It is the end of Mental Health Awareness Week and I thought I would finally talk about my own battle with anxiety.
Last year I developed social food anxiety which luckily for me this is only in very specific situations. I went out for dinner with a friend and his new boyfriend, had a reaction to the food I’d eaten and was violently and uncontrollably ill in the restaurant.
I was so embarrassed by the whole scenario that most of the time I go out to eat my body will react thinking the same thing is going to happen again. Some of my symptoms include my stomach locking up, I get the shakes, I feel or am sick and I can’t physically eat. While the food is still in front of me it can trigger a panic attack; my brain over processes that I am not eating the food I have ordered, I am wasting money, I look like a fool for not eating and it is all just a vicious cycle. The further from home I get or if I am not driving the worse the anxiety can get.
Alongside the food aspect I have a constant need to know where the toilet is when I am in a restaurant and if there’s only one toilet in a place, this also sends me into a panic and alcohol generally escalates the situation.
For me my anxiety at times makes no sense, I can sit at my desk and work and eat all day surrounded by my work colleagues, but put me in a social situation with food and anxiety can consume me. I do not know when my anxiety is going to trigger and even had a anxiety attack at a restaurant at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai due to the amount of food that was being served.
I am not afraid to say that I sought help, I read a lot and while my understanding on anxiety is not by the book, it has helped me and others understand it better and deal with it. The best advice I got was from my doctor, who suggested I talk to my friends or anyone I went out to eat with so that they understood what was happening with me, as they knew, I was much calmer.
For me, anxiety is like fear; a fear that has started for a reason or had a trigger, which for me was the reaction I had to dinner with my friends. Fear is one of the strongest emotions and it is ingrained in us for a reason; therefore it is one of the hardest things to overcome. Anxiety is a fear that you allow to manifest. It then becomes so easy to just change your habits so that you can avoid the thing that makes you feel uncontrollably anxious altogether; however, this is you letting the anxiety win.
I refuse to allow anxiety to win as I actually really love food! I want to spend time eating food in amazing places across the world with my friends. While I am not fully over it and I still have moments, I know how to deal with them when they arise and I am in a MUCH better place than I was a year ago.
My best tips are:
- Breathe – stay calm and take some time out.
- Talk to people – I feel so much calmer eating out with people who know about my anxiety. If they know, I cannot embarrass myself and I immediately feel better.
- Build your support network – if you are having a bad day or moment, have people that you can turn to talk to about it. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.
- If it has not happened yet, try not to allow yourself to worry about it – I know this one is hard, but if you spend all day worrying about something happening, you are already on edge and it is more likely to happen.
- Learn and understand your triggers – knowing them is useful, but try not to then avoid them altogether, instead learn what works to allow you to cope and start to build other triggers in a way that allows you to manage.
In my research on anxiety I was shocked by the statistics I found surrounding Mental Health.
- 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. (Ref: Mind.org)
- 1 in 10 people will suffer from a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some point in their life. (Ref: Anxietyuk.org)
- Suicide remains the most common reason for death in men under the age of 45. (Ref: TheCalmZone.net) Women are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses but men are more likely to take their own life.
- The economic cost of mental illness in the UK is about £70-£100bn – this is greater than the total cost of crime (£60bn). (Ref: MentalHealth.org.uk)
- 75% of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment. (Ref: MQMentalHealth.org)
- 1 in 3 visits to the GP are mental health related. (Ref: BBC.co.uk)
- At any one times, one sixth of the population in England aged 16-64 have a mental health problem. (Ref: Mind.org)
- 23% of the NHS activity is mental health related, but only 11% of the funding received. (Ref: BBC.co.uk)
Some of these statistics are huge, so why is it so stigmatised to talk about.
This July I am joining the Tewin Trekkers again and this year we are doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. This involves 12 hours of walking for 25 miles up and down three mountains.
When it was suggested this year that we raise money for Mind in Mid Herts, I was right behind it. There was only one person in the group who at the time understood that I was going through my own struggle and I do not believe that until now, any of the others realised how much of a challenge the Three Peaks Challenge was for me personally. It was a huge leap for me at the time and where I was with my anxiety. The fact that I was completely out of control of the situation, I could not just drive home, I was surrounded by people I did not completely know, there was definitely no access to a toilet; however I was determined to get through it and not let it make me quit before I had even started. I did have wobbles, including dinner on the first night which triggered a minor panic attack and I did not sleep much the night before.
This all being said, I got through it, I did not let my anxiety get the better of me and I was so proud of myself for more than just completing the Three Peaks Challenge.
I am going for honesty over silence and I hope that it will give some people the voice they need to seek the help or discuss what they are going through with their own friends and family. I have already seen the difference me talking has had in my direct friendship group, some of whom have shared their own experiences or sort help for their own problems.
For me it is not over and dealt with but I am still going out to eat and I am still booking holidays. The times I am most upset about my anxiety is when I have allowed it to control a situation and given in; however, I think that it is a very good thing that giving in upsets me.
While this blog post is not a plug, I wanted to share my own experiences, if you want to make a difference to people struggling with their own Mental Health, make sure you sponsor me on our Just Giving page.
If you think that you are struggling with a Mental Health issue and do not know what to do, I would recommend you start by seeing your GP or speaking to Mind and one of their helplines. I have not used the Mind services personally but have heard lots of good things through my fundraising efforts. For me the best thing that helped me was talking to friends but I would encourage you to speak to someone and, while I’m no expert, I do not mind if that first someone is me.