Is my anxiety 'normal' ?
A London-based TV Producer talks anonymously about their anxiety, and how the workplace affects their mental health.
Let's go straight to it - how is your mental health?
I think it is generally fine but like any kind of health, physical or mental, this can change and go through ups and downs - and I’ve have always had ups and downs. I am someone who is either very happy or very sad, although many people would never know that nor see it.
Do you feel it has changed over the years?
As a child I was anxious, worried and had certain routines I had to do or I felt like something awful would happen if I didn’t do them. I used to spend ages just doing nothing and playing with my hair or worrying about doing something wrong, making a mistake or letting people down. I realise now these are all signs of anxiety.
Are there other ways in which your anxiety shows itself?
I have found that now my mental health affects me physically - it was when I started getting pain and chest palpitations that I thought I should see a doctor just to be sure of what it was. She has recently referred me for CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy) and explained that the mental and physical are linked. I just thought that my level of anxiety was just my norm, and that that was my personality, but when I spoke to the doctor she told me I have signs of general anxiety disorder and there is something that can help.
Are you aware of what triggers your anxiety?
I find that social media has had a hugely negative impact upon my mental health. I look at the pages of people I like/date, try to work out what things mean, where are they, who are they with. I look at what they have "liked" and wonder who the people are. I wonder what it means when they "like" my photo or Instagram Story which I have put up just to get their attention. If I was giving advice I would say this is incredibly unhealthy and TO STOP. But it is very hard. I also compare myself to other women, how they dress, what they look like and if I should put more pictures which are similar. It is damaging, This is one trigger.
I have panic attacks, so I will avoid certain social situations as I know I will feel anxious. One such situation is where I worry about what people will think of me, for example in a meeting. Or social situations where I feel trapped and feel I would make a fuss if I had to leave, for example sitting at the front of a wedding, and wanting to get out, would mean everyone would look at me. Or flying, and being trapped, and not able to get out. This would make me feel faint, sweaty and full of worry, my back would hurt and I would have a feeling of just wanting to be at home.
Do you talk about mental health at work?
No. Never. I have close friends I have met through work who feel the same and are a great support and have undergone CBT but they are friends not ‘colleagues’.
As a TV Producer you work on a lot of different types of shows. You mention meetings can trigger anxiety for you, but are some shows more difficult than others in terms of your mental health?
I usually just get on with things and work hard and don't stop to think about it. On a stressful show there is no time to stop really and that in itself is an issue. It is usually after the contract has finished I realise the effect. On one show this year I felt my hair was thinning at the side, the hairdresser later told me that I had lots of new growth there which would tie in with hair loss during this job. I also had physical pain too. It stopped when the job stopped so must have been related.
I think jobs with healthy working hours and a supportive team who know what they are doing is key to good mental health. Lots of people, at a high level, forget that part of their job is to be supportive and not just churn out telly. I think this attitude of not caring so much about people has changed a lot in the years since I have been in telly. There is now less time, less money and more pressure and it is showing.
What changes would you want to see made to benefit mental health in your job?
I would change the hours people are expected to do. It should not be the norm to expect people to work until 10pm at night unless it has been specified initially that this will be case (e.g. shifts on a reality show). Work should be able to be done in normal working hours (generally) or the production has been staffed incorrectly or scheduled incorrectly. This doesn't need to happen. Cutting corners at the start makes it worse at the end and wastes more money!
Do you have any advice for people starting out in TV?
I really don't know! I think you should never feel that you have to say yes to everything. If you feel you are being taken advantage of and working unhealthy hours or not being paid correctly then you should stand up against it. More people need to do this and it is only something me and some of my peers are beginning to do now.
There is still a stigma around talking about mental health - is this why you've chosen to write anonymously?
I think there is a stigma still and I think that in a competitive industry you just get on with it and don’t discuss it - I guess partly because you don’t want to be labelled, and often sadly it is the case when people talk about mental health.
We hope by more people talking about mental health the stigma around it will reduce - as we realise it affects 1 in 4 of us and is so common - so thank-you for speaking out and sharing your experiences with us :)