Updated: Jan 9, 2019
Anxiety isn't a word that should be tossed around; it shouldn't be a buzzword that's just thrown into a sentence and used as an adjective. It's not a cry for attention, it's not a choice, it's not a phase - and it's definitely not a black and white disorder. To understand more of what I'm saying, read this article. Anxiety affects everyone differently - some people in the morning, some at night, some all day, others not at all - nobody is going to experience it the exact same way. Unfortunately, anxiety is often stigmatized as not being true because it doesn't necessarily present itself in a physical manifestation the way that a broken leg or an opened-wound does.
I have always been a very anxious person - I live in constant underlying fear and worry that something bad is going to happen: that I'm going to get sick, that I'll get in a car accident, a loved one will die from having a something so simple as a cough - very irrational things that have no evidence of support, reason or logic. You've heard about the "fight or flight" response: the initial reaction our mind and bodies have as we prepare to protect ourselves from something that threatens us. For me, that response is always turned "on" - my mind is constantly racing in panic mode from one thought to the next. For example, my daily decision making goes something like this: How should I phrase this question? Should I even ask the question? What are the outcomes of me asking it? If I don't ask the question, how will I make myself heard? What if the situation doesn't play out how I imagined it to in my head? What's my back-up plan? How do I even bring this question into discussion? Should I just forget about it and move on? No, can't do that, I'll be bothered because I didn't get the answer. Should I assume I know what the answer is going to be? No, that's a bad idea. But am I overreacting? How far is too far? I don't want to push people away, but I need to know. This is just a taste of what happens in my mind when I start to feel anxious about something. I guess part of it is being somewhat superstitious, another part being correlated with OCD, and the remainder being pure anxiety - but that's just my guess, I'm not a doctor. And I'll be honest with you, I'm anxious writing this post now because I'm worrying about how people will react to it - friends, family, strangers -- am I sharing too much? Is this too personal? Well, I guess the answer to that is yes; it is really personal, but it's also really important to me.
My anxiety experience feels like an attack on my body that I can't control: I feel like my throat is closing and I can't breathe, I get extremely nauseous, I start sweating and clenching my teeth while absurd and crazy thoughts are coming at me left and right. All I want to do is curl up into a ball under a massive pile of blankets and cry. But I can't, because that's not an option; I have to put on a brave face and work through it - not an easy thing to do. Typically, the last thing you want to do when you get nauseous is eat something, right? Probably. Well, when I get nauseous from being really anxious, I stop eating. There have been instances in which I have lost 5 or 10 pounds in a week - just from anxiety. It's also exhausting - physically and mentally. Carrying that anxiety on your shoulders all day really takes a toll on your body. Do you know what happens when you don't eat? You have no energy. Imagine feeling something like this: you run a marathon after barely eating anything for 3 days. How do you expect your body (mentally and physically) to operate? What makes it better?
That's the question. What makes it better? For me? Lots of different things: yoga, hearing the voice of someone I care about talk, playing strategy games that require focus on my phone, meditative coloring books, making bracelets, practicing calligraphy, and other things that I'm still figuring out along the way. But what about the times that I don't have access to those remedies? One thing I've recently found helpful is essential oils. Now, I always carry a lavender towelette and an essential oil roller with me and when the scent hits, I really try focusing on my breath and distracting my mind any way that I can. Moving forward, I'm trying to rely only on natural remedies rather than medication to keep me calm.
There are a ton of articles out there on anxiety that I think everyone should read. But for me, someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, it's comforting knowing that the people who care about you are aware of the ways in which they can help when you go into panic mode. It's important to realize that these thoughts and hypothetical situations are irrational and that the feeling of worry will pass, even though it's hard to believe in-the-moment. Some of the best things I've read so far include:
- Reassure them constantly. (This may be annoying but they will be thankful)
- Keep them in the loop of your life. (This means share plans with them. It will keep them at ease)
- Text them when you are on your way, or when you get home. (This may seem obnoxious but their brain will thank you)
- Hugs (After anxious days something as little as a hug can make things better)
- Triggers. Identify them. (This one will be hard. Once you figure out what makes them anxious, it will help you to make them feel safe)
- No surprises unless you know it will make them happy. (Surprises can be hard to handle for anxious people. It will depend on their anxiety level)
- Change is hard. (Try to limit major changes in your relationship if possible. Change is inevitable, but be ready to help them through it)
- Be there. Just be there. (As complex as an anxiety disorder can get, the best thing you can do is be there and let them know you care)
(Shoutout to @best.story.posts on Instagram for these tips!)
Anxiety isn't something we should feel ashamed about; while I'm sure many of us wish we didn't have to deal with it on a daily basis, it's also a part of what makes us who we are. Read that sentence again. Please note that I am not saying anxiety defines us - because it doesn't, but rather, it adds to the unique stories that make up our lives.
If you're still reading, thank you for taking the time to better understand what anxiety means (to me, specifically). And, if you're up for it, don't forget to share the ways you deal with anxiety in the comments or send me an e-mail! You can never have too many ways to ease the tension and I would love to hear the ways that others find helpful.