It seems anxiety affects almost everyone, with one in ten young people said to be so anxious they don’t want to leave their homes.
Sweat, tears, a pounding in your heart and a gnawing in your brain: we all know the feeling. But how do you know if your feelings about those looming deadlines, misplaced keys, family reunions and first dates is just everyday worrying or if you might have tipped over into something more serious?
We spoke to some people to find out what it’s really like to have anxiety in your 20s…
1. It can affect every aspect of your life
From refusing to leave your house, social anxiety and getting passed up for promotion, according to our pool of 20-somethings, living with anxiety disorders can really affect your life.
‘I used to plan my trips out of the house by checking where the nearest hospital would be in case I’d have a panic attack and my heart would drop and I’d fall to the floor,’ said 27-year-old Lana. ‘It was always such a massive effort just to get out of bed or leave the house, as the idea of anything away from my comfort zone could set off anxiety.’
And it’s not just social lives that are affected, with 28-year-old Yvan* finding that his performance at work has been massively influenced. ‘I’ve gotten passed up for promotions at work due to ‘attitude’ or ‘lack of composure’, so it’s not really been great for me,’ he said.
2. Anxiety symptoms can be physical not just psychological
Yes, it manifests itself in your brain – often as a series of increasingly panicky thoughts, but anxiety attacks can have a whole bunch of physical symptoms, too. ‘It’s really hard to explain. Mostly it’s overwhelming,’ said 29-year-old Louisa*. ‘It’s almost like a layer of skin has been removed and you feel raw and hypersensitive to everything.’
‘Sometimes it can simply just be nausea, small heart palpitations or dry mouth/being thirsty (which OMFG kills my life when on the tube!) or other times shortness of breath/not being able to catch my breath which makes me feel like I am having a heart attack and cannot breath,’ said 27-year-old Felicia*.
And, like with everything, there are levels to anxiety. ‘My anxiety was so bad it affected my digestive and nervous systems,’ said 26-year-old Iman. ‘I would get numbness in my face and hands and pins and needles in my whole body – especially my eyes and lips,’ she explained.
‘I’d also get tension migraines that would sometimes temporarily cause loss of vision in one eye. The physical symptoms were bad because they would cause me to feel even more anxious,’ she added.
3. Your employers are the last people you’ll want to tell (even though you know you should)
Considering one in six young people are thought likely to suffer from anxiety during their lifetime, you’d think there wouldn’t still be so much stigma around it, but of the numerous people we spoke to for this piece, only two felt comfortable disclosing their real names, with many citing their jobs as the reason they’d prefer to remain anonymous.
‘Can I go anon please? I’d prefer my place of work and any haters out there didn’t know hahahaha,’ said Louisa.
Indeed, it appears there is still a relative stigma around it, with Yvan revealing that he often feels a sense of shame after having an anxiety attack. ‘You either had a panic attack over something stupid which means you’re weak (or at least you think so), or you had it in front of someone, which means it’s embarrassing,’ he said. ‘I usually just stay in bed for the day [after it happens]. Especially if it happened around other people.’
4. You can be your own worst critic
People don’t always get it, explained 22-year-old Vanessa*, who has previously been told she’s being ‘dramatic’ or ‘over-reacting’.
But really, your biggest critic is yourself. ‘Anxiety has massively impacted my life and my self-esteem,’ said Louisa. ‘Often social, work and relationship pressures trigger feelings of being worthless or not enough. Then a cycle of frustration begins where you berate yourself for feeling this way; convince yourself that there is something wrong with you, that you’re broken,’ she adds.
‘It’s like a constant dialogue in your head where you say mean things to yourself that you would never let anyone else get away with saying to you.’
5. Social media – and being in your 20s – can make anxiety so much worse
‘Your 20’s are harder than most,’ says Yvan. ‘You go out in the world and you’re supposed to be an adult, but you don’t feel like an adult. You feel like someone doing their best impression of an adult and you think you’re the odd one out. But I’ve started to accept that everyone else is feeling that way, too. The only normal people out there are the ones you don’t know that well.’
26-year-old Hannah* agrees, suggesting that things like social media and expectations – both from ourselves and others – only serve to heighten the condition.
‘Seeing what others have achieved by the same age makes you feel shit about yourself and your own achievements,’ she said. ‘It’s an instant comparison and then you feel these waves of anxiety that you’re not where you should be in life. Even if you know Instagram and Snapchat are all a bunch of shit, you can’t help but get sucked in: “am I skinny enough? Am I eating healthy enough? Why am I not travelling more? Why don’t me and my boyfriend have beautiful candid photos?’ she adds.
Also, hands up who else thought by the age of 25 they’d be married to the love of their lives in a career that’s stable and rewarding, travelling the world whilst looking like a Victoria’s Secret Model? ‘It’s just so unrealistic but you feel like this is ‘the right age’ to be doing all these things but in reality that’s not the case. The idea that we should have our shit together in our 20’s is just something that makes me anxious as fuck. I feel like it’s all so far away. Where do I even begin?’ she concludes.
6. It makes you who you are. And you realise you can deal with it…
Having to deal with anxiety has made many, like Vanessa, really have to figure out what works for them and look after themselves better in an effort to not feel so shit anymore. ‘I find I suffer from anxiety attacks less if I haven’t consumed alcohol or junk food, or if I have a decent night’s sleep, she explained.
So, how to get rid of or at least cope with anxiety? There are things (like anti-anxiety medication) that you can do to alleviate the pressure. ‘Someone recommended me to a homeopath who suggested I take natural herbal remedies – it worked a charm,’ said Lana.
‘I was taking tinctures that immediately calmed me. I then began to see a nutritionist and learnt that sugar and dehydration were making my anxiety worse and everything calmed down dramatically. The final goodbye to my anxiety came after seeing a psychotherapist for a few years who helped me deal with a lot of blocked and un-dealt with emotions. Now, when an issue arises I just deal with it and there is no build up, no worry.’
27-year-old George – who hasn’t suffered from an anxiety attack in over five years – found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works wonders: ‘It helped me beyond belief and broke the thought process therefore killing the anxiety,’ he said.
The true key, he adds, is exposure and learning to sit comfortably with whatever it is that triggers your anxiety. ‘Let it in and let it become a part of you. Basically chill the fuck out about life and learn not to care what others think of you (obviously be a good person still),’ he said.