We are intrinsically different. We may share genes, interests, careers or cities; but when it comes down to it, we are all different. Acceptance of difference is drummed into our minds as children. As we grow older, it seems that we begin to forget. Mental illness is not immune to this.
I have spent the last two years trying to understand my own anxiety. How it makes me feel, what triggers my attacks. I’d be lying if I said that I have figured it all out. I haven’t. Certain things are major triggers and I am aware of them. But other times, it seems as if my anxiety is completely arbitrary. One thing I have realised about my own experience with anxiety is that it leads to crippling self doubt. I convince myself that anxiety equates to weakness. And if I am weak, then why should I even bother trying to succeed? I look around and compare myself to others around me. “How are they able to get through exams without freaking out? How are they able to get through presentations without fumbling their words? They got through their studies without needing a break, why couldn’t I?” The self doubt is never ending.
For me, it got to a point where I would start to use anxiety as a safety blanket. I would convince myself that I could not get through this week of exams because of my anxiety. I wouldn’t even try because self doubt had poisoned my brain so much so that I lost faith in my own abilities.
A short while ago, I had a week of presentations as well as an exam. But before this, we had a day of tutorials. I spent the entire day trying to deliberate whether I could get through the next few days. As soon as the day had finally ended, I found myself speaking to the tutor – who, by the way, I had never met before – asking her for advice on whether she thought I could get through the week of exams. It didn’t take long for me to start crying. But, she helped me see that my biggest enemy was myself. It was my self doubt that caused me to be so fearful. I had already made it this far, and these presentations were hardly anything to be afraid of. I just had to believe in myself and try.
So I did just that. And you know what? I got through the exams. And the ones after that. And I actually did well! It just took a little bit of belief in my own capabilities to get through what, in the end, was not so scary after all.
Now, this doesn’t mean that my anxiety is cured or that trying to get through situations like these have become easy. My self doubt is still something I have to live with, whether it is in applying for a new job and trying to get through a job interview, or whether it is in making and keeping relationships. But, there are ways I – and you – can try and get through it.
Tips on overcoming self doubt:
- Stop comparing yourself with others: You are you. There is really no other way to put it. You don’t know what others are going through, just as they don’t know what you are going through. They may seem confident in some aspects of life, but that does not mean that they aren’t afraid to tackle other things. Rather than focussing on what others have achieved, try and look at your own strengths and how they can help you build upon any weaknesses you feel that you are struggling with.
- No more excuses: It is easier said than done, I know, but you have to at least try. If you need to achieve something, just try and take it step by step. If you let fear stop you from getting through what you need to get through, then you will never win. Think back to similar situations and how you got through those. What steps did you take? How did you convince yourself to get it done? How can you adapt the course of action to fit into the current situation? You will find that even the tiniest steps result in relief from fear.
- Out with the negative, and in with the positive: I will be the first to admit that I can be quite the Negative Nancy. But at the same time, I also know how much of a burden it is to look only to what could go wrong. It will eat you up inside, believe me. But the moment you begin to see the positives, it will feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulder. Yes, there are times when we feel we are drowning. But there has to be something good happening somewhere. If you struggle to think of positives, then start a happiness book. Just write down anything and everything that puts a smile on your face. Even if it seems silly, write it down. And when you’re stuck in the darkness of negative thinking, you’ll have at least a handful of things that can cheer you up. (Hello… kittens on Youtube!)
- Speak about it: For me, talking (and crying) to a stranger was a massive changing point in my journey. If they could see that self doubt was keeping me from being myself, then it must be pretty obvious. There are tons of websites, hotlines and forums out there for those who suffer from any type of mental illness. And of course, your loved ones are there to help. They know you and your strengths and can therefore help you see that you are capable of much more than your fear is leading you to believe.
- Work hard, play hard: It can be quite difficult to maintain a positive work/life balance. Especially if you add studies to it. But you need to listen to your body and understand when it is time to take a break or when the “balance” is tilted too far on one side. Don’t be afraid to take a break if that is what you need. Sometimes we overwork ourselves so much that we end up breaking down and becoming overly sensitive to things we could easily get through in the past. It happens. It’s ok. You just need to rest and recharge.
Are there any ways you try and overcome fear and self doubt? Let us know!
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