Being anxious is awful. And one of the worst parts is being too afraid to even talk about it.
Sometimes this reluctance is due to fear of judgment. It’s easy to imagine that others will think less of me if I am honest with them about it.
Sometimes it’s a more nameless fear. I know it’s not rational, but it can feel as if the simple act of talking about anxiety — of acknowledging its existence — might somehow make it stronger. Even sharing with a close friend can feel next to impossible.
When I was at my most anxious, I sat behind my defenses and quietly hoped that people would read my mind and understand my feelings without me needing to say anything. (Which never happened, obviously.) All of this makes me all the more confused that I’ve somehow managed to give a TED talk about my anxiety. This would have come as a huge surprise to my past anxious self. But a big part of what I’ve learned is that opening up is important.
The other part of what I’ve learned is that it helps a surprising amount to compare anxiety to custard. See my video at the end of this post.
Okay, once you’ve seen the video you’ll know a few more things about me, including that I apparently can’t operate very simple slide-changing machinery. But let’s ignore that for now. I want to return to the importance — and difficulty — of sharing our struggles.
We all know that it’s good to share. But we also know that sharing requires vulnerability, and that not every situation is safe to share in. It can be hard knowing when to trust, particularly if our trust has been betrayed before. And there’s often that critical voice in our mind saying “nobody cares — you’re just being a burden.” This all adds up to paralysis, and to bottling up our struggles, often for years.
We shouldn’t feel bad about finding it hard to talk. It’s natural, it’s common, it’s human to struggle with vulnerability. But it doesn’t have to remain this way.
It might be hard to share. It might be hard to find someone to trust. It might be hard to be vulnerable. But it’s not impossible, and the benefits are huge: a chance to start untangling the anxious mess in our heads, as well as maybe making a new ally on the journey, not to mention taking a small step toward creating a world where more people feel free to say “I feel that way too!”
The more I’ve spoken publicly about anxiety, the more people have said to me: “Me too!” At first, I was a little surprised by this. But now I realize that we are more similar to one another than we realize, and we’re all very good at hiding our vulnerabilities.
Our anxieties protect themselves by making us too anxious to face them. However, we can use this to our advantage: it means that once we start coming to grips with our anxiety, it loses this power to protect itself. And, often, the very first step to reduce the power of our anxiety is to begin talking about it with someone, or some community, that we trust. It’s a long journey from there to peacefulness, but it’s a long journey I hope we can share with one another.
Microphone photo available from Shutterstock