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Growing up with anxiety

How it started

I remember when I had my first panic attack.

I was about twelve, and I’d just started year 8.

I was sat at the front of the class, with everyone’s eyes on the back of my head. I remember struggling to slow my heart rate down for almost the entire hour of maths. I wouldn’t have even considered asking if I could leave, to avoid drawing any form of attention to myself.

It was painfully exhausting – not only on a mental level but on a visceral, almost spiritual level. I was too exhausted to speak some days. Interacting with other kids and masking my anxiety led me to complete lethargy. Others who struggle with anxiety will understand the idea of a ‘social battery’. Mine would have run out before I’d arrived at school.

Ten years later, I’ve been undertaking the colossal challenge of building myself back up from the beginning. Whilst some progress can be attested to simply ‘growing out of it’, these are some of the ways in which I eased my own anxiety.  

Push yourself 

As soon as I moved away for uni, I felt like I needed to sleep for a year. Which obviously, I couldn’t. Being thrust headfirst into a flat with 6 other people, 83 miles from home was far more challenging than I had anticipated. I withdrew from the others quite heavily for the first few months and allowed myself to remain in my comfort zone. I can’t explain how much of a mistake that was.

I decided to start making more effort with my flatmates and very quickly realised I’m not as invisible as I thought. The reward is worth so much more than the risk when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Whilst the idea of not being invisible can be utterly daunting, it’s so important to create a spotlight for yourself, and to spend time in it, even just for a moment at a time.

What’s better is there is so many ways to do this. Invest time in yourself. Find where the moment is that your social battery runs out. Exercise it – there’s never obligation to make yourself uncomfortable, but getting myself out the house and showing up was a massive game-changer for me.

It also helped me establish solid boundaries with myself and other people. I know when I have to go home to read a book and chill out.  

No one cares like you do   

A big part of my anxiety was feeling insecure. I really hated the entire idea of being perceived at school. I felt as though there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and that everyone else knew about it except me. I felt like my anxiety made me stand out.

A helpful thought for me was reminding myself that no one actually, really, truly cares about what I look like. At all. No one cared about my awful teeth, and no one cared about how short I was (and still am). And if they do, that’s their problem. It’s likely they’re worried they’re being stared at too.

This thought was especially helpful when I started going to the gym and helped me eventually manage to get over my fear of the free weights section. This sentiment is completely easier said than done, I can wholeheartedly appreciate that. After all, it’s taken me 10 years to even start feeling comfortable in my own body.  

Get out of survival mode 

Or at least recognise that you’re in it and can’t remain in it.  

My anxiety would make me almost shut down physically with stress, so I would often never make myself comfortable in any kind of setting. I’d never properly settle.  

It was in really small things, such as being too anxious to get up and refill my water bottle in school, or staying in a job because I was too nervous to hand in my notice.  

The constant stress of anxiety meant I never actually let myself relax, almost as though I was on extremely high alert, always. As anyone with anxiety understands, it’s uncomfortable. It feels like your brain is wired to keep you awake whilst your body just wants to slow down.

I experienced intense nausea as a result of my anxiety which was a very significant challenge for me, as I developed Emetophobia at a young age. It felt like a complete and utter wind up. If you know how this feels, you’ll know what I mean. A massive physical relief for this was chewing ice, which sounds odd but really helped me get rid of the nausea, which in turn would stop a panic attack.

Once I started listening to my body, I started managing to slow my brain down as well. It wasn’t just in standing up to jobs and commitments I wasn’t happy with, but also in making myself physically comfortable. It’s safe to say I have a surplus of blankets and fluffy things now. 

Find who you are

Living with anxiety can really misplace your priorities.

For me, I found it more of a struggle just to get through the day and do absolutely nothing in the evening except distract myself with tv. I use this now to recognise my mental health. If I find myself engaging in distractive activities, that’s when I have a check in with myself and ask myself what is it I’m avoiding.


I was previously extremely disconnected from my emotions growing up, as I’d really struggle to hold myself accountable. A lot of the time, I’d feel very low and have no idea why, whereas now I’m quick to get to the cause of any emotion, even positive ones.

Tracking my emotions helped me gain such a hold on myself; it feels like I have the upper hand on own brain. Once you move away from the constant ‘survival mode’ state, you start finding yourself bored.

Being anxious feels like a full-time job – one that prevents you from finding hobbies, and keeps your personality locked in a box far away from you. Not having that constant, debilitating, nagging fear in your chest unlocks the parts of you that you’d always really wanted to have.

For me, I found that I love reading, watching films, going to the gym, I love writing anything, and usually, just about everything. All my creative hobbies I’d neglected started making sense to me again.

Now, I’m working on the last year of my English degree, and give all my energy to my work, and to keeping myself mentally and physically healthy during the process.  

How it is now

I’m still working on improving despite the massive progress I’ve made already. Breaking through the brick wall of anxiety can be a daunting task, however the first step I took was recognising I had a challenge ahead of me. Once that came, the rest followed.  

How to get support

  • Visit for local mental health support and ways to keep mentally healthy – particularly our Active Monitoring Services for Adults and Young People aged 11-18 where you can be referred via your GP (see website for participating GPs).
  • Young Minds have support for young people and parents. 
  • Call Samaritans for free 24/7 emotional support on 116 123 
  • Call Dorset’s mental health helpline Connection for support on NHS 111
  • Call 999 if someone is in immediate danger or harm.

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Dorset Mind is a self-funded local charity that helps people in Dorset experiencing mental health problems access the vital support they need. The charity is at the very heart of our communities shaping futures, changing and in some cases literally saving lives.

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