Normalising anxiety: making the taboo commonplace - Neos Networks

Normalising anxiety: making the taboo commonplace

Kelly Billing, Head of Marketing at Neos Networks shares her experiences on Mental Health Awareness week

Over the last few years, mental health has become a hot topic. Friends, families and even businesses are recognising the impact that mental health can have on a person and are offering increased support.

And yet, when it comes to mental health, in particular anxiety, the subject can still feel taboo, especially to those living the experience.

It’s all very easy to say, “If you’re struggling, speak up”. But the reality is often not so simple. It can be daunting to tell someone that you’ve been battling internally with worries and anxieties. Then there are the additional concerns around telling your manager. By admitting how you feel, will you raise red flags over your ability to do your job? (It’s worth stating right now that no, this is not the case).

This fear has become ever more real for many as we start to return to offices more and more following over 18 months working in solitude.

What does anxiety feel like?

I wish I could answer that simply, but the truth is that anxiety comes in many forms. What for one might feel like butterflies in their tummy, for someone else could result in physical symptoms making them unwell. Common physical symptoms include; increased heart rate, hyperventilation, shaking, dizziness, increased headaches, pins and needles and sickness. I know this all too well having battled, and learnt to manage, anxiety over many years. I wanted to share my story to put out one simple message; you’re not alone and it’s ok to own – and even accept - your anxieties.

Where it all began

They say that mental health issues can start from one small act. In my case it was as simple as being homesick and encouraged (what I saw as forced) to eat breakfast on a middle school trip – yes, it goes back that far. Nothing much happened at that time, my parents picked me up at the end of the trip, I went home, and life returned to normal.

Years later – yes years – I went on another school trip, as a teenager and everything flooded back. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and was hyperventilating and being sick daily. This started a battle in my head that has continued ever since, one that – for me – is very much linked to feeling out of control.

What followed were a very turbulent few years.

I lost a lot of weight…fast. Anxiety wasn’t understood in the early 90s, and so my classmates assumed that I had an eating disorder. I then became too scared to join in with everyday things – like going to class – and so had to take a large proportion of my lessons in the school library, alone. GCSEs came, and I also had to do these in solitude.

Around this time, it all came to a head. Luckily, thanks to a great and understanding doctor (and very concerned but patient parents), I was provided with the support required to help start my recovery. By the time I got to college I felt back to my old self and had a renewed sense of confidence. But this also made me acutely aware of how uneducated people are on anxiety and so I started to speak out about my experiences.

The present

Fast-forward to today and I’m lucky enough to have learnt how to manage my anxiety. This was by no means an easy feat, it involved hours of therapy (both talking to psychiatrists and participating in cognitive behavioural therapy), a lot of growing, learning and accepting of who I am and, for me, being able to confidentially and calmly talk about what I’m going through. That’s not to say I don’t have flare ups. We all do. But I now try to accept these as what they are – a blip to overcome in my day.

Did I tell Neos Networks and my manager about my anxiety? I never brought it up as a specific subject. For me it’s become such a part of my life that it came out naturally. And when it did, no-one batted an eyelid. Support was offered should I need it, but otherwise I’ve continued on and developed my career, regardless of my history of anxiety.

The moral of the story is this. Yes, it may seem petrifying to open up and be honest but (I promise) honesty really is the best policy. At Neos Networks we’re extremely lucky to, not only have a great support system in place, but to also have mental health first aiders we can confide in and, most importantly, a group of welcoming, accepting colleagues.

The importance of Mental Health Awareness

This years theme for Mental Health Awareness week is Loneliness. The Mental Health Foundation outline that one in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time and that, the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems. Some people are also at higher risk of feeling lonely than others. For Mental Health Awareness Week this year, the Foundation is raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the practical steps we can take to address it.

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