Anxious about returning to 'normal'?
Posted by PR Neom
That's the sign of a healthy brain, says Anxiety expert Joshua Fletcher @anxietyjosh.
On a recent poll with you guys 45 per cent said wellbeing was worse in lockdown and that over half of you were feeling more anxious. So, we enlisted Joshua (an anxiety expert) to help and founder Nicola interviewed him.
What's your story with anxiety?
I was going through a very stressful time in my life. I was working in a people referral unit with expelled children and at home I was primary carer for my brother who was terminally ill and at that time I wasn't prioritising myself - I was constantly go go go and give give give. I had lots of unprocessed stuff, perhaps from growing up - ideals from what I should be, maybe some unhealthy habits in there as well.
One day I was at work making a cup of tea, I was stirring the tea, I dropped the spoon and then I experienced derealisation and depersonalisation. I had no idea what was happening, everything seemed weird, I felt detached, peoples voices felt weird, I felt I was talking from inside my own skull. I thought I'd lost my mind, I thought I was going insane, or something bad was going to happen. I ended up in the doctors.
Interestingly I'd never heard the word anxiety being used in that way, and I was in that very bad place for a long time. No one around me knew what it was, until I picked up a book one day and read about it, realised it was me and I'm not going insane! And that really helped.
Were you trained as a psychotherapist then?
I enjoyed being a teacher, but what I really enjoyed was the relief I got that I wasn’t going insane and I was okay and I was normal, was one of the nicest feelings. I think that's the motivation behind what I do now. I set up my practice called The Panic Room. I went on my own venture with it. I didn't think it would do as well as it did.
If I talk about anxiety too much, it can make me anxious! Is that a thing?
Depends on your relationship with anxiety and how you perceive it. If your perception of anxiety is negative and you're talking about it through the context of it being negative then it might evoke anxiety in you.
For me I have to do it as a job. I work with anxiety everyday, I am a previous sufferer of anxiety, but the way I see it is that sometimes it's actually really good for you.
Do you think it's become a lot more prevalent in today's society and if so why?
This kind of worrying has been around for a long time. Dr Claire Weekes was the first person to write a book about this type of anxiety in the 1960's, she's a pioneer of psycho education and talking about this type of anxiety. It was called hysteria - if you were having a panic attack you'd be hysterical. She pioneered one of the most important factors when it comes to experiencing anxiety, which is the technique of floating or as we know it now as acceptance. Accepting we're experiencing anxiety and that our brain is confused and in danger: I can't do anything about it now so I may as well continue doing what I'm doing whilst I'm feeling anxious. Depersonalisation derealisation is marked as one of the key symptoms of anxiety.
What's making us into an anxious nation?
We all have an anxiety jug, and this is a metaphor for our ability to cope with stress, this could be stress from our childhood, growing up, current stress, putting the bins out, paying bills, relationship stress, esteem stress - whatever. The size of the jug depends on your genetics, so if you have a mum or dad or grandparents that are anxious - you're screwed because your jugs going to be smaller, but it doesn't mean you're going to suffer with acute anxiety, it just means your susceptibility to being anxious when stressed is higher.
All the stress gets poured into that jug. Statistically 80% of people develop anxiety in their mid twenties-30.
Coming out of lock down anxiety seems to be a thing, people being nervous about life going back to normal, life not going back to normal, about moving from one very bizarre situation to another. Why is that?
Anxiety serves a purpose, it's our threat response, and for months we've been conditioned, and warned and reminded that the outside is a dangerous space. People are dangerous, not because they're running round with axes but, because they may carry a disease that we can catch. And rightly so, our anxious response has gone, ‘okay, I'll notice that’ and that's our threat response. We've also been conditioning our brain that, in order to stay safe, we remain in doors, and we engage in certain safety behaviours. Now these are good safe behaviours. But if we've been repeating them for months and then suddenly someone says, ‘you don’t need to do that anymore’, your anxious brain and your threat response says, ‘are you sure?, because we've been looking after you for a while now, are you sure you want to do this?’
So if you're anxious about returning to normal - good! That's the sign of a healthy brain. It's okay to be anxious to return back to normal. Go gently.