Using exposure to challenge anxiety.

28th October 2017

Before I say anything – I’ve missed two days of my 30 day fitness challenge. Thursday and Friday were quite busy, and today’s post will be on these days and my experience of how it challenged my thought processes and anxiety. My motivation to exercise has been well and truly low – I don’t even feel the want to do it. I always go through these dips – I find it really hard to be consistent.

So I’ve secured a 12-15 week mentoring position through my Uni, supporting 5 young people in secondary school with thinking about their futures amongst other things in academia they may need a bit of support with. I do freak out when it comes to employment – I’ve secured jobs before and ran out with all sorts of thoughts, including suicidal ideation and incredibly low self-esteem and overthinking. Although the past two days I joined about 20-30 other students at my Uni for training, and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to talk about my preconceptions and anxious thoughts preceding this, and how actually exposing myself to people helped me and challenged my condition.

So I walked in on the first day and was greeted by two friendly trainers. I signed the register – the room we started in was a small lecture theatre and it felt quite formal to begin with. I grabbed myself some pastries that were provided, which I wouldn’t usually do before but I know that’s something I’ve progressed with. When I sat down I could immediately tell that a lot of people already knew each other – they were all conversing in separate groups and at that point I didn’t feel too awkward, I just thought it’s typical as I feel like I’m always surrounded by friendship groups and I don’t fit in to any. But I felt at home, because it was at uni and I was around like minded people. I remember immediately feeling quite resistant to talking to people. I’d see people sit down near me and I’d almost feel a sense of competition with them, a kind of stand-offish attitude without outwardly showing it. I knew that it was my anxiety talking. They’re just other students going through the same training process as me, I don’t have any reason to be uptight with them.

I started to think about all the icebreakers we’d probably be doing and it made me feel a bit resentful. I didn’t want to do it, I just felt like it was best to be talked at all day and not have to socialise with everyone. But I think, what my mind is really telling me is the opposite. The things I’m avoiding, I probably want and need the most, but it’s the anxiety that creates a barrier. I see myself as a very reserved and quiet person, but I really noticed myself coming out of my shell during these two days! I was in a safe, supportive space and it must have reassured me enough to loosen up and relax – I spoke to a lot of people, I engaged in group work, I enjoyed the icebreakers and had a lot of fun. Initially what I was uneasy about ended up being the things that created a great few days. I was stimulated, I was having fun, and I felt like I spoke to some like-minded people.

I’m also learning to be okay with sitting on my own. My anxiety always tells me that I’m a loner (hence the blog name), and I sat on my own for some of the lunch on Thursday. But lately I’m becoming more accepting of being on my own – it doesn’t mean that it’s bad, and that I have no friends or no one wants to talk to me. I didn’t feel like people were watching me. And someone from my course that I met on the day came and joined me to have lunch with me, which I’m not used to at all!

There was a girl there who, during the first day, I felt uncomfortable around. She was really pretty and stylish, and for some reason that made me feel as though she was one of those cool students that are intimidating and I shouldn’t talk to. I was judging her internally based on what she looked like and I couldn’t believe I’d done that. But I was just anxious about being around confident people. I didn’t speak to her directly during the first day, but on Friday, she actually came and joined me when I ate lunch! Immediately, when we started talking I felt a bit resentful and didn’t want her to be sat next to me, but then once those barriers were broken down and we spoke for abit, I realised how wrong I was and how the anxiety really did prevent me from connecting with a genuinely nice person. She was warm, friendly, even quite nurturing. I made a whatsapp group and when I was saying that a lot of people didn’t seem interested she was like “I am, Emily!” and I really liked that.

We had a seating plan during the second day when we split in to two groups, and I joined a table of people that had obviously connected well during the first day. They were chatting and having a laugh, and I felt left out and like I was intruding straight away – classic response of an anxious person! But then we ended up doing a group task which is usually my worst nightmare, but again I eased in and just chatted to them and we shared ideas. It was a warm and supportive environment, and there wasn’t a sense of competition or tension. See how my condition makes me have these preconceptions and views of the world that are so irrational?? I’ve learnt so much during these two days, it’s really interesting.

Overall, I asked loads of questions, I even said a few things that made the group laugh, I did a spin the wheel task and won the option for a £10 gift voucher (sweet!), and I just really showed myself that there is so much to me that is repressed because of my lifestyle. Usually, day in, day out, I rarely speak to people. I go to lectures and seminars, come home and do work, blog, speak to people online, etc. These few days made me realise how much I’m missing out, and how much people just aren’t seeing who I am. I’m not even seeing my potential and who I really am. I’m not thriving as much as I should be, for a young woman. I do equally know that I have to take a step by step approach otherwise it is actually detrimental for my anxiety condition and that pushing myself too much and expecting too much of myself never does any good for my wellbeing.

Since yesterday, although there are these positives, I have felt quite lonely again. I got some of their numbers, but the small exchange I had with them felt quite boring. I get bored really easily and I need a lot of stimulation so I often walk around feeling dissatisfied, and it’s been hard adjusting to such stimulating days around others to coming back to my lonely cave. When I think about it, I start overthinking and start to feel resentful which made me write this post because I wanted to acknowledge the positives of the past few days so as to not forget about them. But, again, these past few days have helped me to acknowledge that exposure is a really good method to confront and challenge anxiety. It takes a lot of practice (and I mean a lot) so it’s important to not expect instant results, but we can do this. It isn’t impossible.

Take care.



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