Anxiety is the theme for mental health awareness week this year. As a Psychologist, I could write a whole article on the science of anxiety. But I’m not going to do that. Let’s face it, there are plenty of them and most will give you the same 5 tips on how to manage it.
Talk to someone.
You get the gist…
Instead I’m going to tell you about my personal experience of anxiety. I have wrestled with bouts of anxiety for as a long as I can remember. I guess I’ve always been called a ‘worrier.’ Sometimes I worry so much that I worry about worrying. It’s exhausting! When I was doing my psychologist training I worried a lot about whether I could actually be an effective Psychologist if I was still struggling with my own anxiety. Surely I should have my own s*** together if I was going to have any credibility in helping others? I worked through a lot during those 3 years of training; and I came to some powerful realisations that helped reframe the way that I view my anxiety, and how I channel it as a Psychologist. My three key takeaways around anxiety, as a Psychologist
Risk detection is a superpower
Often annoyingly to those around me, I am great at spotting risks. In my role as a Psychologist that’s a really valuable skill. Granted, sometimes my anxiety causes me to overdo the risk detection. But I have come to see the value in this skill and dare I say it, now even identify it as one of my strengths. Empathy is an underrated byproduct of anxiety
I can empathise. None of us have it all figured out. Wouldn’t it be great if we could step into the minds of the people around us. We’d be able to understand them completely, and be absolutely in sync. Unfortunately, that’s not possible and so we have to take the next best option by putting ourselves in the shoes of the people around us. My own wrestles with anxiety have helped me understand that we all come with our differences: many of which are hidden. On the outside, people probably wouldn’t identify me as someone who struggles with anxiety. As a result, I understand that still waters run deep. And the only way to truly understand people is to create a space where you can ask the right questions to gain a sense of how they see and experience the world.
Labels in mental health conversations aren't always helpful.
Too often words in the mental health space are loaded with so many associations and assumptions: anxiety is one of them. It brings about images of people being completely debilitated. But there is such a thing as facilitative anxiety. Sometimes those nervous thoughts and feelings can act as helpful fuel. It’s important to explore how people make sense of their anxiety before making broad brush recommendations. As an example, when I felt nervous before a first date (many many years ago now) I loved it (in a weird way). It signalled to me that I was interested in this person - and looking back now, I’m not sure I’d have wanted to change that feeling and experience.
As Head of Behavioural Science at Fika, both my academic and personal experiences have helped shape our mental fitness product and offering. We don’t label people. We don’t make broad-brush recommendations. We start from the position of asking questions to truly understand our users’ experiences and what they need. And we predict risk to help offset it. My experience of anxiety is deeply woven into many of the decisions and things that we do at Fika. I can’t be anything other than grateful for it, no matter how difficult it’s sometimes been.