Animation of a girl with anxiety reading a book. Text underneath reads "not tonight I'm reading."

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.

Image via Thinkstock.

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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.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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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.

Image via Thinkstock.

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4 Reasons Tap Dancing Helps Me Cope With My Anxiety

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I’ve been living with terrible anxiety since I was a little girl. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried a ton of remedies — yoga, coloring books, talk therapy, medication, meditation, mindfulness, massage therapy, aromatherapy and all the self-care and self-help books I could find.

And I’ve got to be honest with you all, my dear Mighty readers — none of them hold a candle to tap dance for me.

I danced when I was young and tap was always my favorite class. Since I’m about to start grad school (as well as an intense internship), I decided to re-visit the great art of tap dance so I had some kind of physical outlet during this stressful period. I’ve only been taking classes for a few weeks and it’s already done wonders for my anxiety.

Here are four ways tap dance has helped me — and four reasons I think you should try it, too.

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1. You get to let out all of your frustrations.

The whole crux of tap dancing is stomping your feet on the ground — which is incredibly cathartic for someone who’s dealing with intense anxiety or stress. I can physically release all the pent-up feelings that us anxious folks typically hold onto.

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2. You really work up a sweat. 

I really wasn’t anticipating this, but you get really sweaty during a tap class. Why? Because it’s a pretty intense cardiovascular exercise. And as we all know, exercise can be help with anxiety (and depression!). I’ve never been an exerciser; I hate running and don’t at all enjoy going to the gym. So it’s awesome to finally have some kind of work-out routine and get those health benefits from doing physical exercise.

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3. It requires you to concentrate on something other than your anxiety. 

Tap dance requires a lot of mental concentration. You have to think carefully about which part of your foot is hitting the floor on which count, how fast you’re transitioning from foot to foot, etc. It’s amazing to walk into a tap class and have all my worries melt away — mostly because there’s no room in my head, since I’m trying to get that combination down.

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4. It’s a great way to meet people (but not in a scary way). 

I moved to a new state almost a year ago and still haven’t met a ton of people (mostly because I work from home, running this blog you’re reading!). I can be shy around new people and don’t like putting myself out there, but tap class has been a great way to make friends in a low-stress environment. Everyone is there to have fun; we’re all beginners, so it’s not a competition; we laugh at ourselves when we mess up and cheer each other when we nail a step. It’s nice to have a little community.

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When Anxiety Makes You Feel Like a Burden

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I’m sorry.

My life has been a series of saying, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m sorry for, the two words just slip out. Most of the time I’m sorry because I feel as though I carry a great deal of baggage. I feel like a burden. I don’t want to put anyone out because of my anxiety and the person I am. I don’t want people to judge me, but I don’t have control of that. I don’t want to say sorry, but honestly, I am.

For so many years, I’ve felt like a burden because of my anxiety. I put myself in a bubble because I was concerned if I let my guard down, you’d see me differently and insist I was being dramatic. I guess those concerns came to fruition because I’ve heard, “You’re just being dramatic” quite a bit.

Interestingly enough, anxiety isn’t acting. Anxiety comes in many different forms, but having anxiety doesn’t equate to being dramatic. So please, don’t tell me otherwise. I’ve heard how ridiculous it is that I worry about certain things and have been told on numerous occasions, “I don’t need to worry.” If only it was that easy.

Does anyone truly believe I enjoy worrying? Do you think I enjoy when my stomach is in knots? Do you think I enjoy when my body shakes or my mind and heart are racing? I’m sure you can answer those questions on your own. Please, know if I could flip a switch and turn off the anxiety, I would, but anxiety isn’t wired that way.

Teasing me about my anxiety and panic isn’t funny. I know you say you’re joking, but there’s always some truth behind every “just kidding.” With my anxiety comes sensitivity. I’m a fragile person. The way in which you use your words are not taken lightly by me. I need you to know my anxiety isn’t something that should be mocked or joked about. It’s an illness.

Anxiety doesn’t come with a guide. It can hit you anytime, anywhere and can leave you in a heap in the middle of the floor. I’ve been there a thousand times.

The thing is: Anxiety is real. It’s painful. It’s numbing and it’s a great big ball of fear, tangled thoughts and worry. When I’m in an anxious state, I can’t think straight. I fixate on things. When I say fixate, I mean I obsess and overthink. For some reason, I think if I fixate and obsess on something it’ll go away, taking my worry and fears with it. But guess how many times it’s worked? None.

Please, be gentle with me. I carry a sign that says, “Handle with care.” I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love with everything I have.

Often times, when I’m in an anxious state, I can’t hear the words you say to me because the thoughts in my head are much louder. Sometimes, I don’t need you to say anything. Just hug me. Just sit with me. Just be there for me. That’s all I need when I’m spiraling.

Please, don’t disregard my worry and fears. It just makes the situation worse for me. If you tell me you locked the door, I have to check it. If you tell me you’re going to do something, then please, do it. I may ask you four or five times just to make sure. I know it can get frustrating for you, but it’s what I need to feel secure, to feel like I can put my faith in you. Please, know I don’t think you’re a liar. I just need to feel like I have some sort of control of my mind.

My anxiety is a battle, but I’ve chosen to put my armor on to take on the task of tackling the giant. Anxiety doesn’t define me, but it’s a huge aspect of my life and I’ve come to accept that. I hope you’ll accept not only that, but also me. I am who I am. Even though my mind and body are riddled with anxiety, I still believe I can make a difference.

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For the Times I Don't Tell You I'm Struggling With Anxiety

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Dear friend,

Just know that no matter what, I care about you. If I ever hesitate to share my struggle with you, no matter how much you ask, it’s because I’m afraid you’ll leave. You’ve seen how I am day-to-day, absolutely fine right? Wrong. Although, maybe you already know.

The truth is, there are days where I can hardly hold it together. Going through years of depression and suicidal thoughts can change your personality. Struggling with anxiety and low mood disorder means that most of the time, I’m just hiding what’s really going on inside. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t struggling with mental illness. I’m afraid of developing more diagnoses and symptoms until my toiletries bag outweighs my clothes bag on vacation. Do you want me to tell you about this? Or to tell you how emotionally unstable I’m slowly becoming, like when I teared up multiple times watching “Eddie the Eagle”? Or how my exhaustion level continues to skyrocket — mentally from being anxious and constantly around people, emotionally from bottling everything up inside and physically from difficulties sleeping? Even if you genuinely want to know when you ask how I’m doing, I’m scared that being completely honest, or at least going deeper than a simple, “I’ve been better,” will be enough to scare you away. To be honest, I’m scared of being deadweight in our friendship.

It’s hard having to redefine success. To have to accept walking out the door without exhaustion or worry as a morning gone well. To celebrate waking up after a luxurious seven hours of unbroken sleep. Not to be nauseous once during an entire day. To come home and not worry about or analyze every conversation. To go to a therapy session and be honest about how my last week has gone. To have a crappy day and not be debilitated by anxiety at the end of it. I look around me and see so many people standing on a pedestal, and even though I know everyone has different challenges and success, and I’m level with where they’re building, my foundations are in a deep hole. Success to me is not seeing the world like that every day.

And here’s the toughest part — I don’t see the world like that all the time. There are days where I am fine, where I can honestly tell you that (almost) nothing is wrong. Sometimes all it takes for things to get better is just a text or a conversation to help me remember that I’m not alone and that whatever new horror I’m fixated on won’t be the end of the world. But then I’m afraid I’ll sound like the boy who cried wolf when life isn’t easy. “Yesterday wasn’t like this, so why is this coming up now?” is how I picture you responding. So there are times when I hide my problems behind a smile and simply wonder if it’s obvious I’m hiding something.

And I know you care about me, because you’ve said so, but I know that as well as I know what the dark side of the moon looks like. I’m scared you’ll give up on me. That I’m too much of a drag to you. If I ignore a text from you, it’s because I don’t have the energy to worry about how to respond to you. But if you ignore a text from me, it’s full alarm bells in my brain. “Why? What did I do wrong? How can I make this up?” I’m scared that one day you won’t respond anymore. That I’m too high-maintenance. I know it might seem silly, but every time you gloss over something I’ve just said or passed off a joke I told, I’m scared there’s more going on, even when there isn’t.

I know I have a few irrational fears. But just because you tell me to ignore the lies doesn’t mean I can so easily. I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve been left on the curb, abandoned by those I thought cared most about me. Those are the traumas that I write about to process, that I discuss at therapy and that haunt me unceasingly. Sometimes even a heartfelt assertion can feel like a Band-Aid on trauma. But knowing that you’re saying it, sticking with me through everything and carrying the weight when I can’t means more to me than I can ever share.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Your friend

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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