Even though anxiety is becoming more common in teenagers, there remains a misconception that it doesn't last for too long, eventually clearing up on its own.
For some, this may be true. But for others, anxiety can and does haunt them for years.
For Maisie, anxiety started affecting her life during her teenage years, specifically when she started her GCSEs. Exams had never sat well with Maisie, making her feel stressed and triggering feelings of anxiety. But it was during her GCSEs that Maisie's feelings of anxiety intensified, manifesting as panic attacks.
To this day, Maisie still has panic attacks.
A vicious circle
It's not just in the form of panic attacks that anxiety affects Maisie's life. Her thoughts and emotions have far-reaching effects on her work, home, and even her social life. And when anxiety rears its head, she struggles to communicate how she feels.
“I tend to isolate myself from others, I'll become really bad at responding to messages, I’ll never really answer phone calls, and I can find it difficult to articulate my words.“
When she does spend too much time on her own, Maisie finds her mental health begins to deteriorate, especially if she couples her isolation with too much social media.
“I’m quite an introverted person so I do really like time to myself, but I know when I spend too much time alone, especially staying indoors, I can get enveloped in my own thoughts.”
Anxiety and stress also take their toll on Maisie in a physical sense. When going through periods of chronic or excessive stress, Maisie can sometimes experience severe eczema flare-ups.
Although not the direct causes of eczema, anxiety and stress can aggravate the symptoms. When we are dealing with chronic stress, our bodies release a large dose of a hormone called cortisol which contributes to increased inflammation throughout the body.
“I will get dry skin all over my arms, hands, legs and feet that then turn red and sore."
Naturally, experiencing a flare-up can negatively impact Maisie's mental health even further.
"It lowers my self-esteem, and I worry what people will think or say about my eczema, which makes me even more anxious. It’s like a vicious circle.”
Finding the keys
The effects of her anxiety meant that, 5 years ago, Maisie was unable to socialise in any way and she tended to isolate herself when anxiety struck.
But over time, she has gradually discovered the keys to improving her own mental wellbeing, helping her progress to a much healthier headspace.
For Maisie, talking about her feelings to others and engaging in social activities, as well as being around her friends and family, can have a huge positive impact on her mental health and quality of life. She also takes the time to go outdoors and exercise.
When it comes to stressful situations in particular, a large dose of fresh air, exercise and yoga help her cope. Avoiding stimulants and adopting breathing techniques also aid in keeping any feelings of anxiety at bay, the latter serving as a way to centre herself and realise that most of the thoughts she has when she feels anxious aren’t true.
“Being active has a positive effect on me, both physically and emotionally. I also know that I need to stay off the coffee when I am feeling particularly anxious as that can severely heighten my anxiety.
"Having a tidy living space helps me as well. If your room is messy and all over the place, your mind is too!"
Listening to her body
The key to improving her mental health, Maisie says, is to listen to her body – something she believes everyone should do.
"It is essential to take those extra few hours of sleep on the weekend, going to bed early when you need to, eating nutritious foods, and drinking plenty of water.
“Just listen to your body and take care of yourself, whether that be getting some exercise, minimising your workload, speaking to someone, or getting an extra few hours of sleep at night."
Now that she has found the keys to improving her own mental health, Maisie wants to encourage others to take the time to discover their own. And if not, to have the courage to talk to someone that can help.
"It takes a lot of energy and self-motivation to do it, but it needs to be done because mental health affects us all," says Maisie.
"Suffering from mental health issues can be all-consuming and can take you to severely dark places. Take care of yourself and your mental health – it is so important.
"If you are suffering, go and talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a professional – it can be a family member, a friend, or a partner – but it’s extremely important to talk because you shouldn’t have to go through this alone."
Written by Natacha Andueza
Story researcher for Talking Mental Health
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