Anxiety and the EA role
I never gave my mental health much thought until I fainted 76 times in a 3 month period. When I first fainted, it didn’t concern me; I’ve always been a bit headrush-y and figured I’d just stood up a little bit quicker than usual.
To begin with I’d faint maybe once every few weeks, then once every week, then almost once a day. On the good days, I would faint and be okay again in about 5 minutes, during the very worst 48 hours I fainted three times and had to be taken into A&E twice, once with concussion and then the day after because my blood sugar dropped dangerously low. To say it was terrifying is an understatement; no one could really tell me what was happening and I couldn’t work out what was triggering it.
Throughout that period, I tried pretty much anything I could think of - cutting out carbs at lunch, standing up and shaking my legs before moving, eliminating coffee, trying to stay hydrated, but it wasn’t until I had a very frank conversation with an A&E doctor that I understood I had to get to grips with what I discovered was anxiety. It was putting me into fight or flight mode, overwhelming my nervous system and causing my vagus nerve to trip like a fuse to try and reset my body. It was painful and difficult but I had to examine what was going on in my life and try and find a way to come to terms with it. Essentially, I had to stop trying to control everything because anxiety was controlling me.
My anxiety wasn't and isn't caused by my job but I do concede that the parts of my personality that make me effective as an EA feed into it. As assistants, we pride ourselves on knowing what is happening at any given time; we carry entire calendars in our head, always know where to find that one thing that was mentioned off the cuff months ago, and can switch priorities the way people turn a light on or off. We're driven, seek perfectionism and hardly ever switch off. Learning to dim those parts of my personality in order to protect my mental health is something I struggle with; it is a work in progress and I've learnt that that is ok.
It has now been five years since those three months, and I can more or less count the amount of times I’ve fainted since then on two hands. Anxiety manifests differently for everyone so coping mechanisms will differ, but here are the three lessons I've learnt -
- Ask for help. It isn’t admitting weakness, you are making your needs heard
- Listen to your body. These feelings aren’t your new normal, find out what they mean and make a plan to deal with them
- Find something you love, and do it selfishly. Running and dance classes have played a big role as they give me a chance to think, it is something I do for me, no one else, and it takes any nervous, pent up energy, and channels it into something positive.