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I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with anxiety. I love that it keeps me organized and conscientious of others. I love that it has heightened my sense of empathy. I hate that it makes me feel nauseous. I hate that I can’t always enjoy important moments. I hate that it makes simple things really difficult.

My biggest fear when I started to deal with this was: What’s going to happen in the future? Am I going to be able to walk down the aisle without having a panic attack? What about when I have a kid? Am I going to be able to handle parenting when I’m crying and feeling nauseous and like I’m not myself?

Those thoughts scared me a lot because I just wanted the anxiety to go away. I didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore. My main goal was to figure out how to get rid of it once and for all. I wanted to get back to life without anyone knowing. Anxiety felt like a black hole had taken up residence in my chest. It was only a matter of time before it turned me into someone unrecognizable. (Or until Matthew McConaughey tried to use it to send a message to his daughter.)

While this attitude gave me the motivation to start therapy and read as much about anxiety as possible, this is not a healthy way to approach it. Wanting to eradicate anxiety is a form of resistance. It leads to more tension and more anxiety. It’s the classic fear of fear. I was so worried about having an attack in specific situations that I didn’t realize I was keeping myself on alert in every situation. Thus, I was making things worse for myself.

My therapist asked me last week what my ultimate goal would be in terms of my anxiety. She said, “What does the best possible outcome look like?” Well, that’s easy. It’s completely gone. I don’t want to approach it with that attitude because it will make me feel like I’ve failed every time my anxiety shows up. I told her what I really want is to have a set strategy in place. This way when I feel it start to get bad, I will know exactly what to do.


I want to approach this like I’m going to live with it all my life because I probably am, one way or another. Knowing that it’s not going away actually helps me cultivate the accepting attitude that’s so important in anxiety and panic management. Assuming I’ve got another 60 or so years of this ahead of me, helps me to make room for it. Maybe what’s most important is it normalizes it. I want to get to the point where, when anxiety pops up, I’m just like, “Oh, it’s you,” and go back to whatever I was doing.

I’m definitely closer to this than I was a year ago. One of the things that’s been really helpful has been learning how to depersonalize the anxiety. This is helpful in trying to be an outside observer. It allows me to view anxiety as something that is happening to me versus a character flaw. While my reaction used to be, “Oh my god, What the f*ck is going on?” — it’s now more something like, “Oh, well this is annoying but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.” Honestly, I’m pretty darn proud of that.

It’s been a long time since I was crying uncontrollably and feeling like I was going to puke at any second. These days it’s mostly some nausea (sniffing peppermint oil is an amazing help for that by the way), a rapid heartbeat and some tightness in the chest. If I can’t get to a quiet place, then it can escalate. Usually, I can make that happen or at least stand in the back of my classroom and breathe for a minute or two while my students work.

Perhaps, I need one more really big anxiety-producing experience, akin to meeting my boyfriend’s parents or traveling somewhere I’ve never been. This way I can really see where I am. I’m sure this will happen in due time. I feel good most days though, and I’m really proud of that. I’m almost where I want to be. It feels really good not to have that black hole hanging out in my chest anymore. (But if Matthew McConaughey wanted to hang out there, then I’d be OK with that.)

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I hate my anxiety.

I hate the familiar dizzy, swollen feeling in my head when it’s coming and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It starts when I think I disappointed someone (again), when I disappoint myself, when I have to talk about an uncomfortable subject, when I anticipate a confrontation, when I question whether I said the right things, when I face a decision and feel like no matter what I do, it will be wrong. It happens when I can’t trust my own thoughts because they contradict each other from one second to the next.

I hate when I breathe and it feels like the oxygen is not getting anywhere.

I hate when I want to be broken with other people, but I’m afraid they’ll reject me and I’ll be broken all alone.

I despise unfinished thoughts. And overdone thoughts. And thinking.

I hate being tired when I haven’t done anything. Just thinking about everything I have to do is exhausting. I hate not having it all together, even though I’m one of the most “together” people I know.

I hate feeling like I have to do everything right. Is there really a right or wrong way to eat, dress, brush your teeth, write in your journal, vent to your friend or feel? I want the freedom to make mistakes. I don’t want such a d*mn guilty conscience. I hate that even when I am relaxed, I know it’s not going to last. (Maybe the relaxed spells can get longer and more frequent and the anxious spells can get shorter?)

I hate that when I perceive conflict with someone, I cannot stop playing the scenario in my head. I purposefully turn my thoughts to other things. I pray. I tell myself how I’m going to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. Still, my mind goes back to repeat, repeat and freakin repeat. I hate how long it takes my body to calm down once I get worked up. I take deep breaths. I walk. I pray. I ignore, and sometimes, I have to sleep it off.


I hate when I almost passed out at work because my boyfriend was 15 minutes late to pick me up. Even though my mind knew he’d be there soon, my anxiety was sure he was going to leave me hanging. I hate the constant cramps and soreness in my shoulders, neck and back. I hate when the nerve pains shoot down my arm and make me think I’m having a heart attack. Even though I know it’s an anxiety attack, I take an aspirin just to be safe.

I hate never feeling prepared enough to start anything and always feeling like there’s something I forgot. I hate what a big part of my life this has become.

But I love my life.

I don’t love anxiety, but I love myself, and anxiety is an aspect of me. So I accept it.

I appreciate anxiety because it has shown me what I can overcome and how strong I am to always come back.

Although I hate the way people react to my anxiety (“You’re such a pretty little thing. You have a good life. What do you have to be anxious about?”), I appreciate my anxiety because it makes me more understanding. I am determined never to make another person feel small because of the way uneducated people have made me feel. I hope I never say things like, “If you just trusted God…,” “If you just took this herb or medication…,” or “If you just decided not to worry, then things would be better.”

Instead, I’ll say, “I know it’s hard. I understand, and I’m here for you.” I appreciate my anxiety because maybe my words and experiences can help someone else who feels like no one understands. Maybe I can be their “angel with skin on,” someone who is there for them. I appreciate my anxiety because, when I pour my anxious feelings out on paper, I produce some of my best creative work. Sometimes, I can write almost as fast as I can think.

I appreciate my anxiety because it forces me to spend some time, alone and quiet, when otherwise I would try to be busy and productive all the time. It’s during the “alone time” where I feel the most like myself.

I appreciate my anxiety because, although it does not define me, it is a part of my journey, and I love who I am in the making.

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There is little that provokes as much discomfort as lingering anxiety or a sudden panic attack. The cliche television portrayal of panic attacks shows pretty girls crying and hyperventilating (although somehow remaining absolutely stunning), taking deep breaths, and overcoming it within minutes, if not seconds. If you have ever had a panic attack or helped someone through one, you know this is far from accurate.

The signs and symptoms of panic attacks vary from person to person. No list of signs/symptoms is exclusive or finite. With this, there is no guaranteed, set-in-stone way of helping someone with a panic attack. Ah yes, this is the moment you feel like throwing a toaster at me, and for that I apologize.

Anxiety is a shapeshifter that manifests in so many ways, which makes it impossible to predict what will help. Due to this, my first recommendation if you’re struggling with panic attacks is to get professional help. However, I would like to share with you some of the self-reminders that have helped me and others get through panic attacks.

1. You are not dying.

2. You can breathe.

3. Anxiety/panic is not comfortable, but it is not extremely harmful.

4. You have survived this before, and you will survive this again.

5. This is not the end of the world.

6. It will pass.

7. Do not Google your symptoms.

8. You are not “losing it.”

9. This is temporary.

10. Your thoughts are not always your friend.

If you’re aware someone struggles with panic attacks, talk to them. Individuals know their own symptoms best and can tell you the signs they’re having a panic attack and how to help with one. Some people prefer fresh air and silence, whereas others may just want to pace and talk through it to you.

Be considerate of what an individual needs. Be patient while the panic passes. Remember to look after yourself first always.

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I always set my alarm clock for 30 minutes before I have to get out of bed. Why? Most people think it’s because I have a hard time waking up, but really, the hardest part comes after I am fully awake. The hard part is when my heart is racing as soon as I think about placing my feet on the floor. It’s the twist that turns my stomach once I worry about if I’ll have enough time to get to work. It is the uneasy feeling knowing I must drive through the same intersection I got into a car accident at earlier this year. It is the worry in knowing that even seeing another car approaching could send me into a panic attack.

Yet, I get up and brush my teeth anyway. I shower anyway. I get dressed, put my makeup on and fix my hair anyway. Life isn’t supposed to be so hard. Life isn’t supposed to be so filled with worry, but it is. I’m trying the best I can to live it anyway.

I’m doing something a little different than I used to though. You see, I used to try to cover this part of me. I used to hide the anxiety-filled section of my heart and hope it didn’t find its way into the world where it could get hurt. Over the course of a year and multiple panic attacks at the grocery store, I’ve found the strength to talk about my mental illness.

Some days are easier than others. I have accepted life will not always have days filled with easy decisions and wonderful outcomes. There are days I want to be alone so desperately. Once I am, I cry because I’m so lonely and convince myself I am unloved. There are nights when I will get out of bed anywhere between one to six times to check and make sure I locked the doors of my house. There are mornings where I sing so loudly (and terribly) in my car, as the person stuck in traffic beside me stares, because it’s the only thing that will keep me from hyperventilating and crying.


We try too hard to cover the symptoms, but even with all of the therapy, breathing techniques and medication, this thing is still a part of us. This is not something that will go away if we try hard to think positively. This will not go away if we sleep more. (Chances are, even if we go to bed early, we still won’t fall asleep before 2 a.m.)

To the average person, I might seem “fine” or maybe a little frazzled on a bad day. Some people may not even think there is anything wrong with me because there isn’t. It’s time we stop treating mental illness like the elephant in the room. It’s time we stop being ashamed of something we can’t control. It’s time to start being proud of every beautiful, anxiety-filled cell in your body.

Your brain tells you to give up every day, but you get up and live anyway. So even though your days might be more difficult than someone without a mental illness, it doesn’t make you less of a person. A mental illness does not make you inferior to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness, but it might make you more brave. Keep fighting.

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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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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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