“Guess what? I’m writing an article on anxiety” I texted my friend. She replied “lmao what? Will it be a summary of our message exchanges, self-medicate by regularly texting your equally anxious friend?”. She speaks the truth. If I typed in ‘Anxiety’ into my Whatsapp search bar, it would pull up hundreds of conversations. All of the times I have jumped online to say ‘I have anxiety’, or ’I have a stomach ache/palpitations, I feel nervous or sick’ to my long-suffering friends. According to MIND, 1 in 4 of us experience a mental health problem each year. Anxiety can manifest in various forms and has multiple triggers.
The millennial generation (aged 18-35) is functioning at peak anxiety level – we have been described as the most anxious generation in history. Research has shown that young people in the UK have some of the poorest mental health wellbeing in the world (The Varkey Foundation, 2017). Our favourite Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain recently featured on the front cover of Stylist magazine, discussing her experience of panic disorder. Presenter Jameela Jamil went viral with her ‘I Weigh’ campaign, highlighting the unrelenting unrealistic pressure on women by society and in particular, social media. We are anxious about health, money, relationships, appearance, faith, careers, family problems, the list goes on.
As digital natives, we have grown up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. My Facebook was a reel of engagement announcements, interspersed with photographs of great nights with former friends. My Instagram feed was a hot mess of designer wedding outfits, bloggers being flown out to the Maldives to promote a mascara, gender reveals, and promotion codes for Gymshark leggings. The online world of curated and triple-filtered pictures is subconsciously feeding anxiety, leading to FOMO, comparison, and altering our perception of reality. Most of us sleep with an iPhone charging next to our heads. We are desensitised to the mindless scrolling, getting 200 Whatsapp notifications, and picking up our phones for no reason. I always felt social media was addictively unhealthy. I deactivated Facebook a long time ago. This year, I unfollowed hundreds of people on Instagram and removed all but closest family and friends from Snapchat.
I finally got a stronger hold over my anxiety in the last year. I no longer wake up and lie there paralysed under the weight of worries about life before dry-heaving. Unwisely, I did not seek professional help, nor did I use medication. I shared my feelings with friends and family casually, in a self-deprecating way, and somehow I struggled my way through. I probably owe my closest friend thousands of pounds for being my support system and saving me with hours of text, chats and voice notes. Back then, platforms like Amaliah, MIND, and Muslim Youth Helpline did not exist or were not on my radar. Here are some tips that may help you, if you feel are prone to feeling anxiety or experience anxiety attacks.
Recognise that anxiety is a condition and should be treated like any illness. Therapy can be healing, restorative and can arm you with practical advice and behaviours that can change your mind, and change your life. Contact your GP or your employer/university Occupational Health. Try organisations like:
Switch to decaffeinated coffee. Eat what you want, when you want without guilt tripping yourself. Try to avoid binging, and try to eat balanced so you aren’t running on sugar and junk. Learn which foods trigger your symptoms.
Talk to your friends, partners and family if you can. Offload, and get their support. Be mindful that your struggle with mental health does not warrant you to display toxic, demanding or draining behaviours on others.
Implement boundaries: If you are overwhelmed, take time to yourself. Politely decline events. You do not need to justify your absence. Physical and mental health are a priority.
Mute your Whatsapp groups, an exit from dead or demanding filled group chats. Switch on Do Not Disturb mode, and unfollow accounts on your social media that trigger you. Filter your online space. Implement social media free days, or consider deactivating for a period of time.
Sleep early, give yourself the time and space to do things without rushing. Plan ahead. Get a cute overpriced Paperchase diary, fill your phone’s calendar with little reminders and prompts. Don’t be afraid of solo dining or solo travelling either.
Keep turning to God. Again and again. Irrespective of the time that has elapsed, or the distance you have created. Whatever you have done intentionally or unintentionally, despite how demotivated or flat you feel. Try to establish the prayer, and use the Names of God to call on him. Ask for prayer, ask for peace. We have been given supplications to help keep us afloat when we feel like drowning. It is okay to try a prayer here and there, you can start over a thousand times and He will wrap you in His Mercy a thousand times.
This does not tackle the cause, but treat yourself. Book in a yoga or a gym class. Book a massage or a facial. Put on a face-mask. Light a candle or diffusers (lavender, eucalyptus or frankincense). Stretch and breathe deeply and slowly. Start to rewire your emotional responses with repetitive positive affirmations, and practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
Remind yourself of the things you have done, places you have travelled, milestones you have hit. You are not anxiety, it is a temporary state, one that you can start to tackle. It will resurface every now and again, but with the right tools and support, you can handle it.
Natasha is a Psychology postgraduate who works in clinical pharmacology, in the field of cardiovascular disease. Outside of work, she volunteers, eats excessive amounts of pasta, and loves to travel - last stop Australia, next stop Japan!