As a trans woman, Freiya Benson is super anxious a lot of the time – from feeling unsafe in social situations, to worrying about how she looks and sounds – but over the years she has developed a toolkit for managing her anxiety. We spoke to Freiya to find out more, and what you can do to help manage your own anxiety or that of a trans and/or non-binary friend or relative.
What made you want to write a book about managing anxiety?
Because anxiety has been such a presence in my life I’ve also spent a lot of time exploring it, living it and trying to manage it. As a trans person, some of the anxiety I feel is very tied to my identity as well, and over the years I’ve developed quite a few techniques to manage all this.
I know there’s a lot of books already out there about managing anxiety, but I couldn’t find any that were particularly relevant to me as a trans person, so the idea for The Anxiety Book for Trans People sort of grew from that!
When did you realise that your anxiety was something that you could no longer ignore?
I think I’ve always known that it’s something I shouldn’t ignore, but knowing something and actually doing something about it are two very different things. It takes a lot of effort and courage to actually say enough is enough, I need to do something about this.
I talk about this a bit more in the book, but for me it boiled down to a couple of really simple questions:
Do I want to feel like this, and if I don’t want to feel like this, what can I do to change this?
Having this starting point helped give me some solid ground from which I could start to explore and understand my anxiety a bit more. I guess telling myself that I didn’t want to feel like this anymore was also me giving myself permission to do something about my anxiety, rather than just accepting it and trying to live with the chaos and damage it caused.
Do you have any tips that work well for you when managing your anxiety?
For me it feels important to give myself a break sometimes. Managing anxiety is really hard, it takes it out of you and so it’s important to take some time out for yourself now and again.
I also found it really useful to remember that a lot of my anxiety is very tied into the memories of things that have happened. When I get anxious and start feeling that fear, it’s helpful for me to remember this feeling is about those memories as much as what’s actually happening right now.
For example, when I’m out and about I’m sometimes quite anxious because of past experiences of street harassment. When I’m experiencing this anxiety, the fear I’m facing is about both the potential of something happening, and of actual events that happened in the past. It’s anxiety doubled, when it doesn’t need to be.
If I can stop myself for a second, and let myself know that I hear those memories, and I understand that they’re there to try and protect me but that it’s okay right now, because nothing bad is happening, then sometimes that can really help.
I guess it’s all to do with finding ways to self-sooth? Maybe that can be talking to your inner self, letting them know it’s okay, or maybe it’s something less abstract, like watching Frozen in bed with a mug of hot chocolate; the important thing is to give yourself a break.
If you could give one piece of advice to a trans/non-binary person experiencing anxiety, what would it be?
Know that this will pass. Anxiety can feel very intense in the moment, and it can overwhelm and dominate everything, to the point that it becomes impossible to think or act.
Knowing that at some point though this feeling will ease up can really help. For me there sometimes feels like there’s this pressure to do something in the moment I feel anxious, even though I can’t actually do anything, because of my anxiety. I then feel bad and beat myself up about being terrible at managing my anxiety. This guilt tripping can be really destructive, and just add to the feeling of anxiety and worthlessness, which is obviously not great.
Knowing though that this feeling will pass lets me off the hook a bit, and can allow me to just try and ride it out, until I do feel better to do something about it.
What would you say are the most common anxiety triggers for trans/non-binary people?
There’s a lot out there that can trigger anxiety for us as trans people, so it’s difficult to pin it on one particular thing. Saying that though, for me personally a big trigger is how other people can potentially react to us. I know this impacts so many aspects of my life, and is something I’m fairly constantly having to think about.
For example, I’ve been looking for more work recently, and I saw a job working at a school as an admin person. Sounds great right? I can admin with the best of them, but also, I’m trans.
I could apply for the job, but should I mention I’m trans? If I don’t will they know by looking at me, or what if they do a google search on my name and see my books, and then think I’m hiding something from them?
Or what if none of that happens, but at some point if I get the job it comes out that I’m trans and everyone gets angry about it because I’m working in a school, and someone decides that I’m spreading some sort of trans agenda, just by being there?
It’s difficult because of course none of that might happen, and it might be all fine, but equally, there’s also a reasonable chance that at some point it won’t be fine.
The anxiety around just considering all this, let alone putting yourself through it can be pretty full on, and ultimately it all comes back to how people can react when they discover you’re trans.
Is there anything that cis people and allies can do when they see that their trans/non-binary friends are experiencing anxiety?
Let them know you’re there for them if they need it. It can be helpful to talk to your friend, when they’re not feeling so anxious, to find out what they would like you do when anxiety hits as well.
I know if we see someone we care about struggling then we want to help, to offer solutions, and make it better. It’s a really human thing to do, and it comes from a place of kindness, but I know in my experience, often all I really want is for someone to hear me, to listen and say that’s really awful, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that. Just being heard by someone else has such power, because it lets us know, despite how it may feel, that we are not alone.
Of course every person is different, and everyone’s experience of anxiety will be personal to them, but just knowing that someone else is there, if you need them, can really help.
You write about the importance of ‘finding joy’ as a way of managing your anxiety. Do you have any advice or tips for readers hoping to find their own joy?
I quite often find that joy is in the small things. When I’m cooking my tea in the evening, for instance, I often have music on that I can sing along to. I’m not the world’s greatest singer, but you know what? I’m not aiming to be the world’s greatest singer, I just want to sing because it makes me happy. I’m only doing it for me, to spark that moment of joy.
Find something that makes you happy, and let it grow from there. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, or a forever thing, it just needs to be a you thing.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope that my book helps people. I hope that the things I talk about, and the experiences of the amazing contributors within the book give others a starting point, or some handy pointers, on their own journeys. If even one thing I say in the book helps one other person then I’d call that a success.
I also hope that people feel less alone with their anxiety, knowing that there are others out there facing similar challenges. It can be a really rough world out there at the best of times, and knowing you’re not on your own, that other people feel what you feel, and more importantly get where you’re coming from can be a real comfort.
The Anxiety Book for Trans People: How to Conquer Your Dysphoria, Worry Less and Find Joy by Freiya Benson is out now. Freiya is also the editor of Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices.
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