Agony Aunt Ellie: April 2015

Agony Aunt

Dear Ellie I’ve been suffering from social anxiety for years now, but recently, it’s been getting worse. I want to hang out with friends, but I find that even when I do, my paranoia and anxiety is making my life miserable. I’m constantly plagued with thoughts about whether anyone actually even likes me, as well as the constant monologue of self-doubt about things I say. I just feel like a massive loser. What can I do?

I’m really glad you’ve come to me with this problem. Though I can’t give you a quick, magical fix (as much as I’d like to!) I can give you a few strategies to try to get you through this tough patch and get you back to being the social animal that Mother Nature intended you to be.

Anxiety is a totally natural emotional state that everyone experiences at some time in their life. Think exam preparation, or looming deadlines or breaking up with that person who is JUST TOO KEEN. Anyway, I digress. When anxiety becomes persistent and disabling it becomes a clinical disorder; the treatment options for which are generally proven to be effective. So first step, and I want you to do this TODAY, is to make an appointment with your GP. Daunting, I know, but from what I have seen, GPs are highly adept at managing and treating anxiety disorders, and contrary to popular belief they don’t want to turn you into a drugged-up zombie; they are there to help you…they WANT to help you.

The likelihood is that your GP will refer you into the local mental health team for assessment and treatment, or alternatively you can self-refer into one of the local teams (details below) or access therapy via your college or university.  So many options! Unfortunately there is generally a depressingly long waiting list for these services, so here are a few things you can do to try to keep afloat before the experts get their hands on you:

  • STAY AWAY FROM DRUGS! This doesn’t just mean trippers and uppers and downers and gurners and all the other ‘ers’. Caffeine has been shown to increase state anxiety in people who DON’T have an anxiety disorder and alcohol is a depressant, so for someone in your position, it’s probably best to stay away from these things too. Sorry!
  • EXERCISE! No gym membership required. A 20 minute walk every day will do two things: firstly it’ll get your happy little endorphins flowing, forcing you to think more positively even if you don’t want to. Secondly, it’ll challenge you. Anxiety needs to be challenged, and it’s hard and it’s shit, but unless you want to spend your whole life in a perpetual state of FOMO you need to work at it.
  • Tell yourself every single day that YOU ARE NOT A LOSER. Because you are not. It just isn’t true. I cannot express strongly enough how important it is that you work at loving yourself for who you are. Start today. Start immediately. No amount of asking other people for reassurance will help you with this one. Again, it requires work, but you’ll get there.

Three little things right there that could make a big difference to how you feel. Attack it from all angles and don’t let it win because you are better than that. You deserve better than that.

Stay strong and don’t give up! I hope this helps you to get back on track.

Plymouth Options Depression & Anxiety Service – www.plymouthcommunityhealthcare.co.uk – Tel: 01752 435419
The Zone – www.thezoneplymouth.co.uk – Tel: 01752 206626
Plymouth & District Mind Association – http://www.plymouthmind.org.ukTel: 01752 513694


Dear Ellie I’m drowning in debt. I’ve been a student for two years now, and without a job I’ve had to rely on my credit cards to get through the tight times. This also includes a pretty hefty student overdraft and a few payday loans that I can’t afford to pay off. I stay up far too late at night worrying about it, but I have no idea where to start or who to turn to. What do I do?

You’re not the first and you won’t be the last, that’s for certain, but with student loans and tuition fees already at an all-time high, any additional debt accrued by students does give me a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach. Not because you took out the credit, you understand, more so that students are expected to choose between having no money for 90% or their time at university, and working themselves to death trying to maintain some semblance of a stable financial existence. It’s a lose-lose situation, and is something that NUS are forever challenging.

First up, can you ask your family for help? It’s sometimes worth sucking up your pride and just being honest. There is no shame in admitting that things have got out of hand, and believe me, with the interest you’ll accumulate on the payday loans, you’ll get a much nicer reaction now than you will in 12 months when they send round the big boys to break your legs and sell your mum. If you can get those settled, the other more legitimate debts should be easier to manage.

Double check with your bank that your overdraft is interest free. This is standard across student accounts and saves you guys a lot of money, particularly when they stretch into the thousands. Assuming it is interest free, it might be sensible to ask your bank manager whether you can increase your overdraft in order to pay off a credit card or two; you’ll consolidate your debt and you won’t pay any interest on it until the end of your course. The alternative would be to transfer your credit card debt onto a 0% interest credit card. There are deals out there if you look hard enough. If you can’t even manage the minimum payments and using your overdraft to clear some debt isn’t possible then there are a couple of free money advice companies out there (details below) who can talk through your debts and often negotiate minimal payments with creditors; they may even be able to get some of your debt written off, but don’t count on it. Finally, speak to the student support team at your University. There are grants available to students who are struggling, just be prepared to hand over a mountain of paperwork and fill in a big old form.

In regards to your current spending, it sounds like you might need to tighten the purse strings. Easier said than done, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Swap nights out for nights in, use online auctions instead of high street shops and eat a shit load of pasta. Pasta is CHEAP.

You won’t be in this position forever, and frankly, it’s part of fight!…the workload is only half of it; the rest is survival.

Check out the links below for more support, and good luck!

Money Advice Plymouth – http://www.moneyadviceplymouth.org.uk/ – Tel: 01752 208126
Plymouth Citizens Advice Bureau –  http://www.plymouthcab.org.ukTel: 03444 111 444


Dear Ellie My mum and dad split up about a year ago, but are still married. We still all live together, but they sleep in separate rooms now. They don’t really argue anymore, they barely speak to each other and I feel totally stuck in the middle. I’m an only child so I don’t have anyone I can really confide in about this, since no-one else is dealing with it. How can I get my parents to understand how horrible this situation is to deal with?

My instinct is to give you some slightly fluffy ‘time heals everything’ advice here…but actually that’s probably going to be as effective as telling you to wax seal a bottle of your own piss, throw it into the sea and wait for your parents to find it and decipher the hidden meaning of your mental breakdown. So here goes…

Your parents already know how horrible you are finding the situation. They’re still human, although probably emotionally skeletal at this point, and they know that what they are doing is going to be hurting you. Unfortunately, there is little that they can do to make things easier for you. Playing happy families will only send out mixed signals, and despite being an adult yourself, this could still cause you a great deal of confusion and distress. For whatever reason, your parents have decided to remain cohabiting and if they are able to do so without ripping chunks out of each other then I would consider this to be fairly positive. Though the subtlety of the silent tension weighs heavy on your shoulders, it is the lesser of two evils.

In terms of how you manage the situation, I would say that it is better you concentrate on your own coping strategies rather than expect any changes from your parents. You are an adult yourself, and as such you have the power to make choices and positive changes in your own life that will make your feelings more manageable. Having a ‘panic button’ is a great way to help to alleviate distress in this kind of situation. Not a literal button with sirens and flashy lights and bells, but an escape plan for when things get too much. This can be as simple as a planned route for a power walk, or an agreement with a friend that you can go and visit any time you need some space. When young children are struggling to manage their feelings, they often create a den or a safe place; a concept that is no different to the panic button and just as effective.

Insofar as your relationship with your parents is concerned, you should work on accepting the idea that what was once a unit is now two individuals and treat them accordingly. Perhaps making arrangements to spend some quality time with them separately would be a good first step. You’ll get some one-on-one with them and you’ll probably find that you learn a lot about them; they’ll be glad to know you still care, and as much as you might feel angry about their separation, it will help you to re-establish a strong bond with both of them individually.

If you feel that there are things you really need to say in order to move on with your own life, you could always write a letter to your parents, though it is important to consider how they might react to this and the impact it could have on your home environment. Sometimes writing a letter can be cathartic in its own right, and sending it may not be necessary. If all else fails, the counsellors at Relate may be able to offer you some guidance, perhaps in the form of family therapy or mediation.

It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved, and I sincerely hope that things become easier for you. Good luck.

Relate Plymouth – www.relateplymouth.co.uk – Tel: 01752 213131

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