Anxiety is being recognised and talked about more now than ever before. If we're lucky enough not to have experienced it ourselves, we all know a friend, colleague or family member who openly suffers from feelings of intense anxiety, most of us probably know more than one.
A quarter of young women in the UK have suffered from, or are currently suffering with feelings of anxiety. This makes sense; pressure of life are simply growing and it seems like just getting through life and being happy isn't enough anymore. We feel a constant pressure to live up to our 'potential' and be at the top of our respected industry, all while battling against tough economic times, an impossible graduate job market and a social media culture that expects us to constantly share our personal successes with the rest of the world. No wonder we're anxious.
Whatever the reason for it however, a more open and understanding dialogue about mental health is an amazingly positive step forward in our cultural conversation. Through talking about anxiety openly, we can not only understand the illness, but also understand its nuances and the different ways it manifests in different people, to spread the idea that there's more than just one stereotypical idea of an anxious person.
One type of anxiety being discussed properly first the first time, is 'high functioning anxiety'. This is a type of anxiety that seems powered by, if not born out of, our relationship with social media and other people's opinions.
A person with high functioning anxiety will not look like the most anxious person in a crowd, in fact chances are that she looks the most confident. This kind of anxiety manifests itself in a need to be the most prepared, most plugged in and most knowledgeable person in the room. It's a kind of intense, often crippling, worry that's carried out in private and hidden through a perfect facade in front of others.
“[Anxiety is] all-consuming. It’s like being sucked into the vortex of a storm" says Carole, 56 from France. “It’s impossible to think about anything else. I don’t do a lot of things because of anxiety. Sometimes I freeze up and just can’t even do the simplest of tasks."
"By discussing, exploring and learning more about anxiety and all different areas of mental health, we can grow to truly understand it."
The person you sit next to at work who is always fifteen minutes early in the morning? That always has their meetings calendar open on their desktop, who always has a cool date, amazing plans after work or exclusive details about the latest hip place? They might be as together as they seem, but they also might be struggling underneath to keep up the impossible version of themselves they've created out of anxiety.
In her book First, We Make The Beast Beautiful, about her own struggles with anxiety, Sarah Wilson proposes finding the positives of anxiety whenever possible.
“Planning a picnic? Get an anxious mate on board – they’ll be able to provide you with a full itinerary of weather contingency plans," she humorously suggests. “And better salad delegation techniques."
“Planning a dinner party/holiday/walk in the park/ any kind of event in the next 365 days? Their phone will be charged, they’ll have remembered Oliver is gluten-free, they’ll have factored in dinner with your mum next month and your couples counselling appointment at 5pm."
While this might provide more of a chuckle than an actual answer to anxiety, it is one small part of a bigger narrative around the subject that is opening up at the moment. There is no one type of person who can fall victim to anxiety, it can equally be the nervous and shy person in your life, as much as it can be the carefree and confident one.
By discussing, exploring and learning more about anxiety and all different areas of mental health, we can grow to truly understand and remove all stigma surrounding it, making it easier for people to open up and ask for help when they need it.