‘I recently had a breakout of severe facial acne that came out of nowhere. As my appearance is important to my career, it really knocked my confidence, and although it's cleared up a lot now, I've developed this sense of dread that I just can’t seem to shift. I’ve never worried about the way I look before or had any major setbacks in life, and at 28 years old I have never experienced a prolonged period of sadness. But it's as if the acne has acted as a catalyst to an intense anxiety and fear, particularly around my work. I once looked forward to almost everything in life but now I am preoccupied with deep-rooted worry. The problem is, I don't know what I'm so fearful of. How can I get my zest for life back again and stop the perpetual dread?’ Name supplied
It sounds as if you are suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress, which is a feeling that I know, for a different reason. I felt ‘trigger-happy’, over-reacting to normal stress, and waking in the night, panting with anxiety.
Like you, my symptoms started when the original threat began to get better. A sympathetic GP reassured me that it was a normal and reasonable reaction, which helped break the cycle of feeling bad about feeling anxious, and then feeling worse. I do suggest that you alert your GP to your current reaction – if you took oral isotretinoin for the acne, that can cause low mood.
The things that helped me were regular exercise, meditation, and some acceptance that this was a normal reaction, which would pass in time.
The Headspace meditation app has a specific section on anxiety, for 30 sessions, which you can choose to do for 10, 15 or 20 minutes each. I’ve just finished the series, so many of the following ideas come from there.
We all have a ‘thing’ that comes out under stress: for some people it might be anger or sadness.
Anxiety is a normal part of life; we don’t need to conquer it, but change our relationship to it. I love the suggestion that we approach these thoughts with gentle curiosity, like a wild animal we are trying to tame.
I also love the perspective that anxiety is part of the human condition, and the experience of suffering in this way connects us with other people – which you have just proved by writing to me.