When Managing Anxiety Starts With Your Hands

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I learned how to knit when I was 12 years old. A family friend brought over a ball of yarn and some needles as a gift, and I went wild. I learned knitting and purling in alternate rows made the stockinette stitch. I even learned how to rib. Eventually, I moved on from “flat projects” and taught myself to make hats. At that point, I hadn’t yet labeled my constant need for control over the shifting elements in my life as anxiety. But regardless, knitting provided me with a productive way to relax. I would sit back, churn out stitch after stitch and somehow make it to the next day. 

When I moved across the country for college, I was unprepared for the transition. Thrust into a group of strangers in uncharted territory, I began to view the world around me as hostile. I felt stifled, in the sense that no amount of crying or rationalizing could take away the pain of this unwelcome adjustment. I blamed this onset of depression on my parents’ divorce, but really I just felt out of control in the new environment that college presented. I couldn’t mold myself into the simple, happy version of my personality I felt would be desirable to others. I couldn’t force others to understand my condition as anything different than self-centered, dramatic behavior. My anxiety welled up as the winter months of my freshman year approached.

Knitting was the only defense I had. 

When I knit, my main objective is to indulge in the repetitive motions, knowing they will eventually produce something complete and beautiful. It’s a simple interaction between my hands, the knitting needles and the yarn, and this allows my mind to tune out. Knitting becomes more and more therapeutic over time. When you’re first learning, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance until your muscles memorize the motions and everything clicks. Whether I’m watching television, on the train or talking to a friend, I can knit and know the anxious tension in my hands will be accounted for.

I’ve taught many people to knit over the years and now that my company AK Kerani is formally holding workshops for this purpose, I’m excited for the challenge. Teaching someone to navigate the first few loops can be a struggle, but my favorite part is to step back and watch as their rows progress. Even if it’s shaky, watching a new knitter set out on their first journey reminds me how flexible the human brain is and how it yearns for creative ways to implement energy. 

I grew up a serious musician and runner, turning to both activities every day for solace. I still use songwriting and running as ways to release my anxious tension into something productive. However, knitting has that extra element of producing a tangible substance that can be felt and worn. I can remember the less than healthy state I might have been in when I made a given infinity scarf, but if I wear it with pride in the days that follow, I’m proudly representing my ability to overcome. 

My journey with knitting has been somewhat unexpected in terms of its importance in my daily life. I always thought I’d be a writer, a musician or even a business person generally involved with the media.  I never expected I would base my entrepreneurial dreams around knitting. But I’m glad I have. Knitting is a personal creative outlet for me and it’s the main activity I look forward to engaging in at the end of a long day. Moreover, it gives me a tangible way to advocate for my mental health and those of others. I’ve learned people are interested in their mental health and ways they can maintain it. Curiosity is the beginning of a universal fight against stigma that we can perpetuate by offering solutions to daily anxiety, as well as the negative energy that can overtake us during the rougher times.

I believe creative outlets in general are a large part of pursuing a healthy mindset. If you work on creating something every day, you may not always reach your ideal mental state, but you did accomplish something. The little victories towards our mental health we make each day serve to fight the overall feeling of hopelessness that depression and anxiety rely on to grow. I am not finished fighting to understand and defeat my anxiety. And as I struggle with being physically far from those I love, losing friends who are near and maintaining the high level of energy I need to stride through my day, I often do feel thoughts of helplessness beginning to well up.

But equipped with my knitting, I know I will continue to get closer to my goals and more aware of my limits, if I simply allow myself to progress one stitch at a time.

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17 Texts People With Social Anxiety Would Love to Get After Canceling Plans

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For people with social anxiety, getting invited to a party or even a simple get together isn’t as simple as, “Let me check my calendar.” Social anxiety is an extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others, and when someone with this kind of anxiety disorder “flakes” on a plan, it’s not because they don’t care about their friends — there’s probably something more going on.

We asked people in our community who live with social anxiety to tell us one text they’d love to receive after canceling plans — because the last thing someone with social anxiety needs is more guilt.

If you have friends with social anxiety, here’s what they might need to hear:

1.

"I understand, and I'm not angry. We'll try again if you're feeling up to it."

2.

No problem! Please let me know when you are able to hang out. Is it OK to keep inviting you to events? I want to make sure you're in the loop!

3.

Take all the time you need. 4. 

That's totally fine. If you think you need to talk things through, just text.

 

5. 

Would you like to do something one-on-one?

 

6. 

I understand and I don't hold it against you.

7.

We'll miss you! Don't feel bad about canceling. We will always keep inviting you.

8.  No problem! I'll take a rain check.

9.  I'm always here if you need me. Alright, talk to you soon!

10.

I may not understand your anxiety, but I do understand it's difficult for you, and I appreciate that you're taking care of yourself..

11.

Don't worry, we'll find something fun to do that works for you.

12.

It's OK. It's not your fault and I completely understand. Stay strong.

 

13.

I will miss you, but I totally understand. Take care of yourself.

 

14.

What can we do instead that won't be too overwhelming?

15.

I'm so glad you're doing what you need to do to take care of yourself!

16.

I'm here for you whenever to do whatever.

17. 

I could just come over and hang out if that makes you feel more comfortable. Please let me know how I can help.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

 

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21 Secrets of People Who Live With Social Anxiety

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When the 15 million American adults who live with social anxiety disorder face social situations, they’re overcoming more than shyness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is an extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others — a fear that can interfere significantly with a person’s life.

Just because someone has social anxiety doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. We asked people in our community who live with social anxiety to tell us one thing they want others to know.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I can’t help it, nor do I want this. It’s not just a little nervousness here and there. It’s constant stress, worry and living in a world you don’t even recognize.”

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2. “I lack confidence in my ability to speak correctly. There are times when I want to say something, but I hold back because I’m afraid of sounding silly or not being understood. I tend to be afraid of making phone calls, approaching people, speaking in a group, being put on the spot, checking out at the store, ordering at a restaurant, job interviews and so on. This doesn’t make me childish or crazy. I have anxiety, and sometimes it gets the best of me. Please understand, and never laugh or make fun of me. It only makes things worse.”

3. “When I finally get the courage to speak, I’m terrified of your reaction. Please be kind.”

4. “My social anxiety is not a constant. One situation may cause me anxiety on a certain day, but won’t on the next. It’s a fluid thing.”

5. “I wish they could see the inner turmoil I’m actually going through at that time. Just because you don’t see physical symptoms doesn’t mean everything is OK. For families and friends of people with mental illness, please take the time to do as much research as possible, it can help you better understand what your loved one is going through.

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6. “I really love people. I always see the best in them. I wish when I was around people I didn’t feel like I was dying on the inside. There’s nothing more lonely in the world than anxiety and irrational fear preventing you from spending time with other people.”

7. “I’m aware how ridiculous I’m being, but I still can’t help it.”

8. “Social anxiety covers a lot of different fears and behaviors. It’s not always about being afraid of crowds or people. Sometimes it’s feeling alone in a room full of people. For me, it’s wanting to stay home because I fear going out and having people see me breakdown or be sad. I’m afraid to show them that imperfection and to me, staying home feels safe, and at the same time incredibly lonely.

9. “Don’t take my anxiety personally. Just accept it and help me out.”

10. “I’m not anti-social. I wish I had a social life, but my anxiety won’t let me.”

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11. “If it looks like I’m zoning out, that’s me breathing and practicing self-talk so I don’t go into a full on panic attack.”

12. “I want to talk to people, but the more pressure I’m under to interact, the worse the anxiety becomes.”

13. “I’m not trying to come across as rude, snobby or standoffish just because I don’t want to talk or to give hugs to a ton of people in succession. I get overwhelmed and overstimulated extremely easily. Please respect that.”

14. “I wish you would break the ice and talk to me first. I’m really a nice person, I just have this intense fear I cant control.”

15. “I wish people understood ‘I can’t come’ means it really feels impossible, not just ‘I don’t feel like it.’”

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16. “I don’t mean to cancel plans at the last minute. Sometimes I just can’t do it.”

17. “When I’m quiet, I probably have something I really want to say. It’s not that I’m stuck up, I’m just too nervous to say what’s on my mind. If you would talk to me first, it would be a lot easier.”

18. “When I leave an event early, I’m not being rude or disrespectful. I just need alone time so I don’t have a meltdown.”

19. “I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s not easy living in my brain.”

20. “Sometimes it literally feels like everyone else is using up all the air and I’m suffocating. Just ‘take a deep breath and relax’ isn’t always gonna cut it.”

21. “Saying social anxiety is just ‘shyness’ is like comparing a stab wound to a paper cut.”

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Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

Do you experience social anxiety? What do you wish others understood about your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

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What I Didn’t Expect to Happen When I Wrote to My Mental Illness

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Tears threatened to well as I pounded out words on the keyboard. It felt as if deep-rooted rage was being expelled through my fingertips. My soul was damaged and I desperately tried to make sense of it.

I was writing to a constant companion, but not a friend. It was a letter to my mental illness — anxiety.

Both my daughter and I have suffered panic attacks. We’re now nearly panic-free and neither of us has had a full-blown episode in years. So it surprised me how angry I still was.

Dear Anxiety,

When I first met you, I was just a child. You terrorized me with panic attacks and wouldn’t leave me alone. It was bad enough you entered my life. It was much worse when you visited my 9-year-old daughter. Picking on children. How dare you?

I think you got pleasure out of watching, as you overwhelmed us with the horrifying symptoms of panic.

Did you think it was funny to see our hands tremble and our bodies sweat, drenched in fear?

Did you get enjoyment out of making our hearts beat so hard and fast, it felt like they’d jump out of our chests?

Were you pleased when my doctor told me I had agoraphobia?

Did you laugh when I had to pull over to the side of the road because my vision was
blacking out?

You probably thought it was hilarious when I nearly had to run out of a store because I couldn’t stop my racing heart and dizziness. Didn’t you?

Were you happy when my daughter had to miss three weeks of fourth grade because she was petrified she’d have a panic attack?

Did you want her friends to know how ashamed she was to be different?

Was it fun to see my little girl cry when she couldn’t make herself walk into the classroom, in fear of you?

What about when you saw me cry because I knew how terrified my daughter was?

You always wanted to be in control. And you were.

But not anymore!

I’m sure you were unhappy when I reached out for medical help after 20 years of dealing with you.

I bet you were angry when I recognized my daughter’s symptoms and took her to the doctor.

I’m sure you weren’t thrilled when our medication worked. I wasn’t afraid to drive anymore. Or go to the grocery store, the mall or the movies. My little girl went back to school. She was able to play basketball, be with her friends, and even go to sleepovers.

We learned how to get rid of you. Our doctors helped us develop ways to control you. We’re healthy and happy now. Our lives are full and productive.

We’re braver than you give us credit for. 

Anxiety, thank you for empowering us.

We know we’re strong.

If we fought you off, we can do anything.

Writing this letter had a strong effect on me, releasing a tidal wave of hurt and resentment I didn’t even realize was there. But what I didn’t expect it to be was therapeutic.

Portions of this story were previously published on the blog Letters to the Mind.

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To My Past Self, Who Feels Alone in Social Anxiety

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My battle with severe anxiety and social phobia has been a long-term issue. In fact, I’ve suffered from some version of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder since I was 8 years old. No one seemed to understand why a child so young could experience so much anxiety. That lack of understanding is why I’m writing this blog.

I’m hoping to reach a younger me…or maybe I’m just writing to myself. I’m not sure yet, but over the years, I’ve learned a little bit of uncertainty is OK. But that price of wisdom has not come easy.

Today, I’m reaching out to the girl on the school bus, the girl who hangs her head, crosses her arms and hopes and prays nobody will speak to her on the ride home. You’ll soon meet your best friend, one who’ll stick with you through it all, and she will change your life. She becomes the confidant you’ve always needed, the peanut butter to your jelly; she’s just as “strange” as you think you are, and she’s here to stay. (Remind me to thank her for that!)

I’m speaking to the 12-year-old who wept so hard at night because all she wanted more than anything was to stop being too afraid to join the soccer team. To you I say, soccer games happen wherever there is grass, play your heart out!

I speak to the 16-year-old who has run away from home, and feels she has no one to turn to To you I say, please take a walk, sit by some water and listen to the birds. This will help you realize, no matter what, the Earth is always listening. Scream your heart out, throw rocks in the ocean and rock out to your favorite song. You can and will get through this.

It can be so frustrating living in a world that at times seems to cast you away as the outcast, but you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Please, take your time. I, of all people, know new situations can be terrifying.

Yes, I speak to you.

And I carry an important message…

There really are people in this world who understand what you’re up against. They see and understand the demons you’re facing, and although it seems impossible for you to ask for a helping hand, you’ll soon find it’s OK.

The days will get easier as you get older (even though you’ll never believe this now). You’ve learned some coping skills over the years, and of vast importance, you’ve learned to give yourself a break. For all the reasons you could’ve given up — the abuse, the fear, the shame — you’re still standing. And there’s a reason for that. You are a tough cookie and you’re pretty amazing. Today can be your best day ever. Just put one foot in front of the other, and the rest will fall into place. Breathe, drink some tea and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You Have to Call Out of Work Because of Your Anxiety

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I work in a 24-hour residential treatment facility, which means I am a required employee and must try to get to work and possibly stay mandatory overtime even when State of Emergencies are put in place by government officials. When Winter Storm Jonas blew through, I was working my 3-11 p.m. shift, and I already knew I would be spending the night.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and as simple and down-played as I can make it, I’m a worrier. I have come to accept it and understand the impact it will have on my day-to-day life. Because of this, I went to my supervisor as soon as I clocked in and asked how likely it would be that I’d be spending the night. She replied by asking if I would be willing to work overnight. I agreed and gave myself the next eight hours to prep my mind for being at work overnight. For the first time. In a blizzard.

It wasn’t easy, but by the time 11 p.m. rolled around, I was actually kind of excited for this new little venture. I had gone over every possible detail I could think of, and I was confident going into the overnight knowing I would be working with a fellow 3-11 shift co-worker who was also going to be stuck at work through the blizzard.

The night went incredibly smoothly. Probably because I was so prepared (anxiety will do that to you). It wasn’t until around 5 a.m. that I started to feel the internal unrest from being awake for so long. I clocked out over two hours late, but I was determined, and I made it home so I could sleep for a few sweet hours in my own bed before heading back to work.

I woke up just after 1 p.m. I was surprisingly refreshed — until I stood up. The world began to spin. I had to call out of work. 

Thoughts begin to race in my head:

This was not part of my blizzard weekend plans. The plan was not to call out of work. The plan was to be a reliable employee. The plan was to be a liked employee. The plan was to not get fired. I’m going to get fired. No one is going to be there to work because of the storm. They’re going to hate me. I’m going to get fired. This was not part of my blizzard weekend plans!

This type of anxiety “spiral” is typical for me, and believe me, it’s frustrating — sometimes even debilitating. But it isn’t my first spiral, and it certainly won’t be my last. As a young adult just entering the workforce, I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that I’m allowed to miss work for my health (the spinning was actually a case of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) caused by a pre-existing neurological condition, and I missed three more days of work), and that I won’t be fired or disliked by my co-workers for doing so.

To some, my anxiety may seem unwarranted. But for me, facing and conquering my anxieties is important in order for me to grow as a co-worker, friend, wife and all-around person. As frustrating and unplanned as it was, I wouldn’t change my blizzard weekend, because I am a better, more understanding person because of it.  

Do you have a story about your experience with disability or disease? Maybe a moment that made a big impact on you? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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