For most of my childhood, I was a nervous/fearful person. While my peers were climbing up trees, leaping off things, doing roly-polys etc, I usually stood by and watched. I had a cousin who used to run into busy roads, and jump into the deep end of pools even before he could swim. Meanwhile, I never broke any bones, never learnt to ride and bike, and the most adventurous thing I ever did was a couple of crap handstands at playtime.
In fact, here is an incomplete list of things I have been frightened of in my life, past and present;
- Most animals and insects (excluding reptiles and small birds). I talked about this more in my ‘Furry Friends and Why I Avoid Them,’ blog, but I think the reason I’m fearful of animals is that I can’t predict what they’re going to do. I like watching David Attenborough documentaries and admiring animals on the screen, but not up close. Ironically, and unlike a lot of girls my age, I’m not frightened of spiders. Maybe that’s too mainstream for me?
- Social occasions. This is something I used to be scared of when I was a teenager, but not so much anymore. I think it was bog-standard social anxiety. I used to be scared of whether people would like me, whether I would fit in, if there would be any Awkward Pauses in the conversation……………… how I was coming across, etc. Every time I was due to phone somebody, I used to script what I was going to say. Over the past four or five years, since I’ve been to university really, this social anxiety has decreased to the point where I am now reasonably confident in social situations.
- Heights. I think this is probably why I didn’t climb trees as a child.
- Sudden noises/movements. This is an annoying one, especially in public places. And when other people figure it out. It reached the point where my colleagues would deliberately sneak up behind just because my reaction would be so comical.
- Small spaces. I’m starting to wonder if there are any phobias I don’t have?
You get the idea.
Although I am not fearless, I am significantly less fearful than I used to be. This is because I started making myself do things that frightened me, and gradually, over the past few years, I have become a more relaxed person. I still get scared by things, but I will never shy away from something because I am nervous of it. I used to read about things that people had done with their lives, and think ‘How brave. I could never do that.’ But it was only when I started questioning, ‘well, why not?’ that I started to do things I never, ever thought I would do.
Here are my top three tips that have really worked for me for tackling fear and anxiety.
- Time. I think some people, especially those will mental health issues, get frustrated with themselves for feeling that way or annoyed that they’re not making more progress in terms of dealing with it. Without sounding too ‘help-book-y’ it’s important to realise that changes don’t come overnight, and that small steps every day will make a big difference over time. It certainly was like that for me. It didn’t feel like I was making much progress for a while, but suddenly, five years later and my confidence and relaxation levels have sky-rocketed.
- Do one thing every day that scares you. This is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. I mostly agree with it, except for the ‘every day,’ part. Nobody is going to be skydiving or bungee jumping every day. I think doing something that scares you every so often is effective enough. Examples of things I have done that frightened me; deciding to move out of my Mum’s house for university; joining lots of clubs and societies at uni; jetting off for two months on my lonesome to do an internship in South Africa; training to be an advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau. And I’m still looking for new things to do. My heart still races. I still get nervous. But I do it anyway, and feel amazing afterwards, and even more determined to face my next, scary challenge.
- Meditation and Mindfulness. Reading this, you’re probably thinking, ‘Christ, what a hippy!’ But honestly, mindfulness is the primary reason why my anxiety has plummeted in the last six months. It’s such a simple concept, yet so incredibly powerful and effective for mental health. Just a ten-minute mindful meditation every day has changed my outlook on life. If you don’t know what Mindfulness is, then check it out!
So, there you have it. It’s not simple. I’m still afraid of dogs and heights and… well, a lot of things. But it doesn’t bother me as much anymore, and on the plus side, I look like the most fearless person in the world when I’m getting rid of a spider for my screaming friends.
(And for readers who are genuinely struggling with anxiety, the best anxiety self-help book I’ve come across is Sarah Rayner’s ‘Making Friends With Anxiety.’ It’s honestly brilliant.)