It’s been just over a year since the last #timetotalk day when I posted the tweet below in support of the initiative.
In the last year I definitely feel that I have seen more people talking openly about the topic and whilst there is still a long way to go it feels like progress has been made. The past year has flown by and I was surprised to see this morning that it had come around again already.
As part of the effort to try and help people feel more comfortable I thought I would write about a particular aspect of my own anxiety that I find probably the most difficult both to deal with and talk about. I’ll talk about how it affects me and what I am doing to try and overcome or at least deal with it better.
Anxiety disorders come in many different forms and different people worry about different things. Some people have very specific fears and some such as people with Generalised Anxiety disorder worry about pretty much everything.
A common theme amongst people with anxiety is to worry about how they are perceived by others. Again, this can take many forms; some may worry about their personal appearance and being judged on their looks. It also goes without saying that many people worry about being judged negatively for having a mental health issue and it is for that reason days like this are necessary.
I don’t personally worry about either of those things. I feel like if anyone wants to judge me on either then I am not really inclined to be bothered about their opinion of me in general.
For me, my main anxiety comes from what people may think of me if I don’t know how to do something myself or can’t answer a question or make a mistake on a piece of work or miss something when conducting a report. Generally speaking, I never feel like anything I’ve done is good enough and I always feel the need to do more.
On the surface this may sound like a positive trait. It’s good to try and be a helpful person and take pride in your work and always try and do your best but when it starts to affect your mental health, your personal life and makes you less efficient in your work rather than better then a line has been crossed and it’s time to take action.
How feelings of inferiority affect me
Most of the examples that I mention below relate to work life although they often spill into my personal life as well. One thing I just want to make clear is that I am incredibly fortunate to have a really supportive employer who takes these things into account and has worked with me on trying to get over some of these things.
Feeling under pressure to find the answer if someone asks me a question
Whilst this affects me more in my work life, it really bugs me in general if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer when I feel like I should. This is typically in a technical / digital marketing context.
I don’t think I’d have sleepless nights if someone asked me who the third king of Hungary was for example (It was apparently Aba by the way) but whenever someone asks me something I feel compelled to try and have an answer and if I don’t I get stressed.
This often leads to me getting behind on or neglecting other things that I should be doing as I go off down a rabbit hole looking for answers.
Feeling Like I Always Need to be Working on Something
When you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough, you can fall into the trap of spending all of your spare time working on things to try and impress and make it look like you are constantly going above and beyond.
This is counterproductive as you may just end up feeling burnt out and not even achieving the basics either in day to day life or in work which then leads to you feeling like you need to do even more and it just ends up in a big vicious cycle and the because you are constantly working on new ideas and trying to impress, you never actually end up delivering on them.
It’s much better to concentrate on just getting the basics right first and foremost
Ideas Don’t get Implemented Because of a Fear of Giving up Control
Following on from the point above, I often get anxious because not enough of the ideas that I come up with end up going anywhere because I have this feeling that if I put an idea forward then I need to be the one that implements it and if I hit a stumbling block I often just move on to another idea that I think that I can achieve fully.
Again, this is counterproductive because I just end up feeling frustrated with myself that what I am confident are good ideas that could have an impact don’t go anywhere. I also fear that over time people will take my suggestions less seriously because they’ve heard so many others that didn’t get finished.
Fear of Asking Questions in Case I look Stupid
The industry I work in is, for the most part incredibly supportive but there are people who love to make fun of those who ask a question that might be considered “noobish” or basic knowledge and I often spend more time than necessary trying to find the answer to a question myself rather than asking others for help.
What I’m doing about it
Sharing My Fears with Others
A big step for me is writing and publishing my post and confronting one of the most significant sources of my anxiety. It hasn’t been an easy post to write but hopefully it will be a step in the right direction and if it helps even one person who suffers from similar issues to feel more comfortable about talking about their self-worth then it is well worth it!
Learning to say “I don’t know”
One of the key changes that I need to make is not feeling compelled to have an answer for every question someone asks me. By saying to other people that I don’t know the answer but explaining how I would go about finding it both frees up more of my time to either get on with my own work or spend time relaxing but also helps that person develop better research skills.
As the old proverb goes, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day etc… I’m sure I’ll find it challenging at first but I guess it’s a form of CBT (more of that in the next point.
Back to Therapy
A year or so ago I went through a course of CBT which really helped massively with certain aspects of my anxiety but we didn’t really focus much on the kind of fears I mentioned earlier and I am planning to return to therapy next month to work specifically on this issue.
Anyone who has been through CBT before will know that it’s not a pleasant experience but can be incredibly effective and hopefully will help to deal with some of these feelings.
Limiting my social activity
A common trigger for knowledge based anxiety for me is seeing someone post something work related and being critical of myself for not knowing that and feeling compelled to go off and learn some new thing even though I have no context or practical application for that information.
Learning is good and in fact critical when you work in a fast paced industry however constantly worrying about what you don’t know can sometimes make you forget about what you do know. In the future I am going to try and schedule specific time each week to take a look through the latest posts and bookmark things that might be useful in the future rather than obsessing over constantly developing knowledge that I might never need.
Delegating to others
I am constantly having ideas (some good, some shit) but the problem is that a lot of the time they never come to fruition because I feel obliged to take ownership of both ideation and implementation for fear of being seen as incompetent if I can’t follow the whole thing through myself.
This is a frankly stupid way of thinking because an idea that comes to nothing is worthless anyway. Much better to have an idea and get other people involved who can help get things into production and share the credit.
Believing in Myself
This is much easier said than done and if it were that simple I wouldn’t be writing this post… But when I think about it, I feel like I’ve had some good successes and done some good things both in my work and personal life and I need to try and focus on these more and less on negative thoughts.
Keeping a Scrap book / Collection of Positive Feedback
This might sound a bit weird but I am starting to put together a collection of positive feedback for things I have done in the past to give me bit of a confidence boost when I am doubting myself
Remembering That Everyone Makes Mistakes and no one knows everything
This I think is a key point and one that I need to remember more often. No one is perfect. Even the biggest names in the industry that I work in make mistakes and don’t always have the answer to hand. The world moves at fast pace and things are constantly changing. All I (or anyone) can do is try to keep up and do the best I / they can.
Below are some resources talking about the topics of imposter syndrome and self esteem and how they can impact on mental health