Anna Wintour Is Right - We Need To Talk About Anxiety In Young Women
The Debrief: Vogue's editor-in-chief recently spoke out about her concerns about mental health and young women
True story: I suffered from my first full-blown panic attack after a boy dumped me. I flushed hot and cold all over; I thought my heart was going to explode; later that night, I wound up sleeping next to my best mate in her bed because I didn't trust myself not to die alone in my sleep. My anxiety ended up lasting months – probably in part because the guy kept asking me to hang out "as friends" and I was unable to say no, paralysed by fear that I wouldn't appear to be "a chill girl".
I wish 20-year-old me knew that Anna Wintour was on my side. The Vogue editor-in-chief recently spoke out about her concerns about mental health and young women while advocating the work of the Youth Anxiety Centre, a New York-based clinic that treats young people who suffer from severe anxiety and depression.
'I think mental health is an area where people are embarrassed,' Anna said in an interview with New York Magazine. 'They don’t want to talk about it because somehow they feel they’re a failure as a parent or, you know, they’re embarrassed for their child or they want to protect their child, lots of very good reasons, but mental health I feel is something that you have to talk about. That time from 15 to 16 to your mid- to late 20s – you look grown up, people think you’re grown up, but you’re still a kid.'
The September Issue star also gave major props to Lena Dunham and Emma Stone, who have both spoken openly about suffering from anxiety from a young age – though they're not the only ones. According to Anxiety UK, research suggests that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety condition in their lives. That could include panic attacks (like me), obsessive-compulsive disorder, exam stress or social anxiety.
Eve Menezes Cunningham, a therapist who specialises in anxiety, has seen many women come through her doors looking for help. 'I think there's an enormous amount of pressure on young women,' she told me. 'There's enormous pressure academically, with work, with your looks... All these things can make us happy and more fulfilled, but it can also create anxiety.'
Cunningham herself suffered from anxiety when she was younger; at 22, she was put on beta blockers. 'By the time I went to the doctor's, he said my heart rate was almost double what it should be. I had really bad insomnia for years and years, which is another bad symptom,' she says. But two months into her medication, she realised it wasn't helping her. 'I realised I was in a stressful situation; I had a bullying boss and wasn't asserting myself. I would take a lot of crap at work and internalise it all.' Instead, she moved away and found a new job.
Though medication can definitely be helpful for some, Eve also recommends simple physical exercises to deal with a stressful situation. Her first tip is to acknowledge you're feeling anxious as opposed to denying it, and then try to move around. 'When we get anxious about something, the amygdala is triggered and that's the alarm bell of the brain,' she says. 'We've got all these triggers around us for stress and at some point it can become anxiety because it's not being turned off. Our ancient wiring is telling us "Run!" or "Punch!" – things that would be deeply inappropriate in 2015. But by honouring it as quickly as you can, even just by going for a fast walk, it can help.'
Similarly, changing the way you breathe can make a big difference. Eve recommends inhaling deeply into your stomach (‘as if you've got lungs in your belly’), making sure to exhale slightly longer than usual. 'It's going to send calming signals to your brain and then to the whole body,' she says. If you're in a situation where you can't just bust into a yoga squat (like a meeting with your boss), something as simple as breathing in and out while tensing and releasing your thigh muscles can release stress hormones.
But one of the most important things for me was to acknowledge that I wasn’t doing anything wrong – it wasn’t pathetic or lame that I was literally hyperventilating over a boy. If anything, it was a signal that I honestly didn’t need him in my existence, hanging around me like a bad smell.
‘Often, anxiety gives people clues to bits of their life that aren't working and can be changed,’ Eve confirms. ‘It can turn out to be something positive.’ And of course, the more we talk about it, the less isolated and alone people feel. So that’s my story with anxiety. I suspect I’m not the only one. What about you?
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