On silence

You may (or may not) have noticed my silence over the last few weeks. I’ve certainly noticed it myself. I’ve felt somewhat guilty for not posting. I mean, a good blogger has stuff written up and ready to post whenever, right? Okay, so I’ve not been doing this for long, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I thought this is something I was passionate about? And it is… But I’ve been busy. Or have I just felt busy? Just overwhelmed at the amount of stuff that I have to do, stuff that’s coming up in the near future and the longer-term future. So I’ve needed to think. And maybe I’ve had too many thoughts. Too many negative, exhausting thoughts. And some nicer thoughts sprinkled in occasionally. But yes. I have been silent. And I’ve also been ill. In fact, I still am. I’ve had to take time off work this week and for that I feel guilty too. There’s so many things I could be doing, should be doing. But I can’t, because this illness is exhausting. It’s even tiring just writing out this stream of consciousness, but I felt like I just had to get something out there.

So, to the topic of silence. In real life, I am often quite silent (except at the moment, where I am coughing *constantly*). I feel that I do a lot more listening than talking. I usually only speak when spoken to. I’m not anti-social; but I do sometimes struggle with social anxiety and “just being shy”. Sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, and I’m beginning to learn that that’s okay. And, generally, I like to process my thoughts and feelings before I say anything; I’m quite mindful in that sense.

Being quiet was a key feature of my school career. I’d often be described as conscientious, but teachers would want me to speak up or participate more in class. But, for the reasons mentioned above, I stayed silent. And has it held me back? On the whole, I don’t think it has. There are times where I certainly would have benefited from talking more, but in the grand scheme of things… I’ve achieved most of the things I’ve wanted to so far. I’ve gone through school, gained A Levels, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, held multiple jobs, got engaged, got married, moved cities, and most importantly I have an incredible set of family and friends.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… Don’t mistake silence for weakness. Sure, there can be awkward silences, or strained silences, or silences caused by bad situations. So it’s important to check in on people if you feel they are being more silent than usual. But there can also be comfortable silences, thoughtful silences, powerful silences. Don’t be afraid of silence; sometimes it’s necessary.

Personal experiences of anxiety: presentation edition

I, like so many other people, deal with anxiety on a daily basis. It creeps its way into so many aspects of my life. As I write this, anxiety is preventing me from calling my local medical centre to book an appointment. But the topic of this blog post isn’t about something I do on a daily basis, or even with some regularity; in fact, it’s about something that’s quite rare. It’s about the experience of anxiety that consumes me whenever I have to give a presentation.

I was inspired to write about this because a couple of days ago, I was talking to my husband about being invited to present at an event focused on making a positive difference, be that for patients, or for the workforce (I work in the NHS – see my introduction post for context). That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Someone wants me to present the work I’m doing that is having, or will have, a positive impact on others, to a room full of interested people. Well… I was taken aback by how strongly I reacted to this conversation, physically and mentally.

The simple thought of standing in front of a crowd of people made me feel sick – an intense, negative version of feeling “butterflies” in my stomach. The feeling where you are convinced that you might actually throw up. I became shaky, trembling, uneasy. Fear and dread began to take over my entire body, to the point where I felt frozen in my chair. I felt regret for bringing this topic to the conversation, as it made me feel so unwell. And all of this happened just because I thought about presenting; what would happen if I were to do this for real?

Well, I have recently had to give a presentation at work, on a much smaller scale, about a project I am working on which focuses on “evidence-based practice” (I will discuss this topic in a future blog post). Incidentally, this would likely be the topic of my presentation at the aforementioned event. But in this instance, I had to present some data to five other people, all of whom I work closely with for four days of the week, every week. The experience of presenting to this group actually went quite smoothly, as I felt I had a good grasp on the data and had prepared fairly well. Before the meeting, however, I was a bundle of nerves; I experienced sleeplessness the night before, and physical sickness on the morning of the presentation. I put myself under a great deal of stress, and worked overtime, to ensure I was prepared for this one-hour meeting. For one hour of my life that went quite well, I made myself physically and mentally ill in order to “prepare” myself for presenting. It doesn’t seem to add up.

Previous experiences have also resulted in me feeling unwell. I distinctly remember (and re-lived it on social media, thanks Timehop) the anxiety that accompanied preparing for and giving a presentation based on my undergraduate dissertation six years ago. Part of our dissertation grade was based on this presentation, and even though it was a small part, it still amped up the pressure on final year students at the time. I remember waiting in a corridor, outside the room I was going to present in to two people; my dissertation supervisor, and another colleague of his – both lovely people. And despite the pleasant nature of my small audience, I was absolutely overcome by fear. Once again, I felt physically sick, and was legitimately worried about needing to throw up before, during, and after my presentation. I felt faint, weak, as if I were fighting to survive. This time, these feelings didn’t stop while I was presenting, and were revealed in physical actions; I was audibly shaky, stumbling over my words, and became clumsy using technology which I was usually so familiar with. I left the presentation thinking, “was that even worth it?”

While I do acknowledge the benefits of presentations, and therefore practising the skills required to present successfully, in my experience the negatives outweigh the positives. As I was formulating my next sentence for this post, I thought to myself, “sure, but the negative consequences of presenting do not last forever”, but perhaps in my case they do. As I stated near the beginning of this article, even the thought of presenting causes me distress, and at this moment it feels like it’s something that I might never overcome. Only time will tell, but it is something that is likely to affect my career and future opportunities; presenting is a skill that often is highlighted as part of “essential” criteria on job applications, and will particularly impact me if I continue down my chosen pathway of research. On the plus side, there are always poster presentations…

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with presentations, or find them a breeze? Have you found ways to cope with any anxiety brought on by presenting or the thought of presenting? Let me know!

Introduction

Hi there! My name is Eloise and I’d like to welcome you to my blog.

My main interests are psychology, mental health, and the research that focuses on these areas. I have been passionate about psychology ever since I began studying the topic during my A Levels. This led me to completing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Research. I am currently working as a Research Assistant in an NHS mental health trust, so I am hoping that this blog will aid me in creating quality content related to my field of work.

My intention for this blog is to make psychology and mental health research accessible to the public – and, from time to time, to use this platform to explore my own thoughts and feelings on various topics (which I will separate into the category, “Mindful Musings”).

The idea for this blog came to me around 3 years ago, in the run-up to starting my Master’s degree, with the help of my husband. We both thought it would be a good opportunity for me to practice my writing skills before I started university once again, thus preparing me for the work ahead. Despite good intentions, I never really got started; the most I did was track down a few articles on the topic I was most interested in at the time (the impact of social media on mental health), and write brief summaries of the articles. It’s possible these summaries may end up on the blog in some form or another, but time will tell.

And so, I classify myself as a beginner in the blogging game. Some may end up enjoying what I put out there, and others may not; but I am keen to learn and open to feedback from anyone who takes the time to read what I write!

Writing this first introductory post has been rather enjoyable in itself, so that’s a good start. Let the review of the mind begin…