Andrew Drake, head of making friends at PES, isn’t known for being a shy, retiring wallflower. But that doesn’t make him a stranger to anxiety. In fact, social anxiety can strike anyone at any time – as Andrew confirms.
I was chatting recently with a friend on the subject of different personalities and psychometrics in the workplace. Someone we both knew had spoken openly about suffering from social anxiety. This person and had also been described as an introvert, as if the two went hand in hand.
It got me thinking…. is social anxiety something only introverts experience? The answer is most definitely no.
Many people would think I’m a stereotypical extravert. My job requires me to meet new people, make new friends and speak in front of audiences of all sizes. If you’ve ever attended a REBA event, the chances are you might have seen me speaking in front of more than 100 people.
But just a few years ago I had a period of anxiety that almost took over my life.
In 2013 I got married. Anyone who’s done the same will hopefully tell you it was one of the best days of their life. Why wouldn’t it be? All your friends and family are in one place (it happens less frequently as you get older) and you throw a big party to celebrate an amazing day. I was marrying my best friend, soul mate and, one day, mother of my children. There wasn’t a single thing not to be positive about.
Apart from the fact that the thought of being in a church full of people, all eyes on me and only one take at this, filled me with an anxiety that was impossible to control.
When the anxiety kicked in, all rational thoughts and reasons to be happy just went out of the window. Irrational Andrew took over. If anything went wrong it would be a disaster. OMG I could ruin the whole wedding. It could end up making it the worst instead of the best day of my life…and it escalated as I became more and more irrational in my thinking.
The result was that I became distant and found it hard to concentrate. When you’re consumed by your own irrational thought processes, you’re removed from those closest to you.
In the end, it all went well and was a fantastic, memorable occasion. I look back on it now and wonder what made me think this way. I can’t lay my finger on it. And even though I’ve now been happily married for over five years, the odd wave of anxiety still comes back to bite me when I’m least expecting it. I’ve learned ways to manage it and try to control it, but as many people will know, managing your mental health is difficult.
For anyone who finds themselves in a similar position, there are lots of things that can help. Talking about it, eating well, exercising, understanding how the mind works. Everyone will discover their own way of coping. I’ve found running to be the perfect medicine as it clears my head and makes me feel on top of the world.
Don’t assume you know a person – and be ready to help
What’s my point? I guess it’s this: don’t judge a book by its cover. Everyone, regardless of their personality or psychology, is fighting their own battles. And no personality type has the monopoly on suffering. We’re all human after all. I had the support of amazing friends and family, but some people in this world aren’t as lucky.
Next time you think someone around you might be struggling, it doesn’t cost anything to be kind – and you might just make a massive difference to them. Remember – it’s ok not to be ok.
Could your organisation benefit from a better understanding of mental health issues? Find out more about our Mental Health First Aid and other workshops. Get in touch with PES if you’d like to know more.
Delivering a great employee experience is a challenge for growing organisations. At PES, it’s what we do. Our online employee benefits platform, HR support and workplace wellbeing services bring out the best in your employees – enabling your business to thrive.
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