This is an article very close to us here at The Shona Project. Anxiety is a real issue, even now more than ever. The brave chap, that is going to share his story with us, just happens to be our founder’s son. Have a read, we promise you won’t regret it.
Your mind is an amazing thing and a lot of the time we don’t exactly give it the credit it deserves. Our brains are actually far better than any computer ever created, and not by a little bit. Information flies around our brain at 400 kilometers an hour and the brain itself has enough space to hold over 3 million hours of TV shows.
Clearly, our minds are something to be reckoned with. So, what happens when your mind might be working against you? It’s more likely than you’d think! The average person, that being me and you can have anywhere between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day. And of those thoughts we have, scientists say that around 80 percent are negative. Which means, whether we realise it or not, most of our thoughts are actually used to put ourselves or other people down. Not a great thing for us to be spending our time on really, is it? Not only that, but 95 percent of our thoughts are repetitive.
Meaning that not only do we think negatively a lot of the time, but we also repeat those negative thoughts in our heads over and over again.
Meaning the way our minds work isn’t exactly a recipe for success. What’s the best way to fight against that and give ourselves the best chance of thinking positively and avoid anxious spirals? Well, this is a question I was asking myself not too long ago.
So, who am I, you may ask?
My name’s Sean, I’m twenty-two years old and I can be a very anxious man. Over the last few years, I’ve struggled on and off with my anxiety and there have definitely been a few times where my anxiety has gotten the better of me. The first lockdown was one of those moments, one where I was always finding myself in anxious spirals, constantly repeating the negative thoughts over and over again in my head. My brain wasn’t being nice to me, to say the least. So, I went looking for different ways I could help myself and I found CBT through an online course, something that’s helped me so so much in dealing with my anxiety.
What is CBT?
CBT stands for cognitive behavioural therapy. If you understood that, fair play to you, you’re a wiser person than me. If not, don’t worry, I didn’t really when I took it up either. Basically, CBT is a way of re-training your brain and how it reacts to any of your anxious, stressful, or depressing triggers. So I’m gonna give you a quick little overview of the most important thing I learned, maybe CBT could be a great thing for you.
For my anxiety, one of the things I’ve found most difficult to come to terms with is how it can be set off by literally ANYTHING. I’m not joking, it’s kind of funny when I look back on some of the things that have set me off. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry kind of thing. So, when I’m at my most anxious I’m always on my toes, wary of absolutely anything that could possibly trigger an anxious response. Obviously, this isn’t much of a way to live your life and I was feeling a little trapped, to say the least.
So, one of the most important things CBT taught me is that your brain is like a car with an alarm. We all know how car alarms work obviously, so if it’s working properly surely the alarm will only go off when the car is being broken into right? Well sometimes, over time a car alarm can become faulty, so that any time someone rubs up against the car, the alarm will go off. Sometimes it might go off without someone even touching it. The same goes for our brains, if it’s working properly we should only get anxious or scared in the right situations. But over time, our brain can become more used to going into that fight or flight response and we’ll get anxious at the drop of a hat.
Let’s take an example to make things a little clearer. For me, I used to get so anxious watching the news or scrolling through Twitter and I couldn’t make sense of it at all. The thing I learned is that our brain actually can’t tell the difference between what’s a ‘real threat’ and a ‘perceived threat’. A real threat is something like a bear, something that could actually put your life at risk. Whereas a perceived threat is whatever’s in the news or Twitter that is sparking that anxious feeling. The difference is that Twitter isn’t actually putting you in danger. But the important thing to know is that your mind actually doesn’t know that. That’s why you feel anxious at that moment. Your mind thinks it’s in danger, so it triggers its flight or fight response that ends up making us feel super anxious.
What CBT does is it helps you retrain your brain to understand what is and isn’t worth getting anxious over. Just like that car alarm, a lot of the time we can get sucked into our anxiety. Each time we get anxious it can be harder than the last time to pull ourselves out, but it is possible to retrain our brains and help ourselves to feel better. Perspective and understanding are so important when you’re struggling mentally. No matter what it is that’s making you anxious, you can take a step back and take a deep breath. Anxiety can make us feel like the world is falling in around us, but it never is. Whether it’s school, family, friends, anything, your anxiety makes sense, and you can make it better. I can enjoy the things that I couldn’t before, I can watch the news without sweating like a pig, I can scroll through Twitter without having that existential dread in the pit of my stomach. I think anyone who suffers from anxiety like me should try CBT because since I’ve done it, I’ve never looked back.
Talk to you later,
Sean is a student of Law and French at UCC and has a podcast in which he discussed lots of issues such as anxiety, masculinity, and addiction. You can listen to it here. Or you can check out The Soyboy Podcast on Instagram below.
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We often get asked “is there a Shona Project for boys?” because men’s anxiety is a growing issue. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet. But lads, we want you to know we see you, we hear you and we are there for you!
If you have a story to share that might help others, please contact us on any of our social media channels @shonadotie or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have an article coming our soon with ways you can support a loved one with anxiety, so keep your eyes peeled.
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