Just breathe: living with anxiety 

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”

Anxiety can feel like walking a tightrope across the highest, widest crevice in the world. One wrong move, one toe out of line, and you will fall to your fate. Every decision is weighted and weaved with fear. Arms stretched wide; eyes straight ahead; too terrified to look down; too afraid to look back to see how far you’ve come, and too overwhelmed by the length of the precarious path ahead. You exist in a constant state of fear and adrenaline: fear of making a mistake, fear of making the wrong move, fear of falling and a crystal-clear understanding of what will happen if you do.

Anxiety can make life hell. It can turn the most basic decision into a complex conundrum and the safest situation into one of dread and distress. At times, it plagues us all: for others, it becomes a way of life. No longer a passing visitor, anxiety can take up residence in your brain like a devilish imp straight from hell. And it changes everything. Anxiety UK reckon that at least 1 in 10 will experience a ‘debilitating anxiety condition’ at some point in their lives, and with stress and mental illness becoming ever more common, this number only looks set to rise. But is that really a surprise? Everything we do is scrutinised to a new level of scrutiny. We come under fire for working too much and not working enough; being overweight and being too thin; drinking too much alcohol and not socialising enough; returning to work too soon after giving birth and being shunned for choosing parenthood. It seems that nothing we do is ever right: there is always something to criticise and there is always someone more than willing to do the criticising.

So it’s no wonder so many of us are living in constant states of anxiety. The pressures upon us can feel insurmountable and the consequences can be catastrophic: low self-esteem, burnout, relationship breakdown, hospitalisation, self-harm. I’m not naïve enough to think this can all be alleviated through paid holiday and meditation classes and deep breathing exercises and the promotion of a sensible work-life balance, but anxiety is no joke and it shouldn’t be treated as one. It shouldn’t be seen as a mere bout of worry or an overreaction to a challenging situation. If unaddressed, anxiety can become deeply engraved in the brain and is at the root of a plethora of different issues.

Living with anxiety is a daily battle, that much is true. But I have read enough newspaper articles and self-help books and inspiring Instagram captions to know that anxiety can be managed. Be it through therapy or medication or lifestyle changes and self help, I hold onto hope that I will eventually reach the end of the tightrope. It can’t go on forever; no crevice is that wide. It may feel like a never-ending torrent of worries and concerns and catastrophes anew, but I will reach safe ground eventually. The anxiety may never entirely dissipate: perhaps I will always be prone to worrying unnecessarily, overthinking or catastrophising and imagining the worst case scenario. But we can learn to turn those nail-biting thoughts on their heads and eject them from our brains before they have a chance to get comfortable. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not that of an oncoming train.