No, Being Stressed Isn't the Same as Having Anxiety

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All I needed was some cough drops.

Allergy season in Alabama is no joke, especially for someone working in a call center all day. And allergy problems in my family are no joke. We keep the Sudafed and Claritin folks in business twice a year. Around the exterior of my house, everything is covered in an all-familiar yellow devil dust. I hate pollen.

I told my boss I would be right back and left work on my lunch break with plenty of time to run to the gas station around the corner. While I was there, I figured it was a good time to fill up the gas tank, considering I was below “E.” I pulled up to the pump, got out, swiped my debit card and the message of death appeared on the screen, “See Cashier.” So inconvenient.

I headed inside, picked up those menthol cough drops I so desperately needed, and headed to the cashier. I explained the situation, told her I had already checked the banking app on my phone and there was no reason for it to be declined. I swiped it again and entered the PIN. Declined. “Try credit,” she said. Declined again.

My frustration was boiling, but in my gut, I knew I must have been hacked. I called the bank and of course, “Please continue to hold. We value your patience. Someone will be with you in 15-20 minutes.”

The bank is about two miles away, but I had to have some answers… and some money. Long story short, I was right. Hacked for the second time since October. There’s not much in life that is a bigger inconvenience. Plus, I hate that feeling of being violated.

These are the days when it’s most difficult to extend grace. When I’m driving back to work, tight-chested, stressed to the max and hungry. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time for a midday meal and low blood sugar is my worst enemy.

But this is stress. This is not anxiety.

I didn’t need to take a Xanax. I wasn’t feeling tight shoulders or shallow breaths. I was just stressed. Not to mention hungry and a little pissed. This is normal life. This kind of thing happens to all of us sometimes. Things don’t go as planned and we hit a pothole. Everyone has had a flat tire or an overheated car on the way to an important meeting. But that’s not anxiety.

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Anxiety doesn’t only hit on the side of the road. Sometimes it strikes during happy hour with your friends or at the exact moment your co-workers are laughing at an apparently hilarious joke. Anxiety is  crying in your car after dropping off the kids at school or knowing what it feels like to cry in the shower so no one hears your sobs.

Living with anxiety means secretly rejoicing when other people have their own problems to talk about, so you don’t have to share your own. You hide, silently isolated, pretending to care about the struggles of the whole damn world, as long as you can remain anonymous in your own suffering. It means you sometimes smile at a friend, wishing they knew you were dying on the inside, and equally thankful they are unaware.

For someone living with anxiety, it is a daily battle just to change out of your pajamas, stand at the front door, peer out the window and wait for just the right moment when no one else is in sight, so you can make the trek to the mailbox and not have to interact with another human being.

Living with anxiety means living with the constant fear that you’ll feel this way for the rest of your life. It means you look in the mirror, and as bad as you want others to see you as a person, all you can see is your own misery. Your diminished self-worth is based on the fact that you not only feel crazy, but you believe you are crazy.

Living with anxiety is stressful. People who know your diagnosis ask how you’re doing and you nearly have a panic attack because you don’t know how to adequately explain something you don’t even understand yourself. It’s exhausting fighting with your own head.

Living with anxiety is one of the most courageous things a person can do. Your mind writes a story that would make any “normal” person weep, but you live with it every moment of every day, because you know the only other alternative is a far less-happy ending.

Stress tends to be more temporary and can often be used as a motivator. While anxiety, with its paralyzing lies and pressures, is a smothering blanket. It’s important to know the difference between stress and anxiety because it helps know how to best care for ourselves, when to ask for help and how to spread further awareness to fight the stigma of mental illness.

While we may not be able to prevent stress or anxiety from showing up at inopportune times, a great place to start is by taking a deep breath and remembering we don’t have to have it all together all the time. Or even some of the time. The best thing we can do is live honestly with ourselves and give others the space to do the same.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way.

Follow this journey on I Am Steve Austin. Click here to sign up for his free self-care e-book.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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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What Happens When We Hide Our Anxiety

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Anxiety. At some stage in your life you will face it. A first date, a public speech or the first day at your new job. For the lucky ones, you’ll get nervous, do whatever it is that is making you nervous and then go back to your usual self. And that makes me incredibly envious.

For the unlucky ones like me, anxiety controls us. It manipulates our thoughts and pushes us further and further into solitude, until it’s hard to see the light.

You feel weak because you can’t do something that others think is a piece of cake. You begin to feel like a burden to everyone, friends, family and partners.

Your keep bailing on plans with friends because of your anxiety (I did this constantly) and they begin to pull away and stop asking. For some reason this makes you happy — briefly, but it does. You don’t have to panic about doing something wrong or embarrassing yourself, and that gives you relief — but believe me, it’s only temporary.

The stigma around having a mental health issue causes a lot of people to hide it. We mask our pain and are very good at doing so, that’s why a lot of the time when you find out someone has anxiety or depression it comes as a surprise.

I hid my problems from everyone. My parents were the only ones who knew, and I’m lucky they were so supportive. All throughout high school I never told any of my friends, and they never asked. There were times when I considered telling some of my close friends but I thought they would never understand. They never seemed to be going through any of these problems themselves, so I went through high school pretending. Hiding until it would be over.

Suicide is something a lot of people with mental health problems have contemplated. Dying seems easy when you’re in that mindset, and living seems hard. Sometimes we think the easiest solution is to make it all end. Permanently. If I didn’t have such a beautiful family supporting me, I could easily see myself going down that same path many others unfortunately have. Just trying to survive was difficult, but my support system helped me realize something that ended up helping me the most:

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The more you hide your disease the more the disease wins.

You didn’t ask for it and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, but it’s there. It’s going to be there for a while and that really sucks. I know this because I have both anxiety and depression disorders. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked “Why me? Did I do something wrong? Is this karma?” I can’t tell you why it happens to the people it does. But we, the ones that survive, you won’t find anyone tougher.

We are all unique human beings. Not one the exact same as another. Our joys are different, our happiness differs from others and our grief takes different forms, just as our anxieties and fears are different from one another.

So if I can end this post with one thing it’s just to remember that. Don’t judge people based on their anxieties. Help them, support them, and you will get to know the person they are without fear.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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Amber Smith Shares Before and After Photos to Show Reality of Her Panic Attacks

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Amber Smith experiences anxiety that sometimes leads to panic attacks — but from her social media identity, you wouldn’t know that.

On Sunday, Smith, from Rugby, England, shared a “typical” Facebook photo — a “filters galore” selfie where she’s wearing makeup and dressed to go out. “The ‘normal’ side of me,” she wrote. Underneath, she shared a photo taken shortly after having a panic attack. “Also the ‘normal’ side to me that most people don’t see…”

In the post that’s since been shared more than 2,000 times, Smith explains the stigma of an invisible condition and how people assume because she’s young and “looks fine,” she can’t possibly experience severe anxiety.

“To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence,” she wrote. “There is so much support around – Don’t be scared to ask for help.”

 

You can read the full text from her post below. Editor’s note: This contains explicit language:

God knows why I’m doing this, but people need some home truths..

Top picture: What I showcase to the world via social media. Dressed up, make up done, filters galore. The ‘normal’ side to me.

Bottom picture: Taken tonight shortly after suffering from a panic attack because of my anxiety. Also the ‘normal’ side to me that most people don’t see.

I’m so sick of the fact that it’s 2016 and there is still so much stigma around mental health. It disgusts me that so many people are so uneducated and judgemental over the topic. They say that 1 in 3 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their life. 1 in 3! Do you know how many people that equates to worldwide?! And yet I’ve been battling with anxiety and depression for years and years and there’s still people that make comments like ‘you’ll get over it’, ‘you don’t need tablets, just be happier’, ‘you’re too young to suffer with that’

F*CK YOU. F*ck all of you small minded people that think that because I physically look ‘fine’ that I’m not battling a monster inside my head every single day.

Someone actually said this to me one day ‘aren’t you too young to be suffering with anxiety and depression? What do you actually have to be depressed about at your age?’ Wow, just wow.

I’m a strong person, I’ve been through my fair share of crap in life (the same as anyone else) and I will be okay. I have the best family and friends around me and I am thankful everyday that they have the patience to help and support me.

To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence. There is so much support around – Don’t be scared to ask for help.

This is why I can’t stress enough that it costs nothing to be nice to others. Don’t bully others, don’t put others down and the hardest one of them all (as we have all done it at some point) don’t judge another person. We’re all human regardless of age, race, religion, wealth, job. So build one another up instead of breaking each other down.

Peace & love guys ☮

EDIT: Please don’t be afraid to share this, there needs to be more awareness. The more awareness there is, the less people who will suffer in silence.

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A panic attack is the “abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Symptoms can include an accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, numbness, nausea and more. An estimated six million Americans have panic disorder, an anxiety disorder that causes spontaneous panic attacks with no obvious trigger, but even those without panic disorder can experience a panic attack, and for those who do, it’s a truly scary experience.

People experience panic attacks differently, so it’s important to ask a loved one experiencing one how you can best help them, rather than assume a course of action.

Related: What It’s Like to Have a Panic Attack, From 24 People Who’ve Been There

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The Inner Monologue of a Mom With Anxiety

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It’s 6:30 a.m. I stumble into my son’s room to wake him up. I rub his back as he awakes, and he tells me he feels bad: his stomach hurts, he has a headache. He complained of the same thing last night and yesterday morning.

“You’re just over-tired, sweetie, you haven’t been sleeping well,” I say out loud.

“He’s probably got leukemia and is going to die,” I say in my head, as my stomach contracts and twists. “You’ll probably have to take him out of state for treatment, and how are you going to pay the mortgage if you can’t work? You can’t even afford a plane ticket right now. You’re such a poor money manager. You’ll have to borrow money from someone. Why can’t you stick to a budget? If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Ok, time to get up and get dressed,” I say out loud.

“He’ll probably be dead by Christmas,” I say in my head as my stomach gives several more twists. “How will you even function if he dies? You could just give the house back to the bank, and go live in your mom’s basement. But what about the dogs? She’s got cats and her backyard isn’t fenced, and how would I afford to get them there anyway? It’s 3,000 miles. I guess we could drive but then there is the cost of hotels and gas and food. And our passports are out of date so I’m not even sure we could get across the border. You’d better look at the budget when you get to work and figure out when we can spare $400 to renew those. You’d better get on that NOW, what if you have to rush back home if Mom gets sick?”

In the shower, I do the meditative breathing techniques and visualize my anxieties running down the drain, as my therapist has taught me. I consciously relax my muscles, and when the intrusive thoughts start up again, chiding me for hitting the snooze button too many times and insinuating I’ll be late and lose my job and lose the house, I address them directly:

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“Really? That’s all you’ve got this morning? We talked about this all yesterday, so you’ll have to do better than that,” I say out loud to myself.

“But seriously, you’re only a few paychecks away from losing it all,” I say in my head as I dry off. “And what if one of the dogs gets sick or eats something they shouldn’t and needs to go to the vet? Ferguson is 13! That’s old, he’s probably going to get sick and die soon and you won’t be able to afford the vet bill. You probably shouldn’t even have pets, since you are so irresponsible. If you tried to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter right now they would consider you a bad candidate. If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Again with that?” I say out loud to myself. “Stop!”

Yelling at my anxiety usually quiets it down for a while so I can finish the morning routine of making lunches, feeding dogs and getting ready for work. But it also feels pretty silly, especially when my son knocks on the bathroom door to ask who I am talking to.

I tell him: “The mean voices in my head.”

I am as honest as I can be with my son about my anxiety disorder — without scaring him. I try to normalize mental illness as much as possible in our house, being open with him about the challenges and thanking him for being supportive. It helps if he knows when Mom might be edgy or distracted or (and I cringe at this), might be more likely to snap at him. I want him to understand my condition. He lives with it, too, and, given his DNA, there’s a good chance he will struggle with anxiety or depression — or both — at some point during his life.

As I collect my bag and coat and hit the remote start on my keychain, the thoughts start up again:

“The car felt a bit funny when I braked yesterday. Is the alignment off? You should probably have it checked, or you could over-correct on ice and skid off the road. Then you’d be late for work and the car would be wrecked, and you’d have to get a new one and who is going to loan you money, you loser. That’s OK, you’ll probably have to leave work early to pick up your sick kid who shouldn’t even be going to school, and that will irritate your boss and you’ll get written up and they will see how useless you really are. You shouldn’t have even had a child. You’re passing this on to him and sentencing him to a life with nasty voices in his head too. Is this stomachache a sign of early anxiety? He was complaining his leg was sore last night. Is he growing? Great, how will I afford new pants and shoes again so soon? Or did he play really hard at school yesterday? Or is it bone cancer?”

“Get your coat on, sweetie, it’s time to go,” I say out loud.

And the three of us – me, my son and my anxiety disorder not otherwise specified – step outside, to start another day navigating the world with a chorus of doom on repeating loop in my head.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. 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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22 Phrases for When Your Child's Anxiety Is Making You Anxious

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As parents, we have a natural tendency to reach out to our children when they are anxious, scared or stressed. What none of us can anticipate is how our children’s anxiety can make us feel anxious, helpless, hopeless, angry or desperate. The next time your child is ridden with anxiety, repeat any of these phrases. You will be surprised that your child will likely mirror your reaction.

1. “This too shall pass.”

Like all emotions, anxiety will pass. Our bodies cannot physiologically maintain the heightened level of awareness caused by anxiety for very long. Chances are that waiting 10 to 15 minutes will result in a change in anxiety levels.

2. “Anxiety serves a purpose.”

Oftentimes we treat anxiety like there is something wrong with our child. In fact, anxiety serves an important biological function to keep us safe. Teaching your child to differentiate between anxiety that will help and anxiety that will hinder her/him is a valuable life skill.

3. “Breathe.”

Deep breathing actually reverses the body’s stress response. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths. Taking three conscious, deep breaths will alleviate much of our anxiety.

4. “We are on the same team.”

Have you ever watched two basketball players going for a rebound, fighting each other tooth and nail, only to realize they are on the same team? Remember, you and your child are on the same team and have the same goals.

5. “I am my child’s guide.”

Remind yourself that your role is not to control the challenges your child will face but rather to be her/his guide through the experiences.

6. “Observe. Observe. Observe.”

Instead of “doing something,” simply observe what is happening like an outsider. See if there are commonalities in your observations. By identifying triggers, you can help your child cope with them, thereby limiting your own sense of helplessness.

7. “The only way to get across this swift, deep river is to go through it.”

Allow your own feelings, even if they are dark, to arise and pass. If this experience is like a river, it means there is also a riverbank waiting for you.

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8. “Stick to the routine.”

Anxious children thrive on predictability. You may not be able to do anything about the trigger, but you can reinforce the routine. Bedtime, family rituals and morning routines center our children, better preparing them for the outside world.

9. “Meditate.”

At our darkest moments, hope is rekindled simply by taking the time to be still and focus on our breath for a few moments.

10. “Help is available.”

Hopelessness usually means you have exhausted your ability to deal with your child’s anxiety. Having another set of eyes on the situation may make all the difference in the world. Whether a professional counselor, a relative or another trusted adult, turn to those in your child’s circle for help.

11. “My child’s anxiety is not a reflection of my parenting.”

Stop questioning whether you should or could have done something differently with your child. Focus rather on what you can do as their guide through their challenges.

12. “What would make my child laugh right now?”

Whether it’s a funny noise, a silly story or singing the wrong words to a favorite song, laughter is the fastest way to make you both feel better.

13. “I’m going to take a break.”

It’s OK to take five minutes of quiet time or put yourself in a place to reconnect with yourself when you are feeling angry. Not only are you modeling appropriate behavior, but you also have a chance to take a few breaths and remind yourself of a few of these phrases.

14. “I love you. I’m here for you.”

Your children will experience stress they cannot control. They will receive an injection, perform in front of an audience and face challenges. Reminding them you love them and are here for them is reassuring, not just for them but for you as well.

15. “In this moment, right now, what can I do to reboot my well-being?”

Some days it will be getting ice cream; others it will be going for a run. Whatever it is, make a long list for yourself that you can reference when you need it.

16. “She/he does not know how to deal with this.”

Frustration over our children’s anxiety can sometimes stem from forgetting they are trying to learn how to navigate a world of unknowns. Regardless whether their fear is rational, or of how many times you have been through this, ask yourself how you can be their guide.

17. “I am on a beach.”

There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak.

18. “I am the adult.” 

Simply remind yourself you are the adult; you have the power to remain calm and provide heart-centered advice to de-escalate an anxious situation.

19. “My job is to help my child become a functioning adult.”

When you put it into perspective, you must teach your child how to acknowledge, reduce and wade through anxiety if she/he is to be a functioning adult. Suddenly, when your anxious child is crying about going to school, you can approach the problem as just that —a problem to be solved.

20. “I have control over my reaction.”

Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Govern your feelings, control your reactions and then help your child learn to do the same. You can teach your child the art of emotional self-regulation by modeling it.

21. “Progress is never linear.” 

Coping with anxiety is not a linear process. It takes time and practice for you and your child. Don’t assume you are at square one when you experience a setback.

22. “I’m doing the best I can.”

In this moment, with the tools you have, you are doing the very best you can. Some days your reaction to your child’s anxiety may be cool, calm, collected, empathetic and thoughtful — on other days, perhaps not as much. We are all a work in progress, and you are doing the best you can.

Read more from this author at GoZen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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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The 4 Words I Tell Myself as the Mother of a Child With an Anxiety Disorder

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As an illness, I think anxiety walks a fine line between a condition one may deal with forever and one that can conceivably be “fixed,” or at least that’s what was stuck in my mind after we learned my daughter had an anxiety condition known as selective mutism.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s the lowdown: Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder that manifests in certain social settings where a child is completely unable to speak or communicate. Children with this condition generally speak comfortably in familiar settings and with familiar people, but then completely “freeze” and experience intense anxiety in settings outside their comfort zone.

In the case of my daughter, she’s able to speak (and act) freely in our home and in the homes of several friends and family members, but she hasn’t spoken in school in more than a year. Of course, this presents all sorts of challenges for her, including not being able to ask to go to the bathroom (this has led to bladder issues), not being able to participate in any activity requiring speech and subsequent social struggles.

She has made small improvements, but her biggest  challenge continues to be talking to adults, particularly in the school environment. This is fairly typical of her condition, but every case will present slightly differently.

My daughter’s condition first came to our attention when she started preschool, and my notion was that she was just shy and would speak “normally” once she had had a few weeks to warm up to the school thing.

I’ll spare you the details, but we tried all sorts of things to coax her into speaking at school, particularly to her teachers. However, everything we did just seemed to make it worse. As a parent, I grew more and more desperate for her to just speak so she could just get on and enjoy school as I had envisioned she would. I became quietly obsessed with “fixing” the situation, drawing her out of her shyness, thinking if I just said or did or bribed or encouraged or coaxed her in just the right way that I would draw her out of her funk.

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This time wasn’t a highlight in our relationship, and that’s why I’m exceedingly thankful for a phone call I got from a school counselor who would forever change how I approached this issue with my daughter.

She called from school one Monday afternoon to discuss selective mutism and the best strategies to deal with it (specifically not bribing, coaxing or pressuring my daughter). The conversation was strictly professional, but then it strayed and she ended up tearfully telling me about her own daughter who had struggled with anxiety. “I wish we had just enjoyed her more,” she said. These words stuck with me.

I remember one time going to a birthday party with my daughter — one of those ad nauseum princess-themed parties with princess cupcakes, princess decorations, princess music, princess costumes. In short, a 5-year-old version of paradise! At one point, real live Princesses Anna and Elsa showed up for a photo op that I would never forget. The group of girls swooned while my daughter froze and turned beet red while tears welled up in her wide eyes. I all but dragged her into the group shot with the princesses.

Later, I tearfully relayed this story to my husband as I showed him the picture I had dutifully taken “It was like she was watching her dream come true, but she couldn’t participate,” I said. To me, her face was the very picture of her anxiety condition.

Later at bedtime, as is our family custom, I asked my kids what the highlight of their day was. “Meeting the princesses!” she said without a moment’s hesitation and with every ounce of enthusiasm you’d expect from a little girl who’d just met their childhood idol.

Just enjoy her more, I had to remind myself.

Later that week, my daughter ran into the house after school, pulled a princes envelope out of her backpack and ripped it open in excited haste. “Look mommy! Me and the princesses!” she said. In her hands, she proudly held the picture, the same picture I actually shed tears over just a few days earlier.

“How cool is that Genevieve!” I said as I proudly stuck the picture front and center on our fridge. Just enjoy her more, the words came back to me. As is often the case, my daughter was way ahead of me on that one.

I’m thankful to be past the point on this journey where I’m waiting on some “fix” so I can start enjoying my daughter. To that end, one might always be waiting on something or other. There is joy every single day in that little girl’s life, and no one knows that better than her.

It seems ridiculous to me now I was missing out and sobering to consider my attitude may have been influencing her otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes by that I don’t wish her challenges would just vaporize, but in the meantime, there is no shortage of things to celebrate. So, wherever this finds you on your parenting journey, let this be your reminder to just enjoy your little people more.

Follow this journey on The Sisters Cafe.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? 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.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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