My Anxiety Left Me Unemployed For Two Years; Here's How I Coped
How hard is it to tell people about yourself? For me it was a question of life and death.
Whenever I was asked to talk about myself in job interviews, my hands would shake, my voice would break, I would gasp for air and then eventually go blank. It seemed impossible that I would ever get better. But eventually, I did. Here’s how it happened.
I realized my anxiety had gotten out of hand when it started screwing up my chances in job interviews. My first step was to find a psychologist. In my first session with Dr. Indu Kaura, she asked me when began noticing my symptoms. I told her when I was in second grade.
The minute she heard this she vehemently stated, "You are strong. You have been going through this your entire life and you are still managing to survive.” It didn't sound like fake comfort.
She asked me to practice some exercises and from there, we worked out other methods to help keep my symptoms less severe. The following were a genuine help.
Mirror exercises seemed basic and absurd to me, at first, but when I started, it worked. When I first looked in the mirror and tried to appreciate myself, I was hesitant. It was awkward even when there was no one around. After practicing for a few days, I didn't feel the praises working, but somehow I got better in my interview performance. I couldn't even clear a simple written test when I used to go in for the interviews, because I was too anxious of getting judged.
After more than a week of practicing affirmations I could sense the positive change in me, I wasn't anxious while I gave my tests, and more importantly, cleared them. "Affirmations replace automatic negative thoughts.
Over time/with repetition, they change the way we think about ourselves,” says Dr. Tanya J Peterson, a certified counselor and mental health speaker. Gradually ghosted response from interviewers changed into this:
Although we liked your profile and loved your writing, unfortunately this time we won't be taking your application forward.
It was a major achievement for me. Think of the things you never believed you had in you, and the things that you want. Say them to yourself in the mirror. It’s that simple. "Life is good to me,” “I am confident,” “Everything is working out for me really well.”
Give power to your inner child
For a lot of us, our anxiety disorder and depression is based in childhood traumas. Our inner child is full of fear and feels lonely. Write everything down that you want to say to your childhood self. The goal is to make her trust you again. I thank my childhood self whenever I get apprehensive or anxious. I thank her for “warning” me about potential danger, and then I ensure her that she's not alone. She’s safe now.
“Instead of ignoring your past it is important to bring forth the feelings you have been repressing. By ignoring your inner self and insecurities you make them stronger and more present in your life, if you accept them, and own your feelings you will have an easier time letting them go", says Dr. Ilene S. Cohen, a psychotherapist, author of When It’s Never About You.
Channel your performance anxiety in physical form
When I get anxious, I twitch my shoulders a lot and scratch my fingers. When I asked my therapist to tell me how to control or stop this, she advised me not to. Usually we are so focused on controlling things, we forget how to let ourselves “be.” Let those anxious body movements happen, can often be a way of letting our anxiety release out of our body and become relaxed.
In fact, moving intentionally can help even more. Walk it off, so to speak. Personally, I move my hands when talking so as to direct the twitching of my shoulders to my hands, and let my nervousness flow out.
“Faking it” in the psychological sense can often be another way to retrain our mind to new associations. "It works because of the self-fulfilling prophecy effect", says Dr. Peterson. “Fake” actions like pretending to be confident and happy when you’re really not, can improve our thoughts and feelings.
Even if it doesn’t, it’s a strategy that can help get us through a difficult situation. "If you keep throwing yourself into situations, believing that you can do it, eventually you will grow your confidence and knowledge in your capabilities to get the job done", says Dr. Cohen.
Affirmations are also effective when we repeat them while we are anxious or fearful. When I’m having an anxiety attack, I gasp for air, and feel like my heart will explode. That’s when I say "I am taking deeper and relaxed breaths and can feel the pure oxygen running through my veins,” while breathing deeply and slowly.
“When experiencing anxiety, it is essential to talk yourself down, this is a type of self-soothing that will allow you to build confidence in yourself to take control when anxiety hits", says Dr. Ilene S. Cohen. You can also make your own affirmation based on your symptoms and saying the exact opposite of it.
Write it down
Write down all the gloomy and worrying visions you are getting. Journal the way your body feels. Get those negative thoughts on to paper. This way you are releasing those thoughts from your mind somewhat and creating a space for positive ones.
"It involves noticing your thoughts and feelings and getting them out of your head so you can confront them. This can be extremely effective for some people because it gives them something tangible to work with", says Dr. Tanya J Peterson.
I was unemployed for two years because of my anxiety disorder. I know how hard it can be and no doubt, it’s a lifelong process. After practicing these methods, I saw improvements and finally landed a job at the company I wanted.
No, I haven't become a completely different person, but I am trying to make peace with myself, while trying everything I can to tackle it. Give it a go, you might surprise yourself.
Words: Varitka Puranik
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch