12 Things Only People With Anxiety Can Teach You

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The points that follow may not be relevant to every person with anxiety, but neither is the list of symptoms. Humans are complex, fascinating and frustrating, and between the heart and the head, there are countless versions of the human experience.

There are some things that all the books, lectures, courses and research just can’t teach us about anxiety. They’re the things that come from people – the ones we talk to, listen to, connect with, acquaint with, like a little, love a lot or fight with.

Here are the things that I wouldn’t have known – couldn’t have known – were it not for those who have experienced anxiety from the front line.

1. Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions.

Sometimes feelings that are on opposite ends of the feeling spectrum actually do coexist. Sometimes they even feel the same.

The first is craving solitude and craving people all at once. The second is having a fear of being seen and a fear of not being seen at the same time. If you’ve ever known or loved anyone with anxiety and found yourself saying to them, “But I just don’t understand what you want,” don’t worry. Chances are they aren’t quite sure either. And that’s completely OK. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice being comfortable with uncertainty.

2. They’re wise about who they choose to be part of their tribe.

Anxiety comes from a heightened threat sensor, and the threat of psychological harm (humiliation, rejection, shame) can feel just as real as the threat of physical harm. Because interacting with people can be so anxiety-inducing, people with anxiety are choosey about who they let close. They’re not rude about putting up the wall to those who don’t quite make the cut – not at all – but they’re decisive. If you’re one of the ones for whom the fortress is lowered, feel blessed, because you are. There’s something about you that feels safe and lovely to be around.

3. They’re awesome to have in your tribe, too.

People with anxiety are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve met – they’re funny, kind, thoughtful and strong. They’re also very sensitive to what’s around them – it’s part of having a heightened threat sensor – and that sensitivity also extends to you and anyone else they’re around. They’ll think about what’s OK to say and what’s not OK to say, what needs to be done and what you might want.

Anxiety has a way of persuading people to try for as much control as possible over the “unknowns” in order to avoid potential chaos. This means they’ll be the ones who make sure everyone knows exactly where to meet, what time to leave to get there on time, what to take and the best way to get there. They’ll be the ones with the spare jumper, the spare coins and the spare phone charger. Just don’t forget to let you know how much you love them for it.

4. Thoughts have more pull than knowledge. Yep. They can run the mothership.

Thoughts stoked by anxiety can be frightening, frustrating and suffocating. Above all else, they’re powerful. They’re more powerful than a lifetime of knowledge and the collective knowledge of a group, so don’t even bother trying to reason – it’s pointless. “Knowing” there’s nothing to worry about isn’t enough. Once fearful thoughts are in full swing, they’ll run the show. They’ll drive behavior and bring feelings (fear, panic, anxiety) to life. All the knowledge in the world about what’s valid, real or likely won’t make any difference to those thoughts that are swelling. It’s the power of the mind against the mind.

5. Sometimes it feels like it’s all about the head and the stomach.

Anxiety can have a way of putting flashing lights around the head and stomach, as though they’re running the show – which, in that space of high anxiety, they kind of are. When anxiety is “on,” it can feel like the head and stomach are the only parts of the body capable of feeling, responding and being.

6. “Everyday,” as in “everyday things,” means something different.

“Everyday” doesn’t always mean “no big deal.” With anxiety on board, everything can feel like the biggest deal. What everyday means is “every day,” as in the things you do every day – today, tomorrow and the next day. As in, “Yes, I know I should be OK with it because I do it every day, but I’m not.” Anxiety doesn’t tend to keep a journal.

7. Thoughts that begin as little thoughts can change the entire day.

Did I lock the door? What if I forget his name? What if there’s an accident? What if we’re late? What if the restaurant runs out of tables under the heater? … It doesn’t matter how much effort is put into preparation; once there’s a worry, it can white-knuckle for grip. The thoughts are often rational, plausible and possible, but anxiety makes them overwhelming.

8. “There’s nothing to worry about” is the best thing to hear. Wait. No. It’s not.

You’d think it would be comforting to hear that there’s nothing to worry about, but it can actually be isolating.

Think of it like this: Imagine being at the side of a wide road you need to cross. Everyone is telling you it’s fine to cross and they’re all doing it, but you see trucks, cars, buses and bikes barreling from the left and the right. Nobody else can see them. You know the road is OK to cross, but you can’t – you just can’t. That traffic! So, not only do you feel panicked but you also feel like you’re in it on your own. It can feel like nobody else really understands, which they might not – otherwise they wouldn’t be telling you there’s nothing to worry about.

The truth is, when it comes to anxiety, it can be difficult for people who have never experienced it to understand – but that’s OK. You don’t need to fully understand something to be a comforting presence through the unfolding of it.

9. Anxiety and courage exist together. 

When it comes to courage, anxious people have it in truckloads. Just getting through the day can call on enormous reservoirs of courage that the rest of us might only need to draw on now and then. Anxiety and courage always exist together. They have to. You can’t get through day after day with anxiety blocking the path, without having courage to help push a way through.

10. Stimulation or isolation? Sometimes I’ll take isolation.

Anxiety can force isolation. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – people with anxiety would rather sit outside in the cold on their own than inside with their favorite people, the noise and the lights. It has nothing to do with the quality of what’s inside and everything to do with the quantity.

11. Sometimes “I’m sick” and “I’m fine” means “I’m panicking. Don’t ask.”

Anxiety hates attention. When anxiety is triggered, the normal human response if you’re the concerned other is, “Are you OK?” or “What’s wrong?” If you have to ask, then no, chances are they’re not OK. Don’t worry – just be a strong, confident, loving presence. You’ll probably be told, “I’m fine” or “I’m sick.” It’s not a brush-off, it’s a protection. Don’t keep pushing it – just give a gentle “I’m here” squeeze of their arm or hand and move on.

12. Just because someone’s tired doesn’t mean sleep comes easily.

Anxiety is tiring, but sleep doesn’t necessarily come easily. Tiredness makes anxiety worse and anxiety makes tiredness worse – you would think it would be a union made in heaven, but no. It can look at little like this: “I have to get to sleep, otherwise I’m going to be out of my mind with tiredness in the morning, so I just have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t get to sleep? But I have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t?? Anxious yet?

As with any part of the human experience, there are so many things about anxiety that can only be understood by having it. If you love someone with anxiety, it’s important to pay attention. There will be wisdom and knowledge that only they can give you. Be open, and be grateful.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on Hey Sigmund.

RELATED: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We’d like to read it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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The One Word My Partner Never Says About My Anxiety

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I remember it well. I’m outside my sister’s house, doubled over in pain and worry, and I feel like my chest is tighter than it’s ever been.

“It’s OK,” I was told, as the tears came, too. “It’s just your anxiety.”

This was four years ago, and of those four years, I’ve spent two of them blissfully with my boyfriend Sam. Sam is one of those people with a sunny disposition – up with his first alarm, loves running, loves his job, laughs constantly. We are the reason people say “opposites attract” – while I’m by no means a pessimist, being sarcastic and cynical is part of my humor. I love a good debate over something meaty, like politics. I get annoyed at the dishwasher as if it were a person out to spite me. Despite this “cultural difference,” Sam never belittles my anxiety and panic disorder. He sees my little achievements even when I don’t, and coaxes a smile out of me in the darkest of times.

And he never, ever tells me it’s “just” my anxiety.

“Just” is an interesting word. For some, it can mean that something is surmountable – you can get over it. How many times have we told ourselves, it was just a dream? It’s just an interview? For me, “just” is reductive in all the wrong ways. It tells me my illness is something that I should be ridding myself of, and quickly. Why can’t you just go one day without panicking? Why can’t we just be a normal couple? “Just” makes me feel weak when I should be trying to feel strong.

“Just” makes me feel like we’re compromising. Shall we just go home? Shall we just go to the cinema first, instead of the restaurant? It feels like I’ve failed when I haven’t.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the night having an anxiety attack. This isn’t completely abnormal – it happens perhaps once every month or so – but this one simply wouldn’t shift. I tried everything, but the blighter wouldn’t go, and eventually Sam woke up.

“Is it your anxiety?” he said as he turned over to me.

I nodded. No “just,” no nothing.

“Would you like a glass of water?”

I nodded.

He came back with some water and cuddled up next to me, asking if there was anything he could do. When I said I just needed to ride it out, he stayed awake, mumbling away about the flat and our pets until I could breathe normally again. It felt like hours, but it can’t have pushed more than 30 minutes. And then we both went back to sleep.

Living with a mental illness, I’m sometimes given an illusion of “normality” – for a week, for a month – before it crushes me with an attack or a relapse. Truth is, I’m not looking to be normal anymore. I’m looking to be happy. When the guilt sinks in and I feel as if my life, my personality and my whole existence have been engulfed by anxiety, Sam reminds me that they haven’t. It can be tough, undoubtedly. But right now, we’re happy just – no – exactly the way we are. 

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The Mighty wants to read more stories about your experiences dating with a mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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I Drew How Anxiety Affects Me

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Whenever the phone rang, I’d stare at it with dread and trepidation. I’d let it ring off the hook until the person calling left a message on the voicemail. Then I’d stare at the voicemail notification for hours before I could finally muster up the courage to listen to it.

Whenever someone asked me out for a social gathering, I’d say yes immediately without thinking. And then I’d promptly regret it as a surge of nervousness and dread filled my mind.

My mind would go into overtime thinking of ways to get out of the promise I made to attend. I’d also think of all the things people would talk about during the gathering and how I’d fit into their conversations. Most of the time, I’d imagine myself feeling lost and that the participants of the gathering would deem that I didn’t belong.

Whenever I do any kind of creative work, whether it’s a drawing or a piece of writing, I’d tell myself that I’m just not good enough and that no one would ever appreciate the work I did. I’d look at other artists’ work and berate my own, since I believed my work looked sub-par compared to theirs.

I’m often filled with dread and worry as others peruse my work. I’ll imagine they’re thinking the most negative things because, after all, it isn’t that great of a piece. This happens to me every single time I draw or write. Most of the time, my mind is filled with thoughts, coming at me a hundred miles a minute.

Earlier this year, I finally found out why I felt the way I did. My husband, who had noticed my behavior over the years, suggested that I get tested for attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I ended up being diagnosed not only with ADHD but also with anxiety and depression. I was somewhat surprised with the diagnosis, but the feeling of relief was even greater. For once in my life, I knew why I felt the way I did.

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I told my therapist I felt like my anxiety was a huge and almost Atlas-like burden I had to carry around. When I got home, I sat in my studio and illustrated what I had told him. When I finished a few hours later, I cried. And it was then that I felt a surge of relief. My thoughts flowed out through the ink and onto the paper, and I felt better.

I now look at my drawing, which I titled “The Daily Struggle,” and feel a sense of peace. I’ve been drawing a lot more since I drew it. And every time I do, I feel just a little bit better. I showed it to my friends, and those who suffer from anxiety said the piece helped them.

When I read the articles on The Mighty about anxiety and mental health, I feel better just knowing there are people out there who understand. So in that spirit, I wanted to share this drawing to show others who might need some encouragement. There are others who understand. You aren’t alone.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What Anxiety Feels Like, as Told by a Comic

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Beth Evans is an illustrator best known for the entertaining puns and offbeat humor in her online comics. The 24-year-old also lives with anxiety, so she created a comic series portraying how she experiences panic and self-doubt.

beth evans' comic about a panic attack
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

Evans created the comics both as a way to work through her own anxiety and to show others how it feels to live with it. The drawings feature her trying to cope with anxiety and self-doubt, the frustrating “creatures” who knock out her self-confidence and keep her from her dreams and ambitions.

[Anxiety is] a bit of a chameleon,” Evans told The Daily Dot, where she’s currently an Artist in Residence. “Sometimes it’s huge and overbearing, and sometimes it’s this annoying little creature that follows me around.”

beth evans comic about self-doubt
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
Beth Evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
Beth Evans comic about anxiety and self-doubt
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
beth evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

Evans originally posted the comics to Tumblr, where they garnered a huge response from thousands of readers who identify with them.

“I hope people who have anxiety can find something to relate to in my comics,” she told The Mighty. “For those who don’t have anxiety, I hope it provides a little look into what it’s like and that there is an understanding there.”

Beth Evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

To see more of Evans’ work, visit her Tumblr page and check out her Artist in Residence page on The Daily Dot.

Photos courtesy of Beth Evans.

h/t Bustle

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27 People Explain What Triggers Their Anxiety

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Despite the fact that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, it’s still a commonly misunderstood condition. And it may be easy to get frustrated with a loved one with anxiety when you can’t empathize.

To better understand the people who live with this condition, we asked our readers to tell us some surprising and unexpected situations that trigger their anxiety or panic attacks. It’s important to remember each person experiences anxiety differently and in different situations — the best thing you can do is be patient and if your loved one is comfortable, ask questions.

27 People Explain What Triggers Their Anxiety:

1. “Sudden changes in plans, even when the new plan is actually better than the original. It’s especially bad if I’m only given vague explanations of what’s to come, no matter how much I trust the other person.” — Nicole Ricketts

2. “Driving.” — Mary Salemi

3. “Feeling stuck or trapped where I can’t leave if I want to.” — Annah Elizabeth

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4. “TV shows that remind me of a specific time period. Last night I saw a rerun of a show I used to watch while I was going through a traumatic time with my child’s illness… I had a full blown anxiety and panic attack… even though we’re in a good spot now, all the old fear rushed in.” — Katherine Mirrfy

5. “Going places I haven’t been before — noisy, busy places.” — Angela Atherton

6. “My family.” — Kelly Hunt

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7. “Men. And I don’t mean that in a funny way. Men give me anxiety. I’m beyond uncomfortable around guys I don’t know or don’t know well. I can’t look them in the eyes, I stutter when I speak, and I’m just plain terrified. I can be having a great time at a party with 20 people there, both men and women, but as soon as a guy shows up who I don’t know and trust, I become a totally different person. I hate it.” — Amanda K Walker

8. “Someone knocking at the front door. Even if it’s the postman.” — Luna Mireles

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9. “Certain days of the year, feeling like a situation has no solution, being alone for too long, waiting on someone to arrive, the unknown, not being able to get ahold of loved ones… the list could go on.” — Katie Smeltzer Ireland

10. “The song ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’ We were often in the hospital around Christmas time.” — Michelle King

11. “Weather. I need to check it constantly, and I’m in a state of panic — not just while the storm is going on but for hours beforehand. I stay up all night waiting for them often.” — Amanda Burgess

12. “Angry tones of voices and angry eyes.” — Jessica Spears Williams

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13. “Bedtime because I never fall asleep and my mind races.” — Anne McClain Rose

14. “Bridges.” — Carmen N. Phillip Dorigatti

15. “Loud noises, raised voices, unreasonable anger, people walking toward me, filling in forms, making mistakes, driving, cooking food that may make others ill (like chicken), anything poisonous, making decisions, my health, getting out of bed in a hurry, visitors and worrying about what others are thinking.” — Amanda McCabe

16. “A bunch of people talking at once.” — Nicole Whitman

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17. “Stress and caffeine.” — Tonya Guynn- Joseph

18. “Money.” — Theresa Belcourt

19. “Meeting new people.” — Kim Messinger

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20. “Being alone and being around people. Sigh.” — Megan Crisp

21. “Having to make concrete plans. I hate being locked in to social situations.” — Rachel Post

22. “Low blood sugar. If I forget to eat I find myself close to panic attack territory. When I can remember to get good protein and good fats in, I’m not usually as anxious.” — Allie Fread Bernier

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23. “I still have unknown triggers still at 32.” — S.m. Morgan

24. “Places I’ve had a panic attack before, being called out for something I’m already embarrassed about in a social setting and eating in front of people, to name a few.” — Alex Wickham

25. “Death.” — Rosana Vargas

26. “Helicopters and going to the gym.” — Jennifer Russell

27. “Trying to make too many people happy at once.” — Mia Pajene

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 For more resources on anxiety disorders, or for more information about getting help, visit Mental Health America.

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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My M & M Method for Easing My Anxiety

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Anxiety has plagued me ever since I was a teenager. All of my anxiety centered on public speaking at that time. At one point, I ended up in the emergency room because my heart was hammering out of my chest and it wouldn’t stop. Knowing I was getting “help” eventually calmed me down. Looking back on this event, I think that was my first anxiety attack.

I sought counseling to rid myself of my anxiety. I felt comfortable with the first therapist, but my insurance no longer covered her services so I had to find another one. Unfortunately the second therapist didn’t help my anxiety at all. I came away from her appointments feeling worse than when I went in. Needless to say, I ended those sessions and continued to struggle with my anxiety. I tried a self-help program I’d seen advertised on TV, but despite all of their success stories, I was not one of them.

As I’ve gotten older, my anxiety has spilled over from public speaking to any speaking situation in general or any situation where I feel uncomfortable. Anytime I have all eyes on me, my breathing becomes labored, my chest tightens like a vice and my heart drums out a beat in my chest.

I used to think I’d have to live the rest of my life like this, but being diagnosed with fibromyalgia led me to research natural health, and I stumbled upon books, websites and podcasts that discussed anxiety and depression along with my condition. These resources talked about how diet, lifestyle, hormone imbalances and gut imbalances can sometimes play a role in anxiety.

Two of the things that have really helped with my anxiety are magnesium and meditation. People don’t often get enough magnesium because of the diets they eat and because the soil used to grow foods isn’t as mineral-rich as once was. I’ve used magnesium oil and magnesium drops. [Ed. note: Consult your doctor before adding any new supplement to your diet.] You can learn the status of your magnesium levels by asking your doctor for a test.

While magnesium helps with my own physical symptoms of anxiety, meditation helps with its mental aspects. I’m an introvert, and when you’re an introvert, you tend to be a deep thinker. But all that thinking gets you into trouble when you’re stuck on a thought and you keep thinking and thinking about it until you become anxious.  My trains of thought are regrets from my past, financial struggles and fear about the future given my current situation.

Meditation has really helped me focus on the present moment. I’ve tried three types of meditation — breathing meditation, mantra meditation and mindful meditation — and I like all three. For a beginner, I’d suggest getting a DVD. Breathing meditation and mindful meditation can be done at home and in public. One good breathing meditation is the 4-7-8. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of 7 and exhale through your nose for a count of 8. I prefer to do mantra mediation (saying mantras like “Sat Nam” and “Om”) at home. With mindful meditation, you get out of your head and focus on what you’re doing at the moment, using as many of your senses as you can. It takes practice, but it’s definitely worth it.

I’d be lying if I said all of my anxiety has faded away. Unfortunately I am dealing with a hormonal imbalance, adrenal fatigue, which increases my anxiety. Once I’m able to rid myself of that, I am hopeful my anxiety will be a thing of the past.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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