Confession. I once was a kitchen hider. Too shy, too nervous, too anxious to socialise. If I was invited to another’s home, I would hide in people’s kitchens looking busy. Washing dishes, wiping benches, placing food on plates. People thought I was wonderful. “Janice is so helpful.” “Janice is so hard working.” “Janice is so cooperative.” I was SO many things to SO many people. But they didn’t know my secret. I had high anxiety in social situations.
Many years ago, I once was invited to a small gathering at someone’s home. When I say ‘once invited’, a return invitation never arrived. I hid in her kitchen, smiled sweetly to conceal my awkwardness, pretended to be busy, ignoring pleas to leave her domain. I offered to wash the dishes, the trays, the pots, the pans, as well as the oven even when food was still cooking. I was so anxious, I could have sanitised her entire kitchen if given the green light. Maybe she thought I was strange. Or was I just imagining it?
My friend, aggravated by this binge-cleaner, sidled up and informed me that she had a dishwasher. I scanned the kitchen and wondered who would deprive me of this significant vocation. In my world, a dishwasher had two hands flapping water, creating lots of foam and producing a slippery creek on the floor. I didn’t get what she was talking about.
Maybe anxiety engulfed my understanding and logic. I just remember an interminable pause, while she sucked in her breath, lips narrowed, and her eyes sign-posted towards a boxy contraption with knobs and buttons. I felt a hot wind graze my face as she exhaled all too slowly and exasperatedly, “That’s the dishwasher.” I remember acute embarrassment. I heard others laughing – were they mocking me? I felt my whole being shrink into one small inescapable space, a place where I felt judged and unwelcome. I had a strong urge to abscond, to run away and hide from the shame that seized my being but my legs were frozen on that kitchen floor, my brain went blank.
This would not be the first or the last time I experienced such feelings. It would be many years later that I would understand the stress response; perceived threat, though not real; and the disabling effects of anxiety.
Most of us get anxiety from time to time. It is normal for a brief period such as giving a speech or attending a job interview. Anxiety over the long term, though, affects the mind and the body. Anxiety pulls a person away from being in a specific worrying situation. An anxious person can have impaired concentration, can feel negative, some people say their brain has emptied itself of its contents. Students who have studied diligently for an exam have commented that the information they absorbed was sucked out of their brain due to anxiety.
Headaches, upset stomach, heart palpitations, sleep disturbance, extreme fatigue can be a response to anxiety. We can feel sick in the stomach and just want this bad feeling to go away. So we avoid the angst, we do not confront the dread. Yet the more we hide in our castle with a moat to protect us, the more anxious we become. We hide away because the world outside is scary. It’s a cycle of anxiety – not coping with a particular situation, therefore become more anxious, so a person avoids the situation. In the short term, anxiety will decrease but in the long term, anxiety increases. So hiding in a kitchen may reduce my anxiety in the short term as long as there are no other embarrassing factors. In the long term though, an anxious person is scanning for possible dangers, and possible areas to retreat for safety. Anxiety, then, increases.
A person may try to suppress the emotion but it has the opposite effect. It heightens the emotion. The more we hide away from a situation/threat, we do not learn how to cope and anxiety rises again. It’s a similar scenario in raising a confident child. A child needs to explore their world and know that there is a strong and gentle parent that they can return to. As a child gets older, they will explore further afield, in the confidence that their big, strong, wise parent is near, who provides security and love, which gives the child a feeling of well-being and self-confidence to go out and explore some more.
All of us have anxiety at varying times in our lives. It is an inescapable, yet sometimes a beneficial, function when we are in a truly threatening situation. There are circumstances which can trigger anxiety and understanding those triggers, will alleviate some of its pull and lessen its grip. Become aware of what those triggers are and locate in your body those feelings of anxiety.
As a qualified therapist I support, encourage and guide women who are affected with anxiety and stress. We can talk through these difficult feelings and look at ways together how to lessen the effects of anxiety.
Featured in Kidspot Parent Magazine
Janice Williams is a professional Counsellor and specialises in mother-daughter relationship counselling.
Janice offers in-person counselling, as well as online and phone counselling across Australia. Online counselling is available worldwide.