As we all return to school, some of us are also seeing the return of that awful sinking associated with the dread of having to exist in a place where we have never felt like we can be ourselves. So many of us just don’t feel like we fit in at school. We can find little in common with others, and do all we can to just blend into the background and not draw attention to ourselves. We asked Stefan, our counsellor about why this is…
Stefan, why do so many girls feel so much anxiety when it comes to being part of a large group?
There can be many reasons we feel nervous in a group. It’s important to distinguish between nervousness and anxiety. When we are worried I would use ‘worried’ to explain what is happening. If I am struggling to breathe, pulse racing, feeling sick then I am perhaps struggling with anxiety. A certain level of nervousness is fine and can in fact help us. When this becomes too active it is then that it becomes a problem. Think of these feelings on a line
Comfortable ———- Stressed———Anxious
If we are feeling anxious then there is something about the group that is scaring us. We may have absolutely no idea what this is and this adds to the fear. We look for answers and quite often find none. If we do have an idea what is happening then we try to control the outcomes so that our fears do not become true, or we hide so that we won’t have to face the fear.
It’s important to note that once we are anxious our thinking brain goes offline. Trying to think our way out is almost impossible. Our survival responses are active. This is the fight, flight, freeze response. In our society today we rarely need this survival response that is fueled by adrenaline. We need to find a way to feel safe and take time to re-orientate ourselves and regulate our biological systems. Taking time to sit and concentrate on our breathing in a safe place is important. Mindfulness is the most common strategy that can be used here. It is important to practice this before paying attention to good experiences in our life as they happen.
Worry is generally over thinking about things that have not happened and may never happen. When we think about negative things our body responds with anxiety.
Think about something you have really enjoyed recently, a place you like or an activity you enjoy and just sit and think about it for 60 seconds. Or you can just pay attention to what is happening around you and listen to your breathing, notice your muscles working as you walk. Practice this constantly! It will not work if you try it only when you are anxious. Now I bet you could easily think about something negative, it’s what we do best. Pay attention to your worries for 60 seconds then try to return to your positive image. Mindfulness is practicing this process. Choosing where we put our attention will influence what we feel in our body (anxiety).
Are we alone in this?
NO! I would say that anxiety is the most common reason people come to counselling. I believe that 1 in 4 people struggle with anxiety at some time in their lives. You are not alone. We get really good at hiding it.
It is hard to say why we get anxious. In my experience, there are two main causes.
1) Things that have happened in our lives that caused us to be fearful at the time and when situations seem similar we get scared that they are happening again.
2) Being be critical of ourselves and having a very negative view of ourselves. This can present as fear of being seen by others.
In the groups I run learning to be safe with others can reduce our level of self-criticism and reduce our anxiety. If you are in relationships that are very stressful, try to do something to change it. It is very hard to be specific.
What can I do about it?
There are a few things you can do to help. I would recommend mindfulness (PRACTICE), exercise, good regular eating, sleep, spend time doing things you enjoy, try to not worry, hopefully it will never happen!