and get an idea of how long it would take me to get there. This is a great way to ease some of your worries, so I recommend doing this if it’s a viable option. If not, perhaps try looking on Google maps to plan a route and identify nearby landmarks?
10. Using any form of transport.
- What if it doesn’t turn up?
- How likely is it to break down or crash?
- What if I miss my stop?
Tempting Solution: Give yourself the rule that, unless you can walk there, you’re not going.
Realistic Solution: I know anxiety would have us believing differently, but most of these things are unlikely. Travelling is a HUGE source of stress for me. It’s probably one of the most anxiety-inducing activities. You can ask anyone I’ve ever travelled with and they’ll tell you: I’m not very good at it. I want to be, but no. A technique I learnt at counselling – and put into practice on a solo coach trip to Edinburgh – was to write down each of my worries and what I would do if those situations arose. This was a really good exercise and I kept the piece of paper with me on my journey. If anything was to go wrong, I had some sort of plan which had been made while I was thinking clearly and not panicking.
11. Maintaining relationships.
- I’m annoying them.
- They don’t actually like me, they just tolerate me.
- I’m a burden and I shouldn’t inflict myself on others.
- They’d be happier without me.
Tempting Solution: Forget people. Just have pets.
Realistic Solution: While I’m not entirely against a life with just pets, I don’t think it would be the healthiest course of action. It’s good to have relationships with people, too. To reiterate a previous point, your thoughts are not facts. These are based on your own opinions of yourself. The people that love you see things you can’t always identify in yourself.
- My mind is going a million miles a minute and people want me to relax?!
- I’m just going to sit here and replay every conversation I’ve had in the past few weeks to see what I did wrong.
- Remember that time you tripped over and everyone saw?
- I have so much to do.
- I wonder if I’ll ever feel normal.
- The future freaks me out.
Tempting Solution: Continue putting up with these thoughts zooming around your mind.
Realistic Solution: I have two solutions here. Firstly, find things that really help you to relax. Even if that’s being asleep. Identify things you can include in a self care routine and do them regularly. The second option is to ask for help. Since taking medication and attending counselling, anxiety still causes me issues, but it feels manageable for the most part. I don’t feel on edge every single day and, with the help of my counsellor, I’ve been able to identify techniques which help me out a little. Without help, it feels big and controllable, but it’s actually just a case of learning how to keep it in check.
The difficulty with anxiety is that it causes a sort of mental paralysis. It’s very hard to get out of that mindset. So, although these seem like normal, every day tasks, they can be incredibly tricky to navigate as an anxiety sufferer. The days when I can pick up a phone and make a call without a four hour build up beforehand are a major win for me, for example. While it appears I have had a little fun with my “tempting solutions”, these are genuine thoughts I’ve had in the past. Because life with anxiety is hard, and everything is a battle, but we mustn’t let it win.