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5 Ways Anxiety Is Worse Than You Think

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I think, on some level, I have always experienced minor anxiety. However, due to a bout of unfortunate circumstances, I ended up with clinical depression and a severe anxiety disorder. Anxiety, on any level, is not an easy cross to bear. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it on a minor level, too.

Maybe you experience something like confronting your crush. Your heart was on fire, waiting for his response. Perhaps, you experience anxiety while preparing for an exam you aren’t sure you can pass or maybe when you went for your driver’s license. You knew you could drive well, but the moment someone said “test,” your palms started sweating.

Anxiety plagues all of us at one point. For most people, it is fleeting and in minor doses. However for those like me, anxiety is neither fleeting nor minor. For those who don’t know much about anxiety, here are five ways anxiety is worse than you think.

1. Basic tasks are harder to complete.

For me, sometimes leaving the house is a struggle. For some reason, I’ve come to fear the grocery store. I don’t know why, but I find it hard, if not impossible. Instead, I have my groceries delivered. (Yay for the 21st century and first world problems!)

The only connection I can make to grocery shopping (in regards to my fear) is that once an ex-friend verbally attacked me while I was shopping. Despite no longer living in the same town as those people, it wasn’t the first time I was attacked while out in a public area. Perhaps I’ve developed a conditioned response to the grocery store. Regardless, seemingly simple, everyday tasks can be so much harder to perform than you may think.

Imagine the most anxiety-ridden moment you’ve ever faced. The clenching in your stomach as you fear the unknown. The increased heart rate that makes you feel as though your last breath is being stolen from your body. The overwhelming desire to be sick, to faint or both. That’s just the beginning of how it feels to complete some of the most basic everyday tasks when you have a severe anxiety disorder. Imagine feeling like that and worse every single day.

2. You want to be with friends while simultaneously wanting to be alone.

I can’t tell you how many times I want to go out with friends and be left alone at the same time — at the exact same time. I want my friends to come to my house because in my mind my house is “safe.” Yet, at the same time, I hate it because I can’t fudge some excuse about wanting to leave early when everything becomes too much. I get it. It’s confusing. Imagine how confusing it is for the people who actually feel this way and can’t understand why.

3. You wonder and fear if people don’t like you.

One of the biggest fears I have is that my anxiety will have a negative impact on my friendships. Like I said in “5 Ways Being Chronically Ill Is Worse Than You Think,” I’ve already lost people I assumed were good friends. Some of whom I loved dearly. As a result, I’m often scared to speak out.

What if I’m judged the way I was before? Will people view me differently? Will they judge me when they discover I struggle to go the store, let alone do anything else? Will I lose even more friends? I’ve had some amazing people stand by me. Some of the people who abandoned me surprised me just as much as those who stayed. Regardless, it makes you question everything and everyone. If you’re the person on the receiving end, try not to take it to heart. It’s the anxiety speaking, not necessarily the person.

4. Anxiety brings along panic attacks.

Panic attacks are very real and very serious. It’s important to remember panic attacks are different for everyone. Sometimes, I sit and cry, and I struggle to breathe so much I literally vomit. Sometimes, I stop talking. I make no sounds, no noises. I go blank. I can barely hear if someone is talking to me. I don’t respond. I go completely numb. Panic attacks are different for everyone and can strike at any time, for any reason.

5. People judge what they don’t understand.

People will judge you. Even the sincerest and most meaningful people will judge you at different times. Even if they’re incredibly supportive and try their hardest not to, people will judge you. It’s a harsh fact, but people tend to judge what they don’t understand.

This includes people who have anxiety or have had anxiety (more the latter than the former). When people overcome something as serious as an anxiety disorder, they sometimes have a desire to want to help by telling others how to overcome their anxiety (which, of course, is respectable and kind). Sometimes, however, during this process, they forget how hard it was themselves. They forget everyone is different.

The reason behind a person’s anxiety is different for everyone. Some people have reasons. Some people have triggers. Some people don’t. It’s important to understand even when you don’t actually understand, that overcoming anxiety isn’t easy. The process is different for everyone. For some, medication and/or therapy works. Others swear by a change in diet and exercise. For a few, nothing really seems to work. They have to take everything day by day.

If you’ve overcome your anxiety disorder, I’m incredibly happy for you. I’m also open to suggestions in regards to what helped you, but you also need to be open to the fact that what worked for a few doesn’t mean work for everyone. More importantly, if you don’t struggle with anxiety, try not to judge what you don’t understand.

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10 Things I Want Critical People to Understand About Anxiety

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1. Telling me to “stop worrying” doesn’t help.

I do not choose to worry — the worries follow me. I actively try not to worry and to think about good things, but sometimes, I can’t control it. I have to ride it out.

2. Talking about my feelings is not “stupid,” and going to therapy is not a waste of time.

I am a verbal processor. This means for me, talking about problems out loud and having someone listen is the best way to work through them. Going to therapy is actually a brave decision because I am making a proactive step to help myself even though I know I will get criticism for it, and even though that criticism is a huge source of anxiety in itself.

3. Sometimes the simplest things are the most anxiety-provoking.

For me, the trigger usually involves another person’s opinion, or the feeling that I disappointed another person or myself. You do not have to understand my triggers to acknowledge that they legitimately affect me. And I fight to overcome them.

4. Every day can be a battle.

I want to have a good day, but sometimes the bad feelings chase me. Until you walk my journey, don’t criticize my steps.

5. My mental health concerns are just as real as someone else’s physical health concerns.

A bad anxiety day can be debilitating. A panic attack can be extremely painful. I cannot “will myself” not to have anxiety. However, just like with any health concern, I can take steps to take care of myself, and that is a choice I make every day.

6. Anxiety is not “all in my head.”

Yes, it is a mental illness, but the brain is as much a physical part of the body as any other organ. Furthermore, anxiety affects other parts of my body as well. My body stays revved like the engine of a car that is not moving (Hahn, Payne, and Lucas, 2012). This causes muscle tension, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, and chronic fatigue. Sometimes, I am not in control of my body. Sometimes, I cannot relax. Sometimes I can relax, but it takes time and effort. Please be understanding of that.

7. Don’t take my anxiety personally.

If I don’t talk, show up to a social event or return a smile, it is not because I don’t like you. I just don’t have the energy. This tiredness is not because I am lazy or weak. My body is operating on overdrive much of the time, so the same tasks use twice as much energy, and my time alone is necessary for me to refuel.

8. If I have an anxiety attack, it is no one’s “fault.”

It is just my body’s reaction to certain triggers. I can usually think my way out of the attack and physically calm myself. But sometimes, I can’t, and I just have to allow myself to ride it out. Either way, please just give me the space to learn how to handle it, and avoid placing blame.

9. Criticism is not what a person needs when he is feeling anxious.

I may be strong enough to handle your criticism right now without letting it overwhelm me, but another person may not be. I may be strong enough to handle it right now, but another time, I may not be. Your words may really help, or they may really hurt, so please, choose wisely.

10. I am a person just like anyone else.

I have my strengths, and I have my struggles. My particular brand of struggle does not make me “less than” you in any way. I am not a scary person. I am not an anxious person. I am just a person figuring out where I belong in this world and how to work with the particular struggles I’ve been faced with. I’ll be understanding of yours; please be understanding of mine. Just like any other person, I need compassion, kindness, friendship, occasional hugs, and a few good laughs.

Citations: Hahn, D.B., Payne, W.A., & Lucas, E.B. Focus on Health (11 th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.

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To My Significant Other, Who's Learning My Anxiety as I Do the Same

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To my significant other:

The most important thing about my anxiety is I haven’t gotten used to it yet. Until I took a screening recently and realized the way I stress about things isn’t normal, I attributed my feelings to just being tired or overworked. After all, I’m a college student working, taking classes and participating in extracurriculars. Like most of my classmates, I have a lot to be stressed out about!

When I see my friends going through the same things, I’m not sure what’s irregular and what is just par for the college course. So it’s still hard for me to determine what is just me having a bad day, what really is too much to ask of me and what just feels like it is bad because of my anxiety.

For this reason, I am hesitant to say, “I won’t do ______ because of my anxiety” or “This feels _______ because of my anxiety.” I don’t want to feel helpless. I don’t want to blame things I struggle with on this different mindset I also struggle with. It could be easy because when you say the word “anxiety” or “mental illness” people tend to back off quickly. They feel worse pressuring you to do something when they know you have an actual impediment, rather than when they think you’re just being lazy or stubborn.

But I’m not ready to do that yet. So please, be patient with me. I want to prove to myself anxiety doesn’t stop me, even if it does slow me down a little. I want you to help prove that, too. It won’t always be easy. Sometimes, you’ll still have to order food for me, cover me while I walk to the bathroom or be a bubble of space in a large crowd. You’ll have to go into the store, talk at the drive-thru and answer the door. You’ll have to wait until I think the way you mimic my voice is cute, instead of making me self-conscious. You’ll have to answer my “dumb” questions and are you sure’s 20 times a day (although I will take eye-rolling as an acceptable answer). You will have to reassure me a lot. When I need any of these things and you provide them, afterward you’ll have to act like it never happened.

If I forget to take my medication, then I might cry all day or be irritable. If I adjust the dosage, then I might want to sleep all the time or I might be sick to my stomach for days. When I experience side effects, I have to make the choice between feeling like I’m not in control of my body or stopping medication and feeling like I’m not in control of my life. I have to decide if I want to preserve my energy and my sanity or be “organic” and have a clear, but constantly buzzing, mind. That is more difficult than any nausea or occasional insomnia.

When I yell at you, fall asleep when I promised to call or I’m too drained to talk when I come over, try to understand. When I get sick, don’t think it’s not real. If I’m emotional and logic fails to apply, then don’t brush it off. However, if I do minimize my feelings and tell you it’s just the anxiety, trust me. I do know myself. I’m still learning what’s normal and what isn’t, but if I’m crying over the Cheerio I dropped on the floor, we can safely say you don’t need to comfort me.

It can be a pain, but the greatest thing about managing my anxiety is even though symptoms or side effects take up much of my time, I feel much more capable in the time I have left. I can get all my homework done, make all the appointments, clean the house and more before I nap. I can go out with my friends and be present in that moment because I’m not tired or worried about little things that could happen, and I can spend time with you.

So if I’m choosing to do that, if I choose to spend my good moments on you and to come to you in the bad ones, know I really like you. Know I trust you. Know I’m so grateful for every way you support me and every day you make the best parts of life shine through this difficult, all-encompassing cloud called anxiety. Sometimes, I may not feel like I can do it alone. Sometimes, I may wish I could, but I will always be glad I don’t have to. Thank you.

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The Struggle to Explain the Anxiety I Don’t Understand

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Being misunderstood is exhausting, frustrating and sad. When I say misunderstood, I mean not only by others, but by yourself, too. As if it is not hard enough to try to explain to other people why you act the way you do, trying to figure it out within yourself is the real struggle. You feel like you are climbing a mountain with roller skates on your feet. You realize every step must be purposeful and strategic. No matter how careful you are, you fall back down to the bottom. Each time it is more painful, more heart breaking and more discouraging. You know it shouldn’t be this hard, but it is.

So, there you sit at the bottom of the mountain, looking, feeling ridiculous and wondering why all these people around you are able to scale the mountain. Not necessarily with complete ease, but they are getting there. You then look down at your feet and see the roller skates. You realize you have a hindrance, but try as you might, you cannot remove them.

The frustration of realizing no one else has this specific hindrance makes you feel like you shouldn’t have it either. The worst part is, people keep passing you by, telling you, “Just remove the skates.” They say it like it is easy. My response? “Well yes, of course that is the answer, but don’t you think I would have removed them already if I was able to do so?”

This is how it feels to have anxiety and not be able to explain it to others. For me, I cannot tell you why I am happy one moment and angry the next. I cannot tell you why I seem fine today, but tomorrow I feel like my world is crumbling. It’s like I wake up Sunday ready to face the day and conquer giants, and maybe I do!

Come Monday, the high I should have from successfully completing a day and conquering obstacles is like a far-away memory. Monday I feel like I am a failure. I have nothing to offer my friends and family because I see and feel the weight of my current situation. I remember my fear and I have no plan for tomorrow. I feel defeated.

So how can I explain it? This thing, this monster that consumes my identity? I cannot. I am still trying to figure it out myself. What I can do is love you. What doesn’t change is the love and compassion I feel for the people who are closest to me. This does not stop the dreams I have of one day being free from this bondage and successful in my life.

I am asking you to do something difficult, something I am not always sure I can do. I am asking you to be patient with me. Love me. Do not tell me to take the skates off, to stop worrying or to relax. Tell me you understand I am going through a hard time, even if you don’t understand the reason. Hold me. Give me a hug that says I am scaling this mountain with you, and I will catch you when you fall.

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When People Respond to My Anxiety With 'Just Think Positively'

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me “just think positively,” I would be rich. It reminds me there is still a lack of education regarding mental illness.

Having anxiety and being positive are not necessarily related. I am an extremely positive, glass-half-full, full-of-zest-and-life kind of person who believes you can find a positive in many situations. So during my times of struggle, when my anxiety is high and depression sometimes sets in, hearing “just think positively” makes me want to scream.

Having anxiety or depression is a mental health issue. Although a positive frame of mind can contribute to how you view your illness, it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not “positive” just because you are struggling or dealing with a mental illness.

I have generalized anxiety, and for the most part, I love life. The fact that I’m writing this and have made it through some dark and scary days is a testament to the positivity I feel, in a general sense. I don’t give up. I keep trying. I try to inspire others. I hold onto hope. I keep looking for solutions and new ways of coping.

“Just think positively” isn’t going to help me get through an anxious moment when I’m already being positive and telling myself I’m going to be OK and I got this.

“Just think positively” only reminds me that some people really don’t understand mental illness, and I hope that changes one day.

What will help me during my anxious moments is non-judgmental, caring support and reassurance that I’m going to be OK. Sometimes that means just listening to me express my fears or what’s causing my anxiety without telling me to “think positively.” Sometimes that means not doing or saying anything at all, but just being present with me. Physically sitting with me can bring great comfort while I get through these moments.

Even if you don’t know what it’s like to have anxiety, you can offer compassion just by being there without offering an opinion or assumption.

I know these anxious moments pass. They don’t last forever. So while I’m already practicing positive things to get me through those anxious times, the one thing I need the most from others is their faith in me that I’m doing everything I can to help myself. I don’t need someone assuming otherwise.

I need people to know I’m a positive and strong person to live every day with anxiety, and that I’m still happy.

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50 Tips to Help You Feel More in Control of the 'Runaway Thoughts’ of Anxiety

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As someone who has dealt with anxiety her entire life, I know it can be annoying when you’re drowning in worried thoughts. I know it can be annoying when someone who has no idea what anxiety is like tells you to just get some sunshine or exercise and “get over it.” If it was that simple, do they think anyone would still have anxiety?

We can ease the severity of our symptoms by picking up habits that promote good mental hygiene. There are relaxing practices we can incorporate into our everyday lives that help us feel more centered and less at the mercy of our runaway thoughts. Here are the best ones I’ve found. Try them out and see if they are helpful for you.

1. Prioritize sleep.
For a long time, I prided myself on not “needing” as much sleep as other people. When I started working evenings, I could sleep as long as I wanted to in the morning. I discovered how much more relaxed I felt every day when I was consistently getting enough sleep. I have to get up in the mornings again, but my day is a lot easier when I don’t interfere with my sleep budget.

2. A clean bedroom, freshly washed sheets and a few drops of lavender oil on my pillow.
If falling asleep is difficult, this recipe almost always helps me feel relaxed, worry-free and ready to sleep. I wake up feeling like I was on vacation at a spa, at least until I actually open my eyes.

3. If falling asleep is really difficult, add a sleep meditation podcast.
You just turn it on and listen to someone guide you into slumber. I love anything from Meditation Oasis.

4. Every time you wash your hands, take three deep breaths in and out.
After you do this for awhile, it can be automatic and you can have little built-in relaxation breaks throughout the day, cued every time you go to the bathroom or prepare for a meal by washing up.

5. Take a hot shower.
This makes a lot of worries go away, and it at least gives me a break from the big ones.

6. Occasionally, take yourself out to lunch.
Sit outside if you can. Order something yummy, read a book or just enjoy having a stretch of time just for you.

7. Say this to yourself, “It’s OK. I’m just trying to take good care of myself.”
Remember to say this when you get angry at yourself because you can’t stop worrying.

8. Write down what you are worried about.
Take out a piece of paper or open up a new document and write out all the things you are worried about. Sometimes just putting a name to it can be a huge relief.

9. Take a minute to remember the worst probably won’t happen.
Even if it does, you’ll figure out a way to deal with it. You always do. Here’s a quote from Danielle LaPorte, I find helpful in this regard, “P.S. You’re not going to die. Here’s the white-hot truth: If you go bankrupt, you’ll still be OK. If you lose the gig, the lover or the house, you’ll still be OK. If you sing off-key, get beat by the competition, have your heart shattered, get fired, it’s not going to kill you. Ask anyone who’s been through it.”

10. Read more helpful, calming quotes here.

11. Dim the lights and light a candle.

12. Do the examen.
This is an ancient self-improvement practice where you list the three most satisfying and the three most frustrating things about each day. Over time, you can see patterns of what stresses you out, what brings you joy, and adjust your life accordingly.

13. Keep a “compliment journal.”
Here you write down the nice things people say about you. After awhile, you’ll have pages to flip through when you’re having a bad day. You can remind yourself the way your anxiety-brain sees you is not the way everyone else sees you.

14. Make it a habit to touch your partner.
Give hugs frequently, making sure you have a lot of skin to skin contact. It releases oxytocin, which will make you feel good.

15. If you’re single, make it a point to hug your friends hello and goodbye.
Consider trading back rubs while you watch television or hang out so you don’t miss out on those benefits.

16. Walk around the block.
No need for a big commitment, just once around the block.

17. Try to get to know people at the places you go to often.
Whether it is your coffee shop, gas station, grocery store or gym, learn the names of the people you see and say hi to them. They’ll greet you back and soon it will seem like everywhere you go people are happy to see you.

18. Look at the baby kittens and puppies.

19. Go to the beach.
It’s a way to people watch and get out of your head, while absorbing some vitamin D.

20. Drink a glass of water.
Sometimes anxiety is just being dehydrated.

21. Buy yourself some flowers.
For only $6 you can get a bouquet of hydrangeas, which are beautiful, smell good and last a long time (as far as flowers go).

22. Buy a lotion with a calming scent.
Lavender is one option. Spend a few minutes massaging it into your arms, legs, hands and feet when you’re stressed.

23. Make a list of everything currently giving you anxiety.
Try to list three things that might help each situation. Actually do (or take a step towards doing) one of these helpers.

24. Reread a book you read growing up.

25. Mute that person on Twitter who always stresses you out or makes you feel bad about yourself.

26. If your gym has a sauna or a steam room, take advantage!
You don’t even have to work out. You can use it as a way to get out of the house and relax.

27. Clean your room or your apartment.
It’s amazing how cathartic cleaning can be and how much better you’ll feel when everything is in its place.

28. Try some sensory therapy.
A product like Origins’ Peace of Mind On-the-spot relief is a great option. It’s a small bottle you can keep in your desk or bag. It delivers a powerful punch of calming smells that will relax you every time you use it.

29. Tell a trusted friend what’s bothering you.
You’d be surprised at how calming someone else’s perspective can be when you’re off the deep-end in your own head.

30. Go out and meet them for a cup of coffee or tea.
Changing your environment when you’re stressed out is an easy way to leave the stress behind.

31. Stream “Anchorman” on Netflix.
Or any other movie that makes you belly laugh every time.

32. Try a spin class.
The lights are out so you don’t have to worry about looking silly. The combination of loud music and a challenge in front of you is the perfect distraction for an anxious person. Whatever it is that’s on your mind, it may look like a smaller challenge when you’re done.

33. Remind yourself it won’t last for long.
If you already know exercise helps anxiety but you have trouble motivating yourself to get started, then remind yourself that you only need to do it for 21 minutes to reap the benefits. That’s less than an episode of “Friends”!

34. Do yoga.

35. Try a yoga routine developed for a sick person.
If you are a super beginner or just don’t like yoga, then try doing a routine meant for sick people. It’s meant to be gentler.

36. Remind yourself of past wins.
Take a minute and remind yourself of a time when something bad did happen to you. Remind yourself how you had the intelligence and the strength to get through it. You can and will handle whatever else comes your way.

37. Buy new sheets, pillows and make sure your comforter is really comfortable.
The idea is to have at least one place (your bed) that is a haven, always relaxing and comfortable. It should be something you do just for you.

38. Get a haircut.
Make sure you go somewhere where they really massage your head while shampooing. Focus on the feeling of how luxurious it is to sit there and let someone else do something for you.

39. Turn on mellow music.
This playlist
is a good place to start.

40. Release some of your tension through the joy of sex (or masturbation).

41. Give back.
Do something for someone else. It can be as quick and simple as sending someone a text thanking them for something nice they’ve done or just saying you appreciate them. If you have more time, then bake someone their favorite treat or bring them flowers just because. Seeing how good you can make someone else feel is powerful.

42. Make a list of 10 things you are grateful for.

43. Pop a fish oil pill.
Omega-3s are linked to decreased anxiety and depression.

44. Some helpful advice is, “Move the body and the mind follows.”
Just like our physical symptoms are caused by our anxiety thoughts, easing the symptoms and ease the thoughts. Slow your breathing, massage your forearms, do whatever you need to do to make your body feel like it is relaxed. Your mind will come around eventually.

45. Decide you will be a person who forgives.
Let go of the weight of grudges or disliking people who have wronged you in the past. Choose to not care anymore.

46. Embrace minimalism.

47. Paint something in your bedroom yellow.
The color is shown to make people happy.

48. Read a zen story.

49. Listen to catchy pop music that can’t help but make you happy.

50. Track your progress.
Keep a journal and document how adopting some of these habits help you over time. Often, the best motivation for change is just knowing it’s possible.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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