‘’It is all in your head mate!’’- Dealing with anxiety
Updated: Feb 8
Those that know me well wou
ld likely say that I am a ‘bit of a worrier’ (apologies if this has been understated heavily). From worrying what people think of me, to being eager to please- these are all traits that I am perfectly aware I display. What is even more bizarre is that my ‘anxiety’ disappears (perhaps irrationally), when I walk down a street in Johannesburg alone, or try weird and wonderful delicacies from around the world. This post reflects the challenges that anxiety poses on a day-to-day basis, and methods that I have incorporated to try and mitigate these said challenges. It’s never ‘just in your head’, and mental health needs to be seen as intrinsic to the ways in which we live our lives.
How does one become anxious? For what reasons? Ah the million-dollar questions. Some say its through pressure to please in one’s formative years. Others point towards the challenges of modern society- seeking validation from social media for example. After introspection, I would sit on the fence here and say that my anxiety perhaps derives from a mixture of both. This post will focus more on my past experiences, and I will look to write another on the social pressures we face that may induce anxiety.
Coming from India at the age of 5, I was always slightly ‘behind’ my classmates. I was smaller, didn’t really speak like British kids did and in general was not as aware of British Culture. Almost inevitably, that would lead to difficulties in making friends in the playground. Of course, there is no bitterness there- why would a 5-year-old kid play with someone they cant understand or relate to? This, of course, got better within a year or two, where I managed to assimilate more into the ‘British’ way of life. However, the catching up and the extra effort to ‘be like the others’ would almost certainly have affected my self-esteem at the time. My Mum and Dad would ensure that I watched cartoons, joined boy scouts and invite other kids over- and this conscious effort by them is something that I will remain ever so grateful for.
Later into childhood came competitive cricket. I used to trial for my County every year, from the age of 10 to 17. Often, this ended in disappointment, but I was always there or there abouts, which made me a handy cricketer. Dad was (and is) a fantastic cricket coach, and I would argue the best there was at the club I was at. We won county championships and there are several fantastic cricketers whom he had coached from an early age. There were always, however, some loudmouths who had reasons on why I was successful. If I did well, it was because my Dad was the coach. If I did badly, it was because my Dad picked me on the team. In fact, there was a weekend where one or two parents were so forceful that Dad had to drop me from the side after picking up the most wickets the game before. It was a horrible time, because my successes were justified, and shortcomings blamed on a man who has nothing to do with the way I performed. I ended up moving clubs, but that was a time where I used to hate playing cricket because I was scared about what people thought of me. In-fact there was a time, where I came back to play against my old club (whilst Dad watched) and had to encounter some horrendous abuse. My dad was mentioned, I was threatened (all by the same guys whom my Dad coached). Its amazing how people can shorten their memories and hide their gratitude so easily. How did this affect my self-esteem? Well imagine a situation where you are not seen as your own entity- you are a product of your father. It was not my fault. It was not Dad’s fault. I just could not be successful or fail on my own. This lasted close to five years- a very eye-opening period.
School was competitive- I was placed in a class in my GCSE year where in a combined class of 23 people, there were close to 200 A*s. A’s were failures, which academically brought out the best in me. Academically, I thrived on competition, but I would argue in an unhealthy way. I based success on not only my grades, but other peoples as well. My parents again, were fantastic- I was given room to make mistakes and I was taught to accept that these instances were part of life. I remember being told by a teacher at school that if I did not ‘step up’, I would never see a University. Statements such as these were only made relative to the rest of an exceedingly high performing bunch of kids and almost certainly lacked empathy or context. Then from then on, any achievement would be a ‘F*** you’ to Mr P. I believe that proving people wrong can be one of the greatest incentives in life, but certainly not the most self-fulfilling one. The school I went to was fantastic, and I will be forever indebted to my Parents for the sacrifices they made in sending me there, but the unhealthy competition that certain teachers displayed made things difficult at times.
Then came University. Well, I went to an all-boys private school and somewhat lived in a bubble. Speaking to people from another part of the country, let alone girls was something that I was irrationally nervous about. I was extremely quiet for the first few weeks and a few compared me to Raj from Big Bang theory. Leeds was, however, fantastic. In my first year, I lived in a house with 40 other boys and 40 other girls. If that did not make me embrace and thrive on diversity, nothing else did. There were, however, some challenges. A couple of boys from Newcastle certainly did not like what they saw with me. Unfortunately, in the first couple of months at university, you cannot really choose your friends (or rather avoid those who were not), so this was a problem. These two geniuses of the comedy world labelled me, ever so imaginatively as ‘Sid 2’ because there was another Indian origin guy called Sid. At the start it was funny, perhaps innocent- but then it graduated into what I saw as flat out bullying. Thankfully, I had some fantastic friends (and still do) who helped me through this. There was a similar incident where Cheteshwar Pujara who is a cricketer from India and played a season at Yorkshire was called ‘Steve’- because no one could pronounce his name. Whilst this can be seen as innocent, it can really manifest itself into the person really self-doubting themselves in the long run. The turning point was when one of these lads decided to spit on my door (phlegm and all). From then, I realised that I would never change these people- I had to be myself and these two guys could do one, and the other 70 odd people would accept and embrace me for whom I am. It was the best decision I made, and University was all uphill after that first term. How did this change me? Well, the positive was that it gave me confidence to be myself. Please and masses and forget the ones that can never be pleased- but never at the detriment of losing your own identity. I still have these irrational thoughts on not being accepted in new environments, but often, these never came true. I am a long way from the boy who used to sit in his room and wonder why the guy who was spitting on my door would never befriend me!
Adulting after University was perhaps the biggest challenge. Moving to London, starting the process of becoming a Chartered Accounting and generally fending for myself in the big, scary capital. Just like school, my cohort at my company were extremely high performing, driven and competitive. Having said that, I made some of my best friends as part of this graduate scheme, and therefore have absolutely no regrets in joining. What struck me about some people was the stoic nature they displayed. Some of them were so motivated, and detached from other people’s thoughts and expectations, they flew through the exams. I, however, struggled and ended up finishing a year late, and class gaining an ACA as one of my biggest and most fulfilling achievements. I remember opening my Case Study result and eventually passing- the relief was the overwhelming feeling rather than any elation. Towards the end of my time this company, it was noticeably clear that it was time to move on. My anxiety, although derived from work was pervasive throughout all facets of life. How did this anxiety start? Well firstly, the human element was clearly missing on the project I was working on. Being expected to work until 1am, and then come in at 9:15 am, with a telling off if it was 9:16am took its toll. There was extraordinarily little gratitude towards good work, but any mistake was jumped upon. Overall performance measures were competitive in nature, and even the smallest slip up had you labelled as ‘a concern’. I had never been so scared of making a mistake, that I feared growing. You need to make mistakes to get better- those that believed that they grew by always being right were ironically, wrong. I remember deferring a resit to travel to America and a team-mate making fun of me by flashing the amount of money I had ‘lost’ by not passing the exam earlier and earning more money. You learn through making mistakes and experiencing new walks of life. was being ridiculed and punished for doing either, so I made the decision to move companies. Any advice I could give to people with anxiety is to accept your limitations. Expecting perfection does not change you in an organic way. For every fault you may have, you would have a million positive points. Think of all your achievements- they occurred because of your strengths, not mistakes. That is not to say that we shouldn’t work on our personal development- of course we should! The best way to do this is to not shy away from the fact that we have areas to develop.
So here I am. Some may ask- what does anxiety feel like? Well to be honest, I cannot answer that. Sometimes it is a racing heartbeat, sometimes it is muscular pain, sometimes it is chest pain, sometimes it is heartburn. However, it is safe to say that it isn’t just a ‘mental’ issue. Sometimes it leads you to irrational thoughts- ‘’Why hasn’t xxx texted, are they drifting away?’’, ‘’My manager didn’t smile at me, am I in trouble?’’ or ‘’My hair is a mess, my girlfriend may not be attracted to me anymore.’’ That irrational. Of course, you ask for reassurance, and yes- that can be annoying for those who must provide it. That is why I am so grateful towards those that understand and help me. This blog is not a call for help, or sympathy- it is just to highlight areas in my life from which anxiety may have derived from. If anybody else experiences this, then I would request that they do the same- understanding the root of the issue is the most definitive step I made towards trying to deal with it. I will also leave you with some links that you may find useful (I have not used all of them-especially the helplines), and I urge that these links are passed on to those that need it. Jay Shetty in his book came out with an excellent quote, which is what I will finish with-
‘’I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am’’
Samaritans- 116 123
Anxiety UK- http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
Mental Health Foundation- www.mentalhealth.org.uk