Despite my struggles with anxiety, I am lucky to have a strong support group around me – people I can reach out to when I am feeling stressed or in pain. I know that this is not always the case for some people who do not have social support and become very isolated; their road to recovery is much more difficult than mine.
But even with this support available, when I am struggling, it can be hard for me to reach out to others. I do not always take help when it is offered. There are a lot of reasons why I hold back. Partially, it is because talking to others means that I have to confront whatever is causing me distress, and I would rather avoid thinking about it. Another reason is because I feel bad for dumping all of my problems onto someone else. I know I shouldn’t feel bad, but I imagine it’s kind of exhausting to listen to someone talk about their problems all the time. I don’t want to be that person who is constantly complaining, so I hold a lot in.
So instead of reaching out if my anxiety/pain is getting worse, my first instinct is to retreat. To run away, to get into bed, to pull the covers over me and block out the rest of the world. A part of me thinks that maybe if I avoid my problems they will disappear, and by the time I get out of bed everything will be okay again.
The problem with avoiding people when you need help is that while it can be comfortable to pull away and distract yourself from reality, this only prolongs the anxiety. Time gives it an opportunity to fester and grow, so when you jump back into the real world the stress seems insurmountable. The panic builds and builds until you either have to force yourself to confront the problem (and feel horrible while doing it), or just ignore it and move on without dealing with it.
I have a habit of putting things off that cause me to be anxious. I can always do it later; I’ll do it tonight; I’ll do it next week; I have to study so I actually won’t have any time to even think about doing it. I pull out every excuse in the book until the last second when I have no choice but to just do it. I have been getting better at just going ahead and trying things but there are still times when I start throwing out excuses to avoid upcoming tasks.
To tackle this problem, I have found that the easiest thing to do is just go ahead and do whatever is stressing you out. I know that sounds kind of simple and maybe not that helpful, but honestly, there are times when you need to be impulsive and just do something without thinking. Don’t plan a time for it too far in the future; otherwise, you will always find a reason to put it off. This is where your support group can help you out. It can be useful for someone to hold you accountable – maybe you promise to email someone when you finish writing a draft of an essay for example, or maybe you sit down with someone and finish your task with them next to you so you can’t back out. Obviously, over time you want to be able to accomplish these tasks independently, but reaching out to others to help you accomplish your tasks can be a great first step.
Eventually, the more you dive in and just give it a go, the more you realize: Oh. That wasn’t so bad. And the good feeling that comes with accomplishing something you set out to do without putting it off will encourage you to continue facing your problems head on. I always find that I overestimate how difficult something is going to be or how much distress it will cause me. In reality, it’s the anticipation that causes me the most distress.
Asking others to help you out isn’t a sign of weakness; everyone needs help sometimes. So just go for it! It’s scary, but sometimes you need to just do something without thinking and planning it out ahead of time. And once you do it, you’ll have the confidence to try again. If it seems too challenging, talk about it with a friend and maybe you can work on it together until you feel confident enough to try it alone.
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.