Hands sweaty. Heart racing. Feeling as though you’re doing an inadequate job. Thoughts whirling as you sit in a meeting room with a young people opposite you – they must think I’m rubbish, I can’t be making any difference, I’m probably making things worse. These thoughts may only last a few seconds before you manage to centre yourself, but it feels like they last hours.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt that way? Maybe it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s hard to shake it off. I struggle at times with anxiety. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but there are days when it creeps up on me. I used to have no clue how to work through it or how to manage it and I thought I was meant to have it all together.
As a youth worker, supporting young people with a variety of emotional wellbeing needs can be challenging at the best of times, but even more so, when you find yourself struggling with some of the same issues they present themselves with. For me, this is anxiety but for you it may be something else. It can feel as though you aren’t qualified to support someone, when you’re dealing with something yourself. Or you feel hypocritical, giving advice but maybe not listening to it yourself.
However, just because we struggle at times ourselves, it doesn’t mean we can’t do a good job, it doesn’t mean we are incapable of our jobs, or that we are going to mess everything up.
Just over six years ago my anxiety first began. There were a number of things that triggered it and my confidence and self-worth were shattered, both personally and professionally to an extent. At the time, I was a youth worker at a local church. I thought I was invincible, that I had it all together and could do just about anything, then I was hit suddenly with chronic fatigue and anxiety took over my body. It didn’t mean I could no longer be a youth worker, but I knew I had to be wise and journey through what I was feeling and experiencing for several weeks, before being able to continue with the work I was doing.
At the time, it felt like I went to hell and back. I didn’t know why I felt the way I did, why I was having the thoughts I was, or how to make any of it feel better. Yet, six years on, I’m kind of thankful for those experiences. Of course, I wish I didn’t still experience anxiety, waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, feeling sick, and worrying about everything and anything. Of course, I wish there weren’t times when I would sit in training, and all of a sudden have a wave of panic take over my body. Of course, I wish that at times I didn’t over think everything. However, that makes me, me!
I’ve learnt to live with it, learnt to embrace it, learnt to accept that feelings of anxiety are currently something I still experience at times. Although it can be a challenge, the last six years have opened my eyes, I now feel as though I understand anxiety, and I am now able to support others struggling. Even if those early days, though, where my struggles felt much greater, I was still able to be a good youth worker and support others.
We need to be aware of what our triggers are, what pushes our buttons and what may affect us. We need to be wise, and sensible. Making sure we have time to refuel and recharge, particularly if we have had a tough or challenging session. But just because we have our own struggles, it doesn’t mean we can’t do a great job helping others, we are all human.
So be kind to yourself, keep refuelling your batteries, and know it is ok to say no at times. Above all else, know you ARE good enough, and you ARE doing a great job.
Gill Briggs is a youth worker from Luton who is currently the self-harm and self-worth specialist at LCET.