I am lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing friends who make me feel loved and supported…most of the time. having anxiety isn’t easy for me, full stop. although, having always been the ‘supporter’ in a friend group, I am able to step back and recognize that it isn’t always easy for my friends, either.
being in university, you are supposedly living the best years of your life. this means that you often want to take a break from studying, go to parties, hang out with people you have never met and ALWAYS put yourself out there. for me, on the other hand, this idea leaves me riddled with anxiety.
a night out on the town
I’m not good in social situations where I don’t know exactly who is going, what everyone in my group is wearing, how long we are staying, if we are moving locations at any point and if so, when etc etc. you get the point right? especially when you mix dark spaces, loud music and alcohol into the picture, this leaves my head spinning with uncertainty and anxiety.
i was never able to go to clubs or bars before. it even came to be known in my group of friends. “oh she said she’ll go, but just wait – she’ll back out tonight.” despite not wanting to have this reputation of being a flake, it was unfortunately true. to be honest, agreeing in the first place was probably my mistake but I never did it to hurt my friends’ feelings. mostly I did it for 2 reasons: 1. to stop them from bugging me and calling me a downer when I said ‘no’ right off the bat; and 2. to try to convince myself that maybe, just maybe I would go.
it got so bad that i ditched on my best friend’s birthday. my best friend. even thinking about that now it makes me sad. not even in those times could I convince myself that I would be okay.
coping mechanisms & meds
luckily, my medication has helped a lot. I now can go out casually and be okay with it and not have a panic attack. i can’t credit it all to my medication though. it took a lot from me too – i taught myself some different coping mechanisms, like deep breathing or closing my eyes/ears, that I could use in a situation where I felt unsafe or anxious.
one thing that definitely helped was finding out what my triggers were and making sure that a) i would try to avoid them of b) i would know what to do if i couldn’t avoid them. let me tell you right off the bat: having loud music as one of your triggers is NOT easy in a college party setting. it actually made me giggle to write that – MUSIC? reeeealllllyy? Really. i remember one time i was at an outdoor backyard party – my friends and i were dancing right next to this massive speaker. it was as if i could feel the music vibrating my bones and all i could hear was the sound of my beating heart **cue panic attack**. yeah, it sucked but now, i know that in an already overwhelming situation, music blaring into my ears won’t help it get better. triggers are different for everyone.
another thing that made world of a difference was noting what I did after a panic attack or any moment of intense anxiety that made me feel better. basically, what was the opposite of a trigger. for me, i need a safe, quiet place where i am alone – i don’t really like the company unless it’s my best friend. warmth also helps me calm down. obviously in the middle of an anxiety attack you’re not going to be taking notes of what’s working and what’s not, but even a general idea helps. for example: quiet. if your friends understand you and your anxiety, they could also help you work through this. again, this will be different for everyone but, super super helpful to think about.
remember when i said my friends used to roll their eyes at me for not being able to go out? that something is called subtle stigma and to be honest, we are all guilty of it at one point or another. no matter what mental health topic you are referring to, it’s so easy to ‘throw shade’ when someone explains why they can’t do something or why they have to do something. this was one of the biggest barriers for me in coming out to my friends and telling them about everythin’ happening in my mind.
educate yourself and others about the risk of stigma and the intense, irreversible effects it can have on someone battling mental illness. and don’t roll your eyes when your friends tell you they’re too anxious to go out – trust me, they feel guilty enough.
stay anxious & brave,