piglet looking scared

How 'Winnie the Pooh' Helps Me Cope With Anxiety

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My 10-year-old niece asked me, “You’re 22. Why do you still love ‘Winnie the Pooh’ so much?”

To her I responded with a simple, “It’s just so fun!” but it’s way more than that…

Are y’all familiar with the study that has been done on the characters in Winnie the Pooh? It suggests that every character in this beloved children’s story can be identified to one (of more) disorders.

This list feels quite accurate when you start thinking about it. And although I’ve liked Winnie the Pooh since I was a kid, it became something special soon after reading about this theory.

When I got my first anxiety attack, I found myself identifying with this little pink cartoon character more than I had ever done before. I went from fun and bubbly to shaky and scared. In a matter of minutes. Just as I had seen Piglet do so many times…

As I got more and more into the Hundred Acre Wood, I also got more and more into learning about anxiety disorder. Slowly I learned to stop myself from being anxious about being anxious… I started to accept I had an anxiety disorder. My focus point changed from healing myself to dealing with it.

The moment I stopped fighting it, it became easier. It didn’t go away. It didn’t disappear… in fact – when I think about it – I don’t think my anxiety changed at all. But I had. I didn’t push anxiety attacks away anymore. I finally allowed myself to admit that: I wasn’t OK all the time.

I learned to do as Piglet does. Piglet goes on big adventures but let’s everyone know when she’s anxious. She’s always hiding behind Pooh, always letting him know she’s frightened. I know some see her as a cry baby, but to me she’s a hero! She allows herself to be who she is. Bubbly one second, anxious the next. She talks to herself the same way I do – I can do this. This isn’t so bad. – but most of all, she doesn’t turn an adventure down. Even though she’s anxious and frightened and her thoughts mess with her a lot… she’s always there!

I’ve visited therapists a lot in my life. But sometimes you need something a little different to really help you. And it turned out I needed a Disney-animated film. A children’s book. A little pink anxious character to help me see I wasn’t alone and that having an anxiety disorder doesn’t make you weak or any less awesome.

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When Anxiety Rules Your Mind

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My mind is racing and I can’t gather my thoughts. I start to sweat and my stomach is in knots. My heart rate starts to increase to the point where I can hear the thumping in my ears. My muscles tense. I start to shake. My eyes well up with tears. When I’m in this space, I rarely speak because my thoughts are so loud. Sometimes, I think it’d be easier to crawl up in a ball in the darkness of my room and not face the world.

Anxiety entered my life at 8 years old when I experienced losing my dad by suicide. It wasn’t just anxiety that came barreling into my life, but also panic, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. For many years, I struggled in silence because I was embarrassed and ashamed. On the outside, I portrayed myself as a happy, well put-together person, but on the inside I was a tornado ravaging through my body and mind.

When people asked what was wrong, I did a great job of carrying on and pretending like I was fine. Pretending was harder than facing my anxiety. I was not myself and didn’t show people who I was. I lost friends along the way because I was unable to be honest with them about the issues I was going through. I figured they wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t want to be my friend if they knew who I really was.

You see, anxiety has ruled my mind since I was 8. I have a professional degree in pushing people away and not letting them in. I’m terrified to get close to people because I worry they’ll leave me anyway. Similarly, I don’t open up to people because it’s hard to explain everything I’m feeling or everything I’ve been through. My mind is ruled by anxiety and that’s hard to explain, especially to those who don’t struggle with it.

If someone stares at me, then I’m afraid they’re judging me. If I’m having a conversation with someone, then I immediately critique the words coming out of my mouth and sometimes wish I could take them back. If you’re having a conversation with me, then I’m probably going over in my mind what I’m going to say next. When I drive down the road, I think about what will happen if I get in a car accident. If I walk outside my house in the dark, I think someone is going to kidnap me. I think of scenarios that have a one in a million chance of happening to me and fixate on them. Yes, they have a one in a million chance of happening, but in my mind, I could be that one.

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The thing many people fail to understand is just because you can’t always see anxiety doesn’t mean it’s not there. Anxiety feels like being underwater. When I try to swim to the surface to catch my breath, I’m dragged back under. Each time I’m pulled back, the surface gets farther and farther away.

I was ashamed of my anxiety for so long. I’m so sad about that because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve learned so many other people struggle with these issues too. I should not have been ashamed to seek help. I wouldn’t be able to face this battle alone. I’m so lucky to have such a supportive family. My mom has been there for me when my anxiety has been so bad that I felt as though I was dying. She has loved me and heard me when I’ve been at my lowest points.

Outside of my family, my therapist has been my saving grace. It’s been three years and she’s been there for me at my weakest, making me feel worthy, seen and heard. The hour I see her each week is the best hour of my week, truly. I went from blowing off my therapy sessions to genuinely enjoying them. I owe that to her. In many ways, she’s been my best friend when I’ve felt like I had no one.

Yes, anxiety is the ruler of my mind, but I’m trying to gain the controller back. You may not see it on the outside, but it’s there.

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

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7 Things You Should Know About the Person in Your Life With Anxiety

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In trying to make more of a commitment to seeing my friends (hey, guys!), I’ve been thinking about what I want to say if the topic of anxiety comes up. I’m fortunate enough to have a really supportive, empathetic group of people in my life, but I know that’s not always the case. I know, too, sometimes it feels rude to talk to someone about their mental health. Even if they bring it up, you might be unsure of what to say.

Here are some things you should know about the people in your life who deal with anxiety:

1. It’s not our fault.

This is not a personality flaw or something we’re doing intentionally. This is not us trying to get attention, that’s the last thing most of us want. This is not us trying to passive-aggressively tell you we don’t like you or our friendship is over. This is something our brains do to us without our consent, not an extension of who we are or a choice we make. Even though it might feel personal to you sometimes, it’s really not. It sounds like it’s just an excuse but sometimes we honestly just can’t. Our brains interpret discomfort as danger, and often times the things we think will help actually perpetuate and strengthen the panic over time.

2. We still want to see you and hang out with you.

Even if we say no to your invitations, we still like to be invited and we still want to see you. Maybe we’d just rather have dinner with you than try to have a meaningful conversation at a work happy hour. When you don’t invite us because you assume we’ll say no, you inadvertently increase our feelings of isolation and the sense that something is “wrong” with us. We know you don’t mean to do that, but it still hurts our feelings. Inviting us, even when we say no, helps us to understand we are loved, people do want to see us and we are not broken.

3. When in doubt, ask.

If you’re unsure about how to talk about anxiety, curious about what it feels like for us or have no idea how to help, ask us. Asking shows empathy and compassion. We hate it when people say things like, “Don’t worry about it,” “You just need to get over it,” or “Calm down.” None of that is helpful.

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If you find yourself wanting to say one of these things because you think it will help or because you don’t actually really know what to say, then try asking questions or validating. Things like, “That sounds really tough,” “I’m so proud of you for dealing with this,” or “How can I help?” bring us relief and a sense of belonging. They make us feel like you understand and you’re not just brushing this off as regular stress. There is actually something fundamentally different about our brains we can’t control, and it makes us feel invalidated when you compare it to everyday stress.

4. Be patient with us.

It can be really hard to understand anxiety and the need for down time, especially if you’re someone who likes going at a million miles per hour all the time. Truthfully, we’re probably working really hard, even if you can’t see it. Anxiety management takes a lot of time. I spend about an hour and a half per day meditating and doing yoga. That may not seem like much, but most of us also have full-time jobs and relationships that need our attention, too.

Add to that the decompression time we need and there is little time for a social life. So please, be patient with us when you want to get drinks tonight and we say we have plans. It is not your place to tell us that watching television, reading or whatever are “not plans” and we can “skip them.” They are plans. We need that time to relax, to work on understanding ourselves and to use preventative practices that help keep our anxiety low. Keeping us from it or making us feel guilty about it make the anxiety worse. Just because that’s not how you would spend the time doesn’t make it any less important or valid.

5. We are still us.

While anxiety can be really overwhelming and hard to deal with, it’s just one aspect of our personalities. We are still the complex, wonderful people who you love. We still have hopes, goals and skills. We’re still interested in stuff.

We love when you check in with us, and we appreciate it. We also want you to treat us like the multifaceted people we are. Anxiety doesn’t wipe out our personalities. It may cause us to hide for a while, but we still want to talk with you about how ridiculous Trump is or this book we just finished that we loved. We still care about your life and what’s going on with you. We don’t have to spend every minute of our time together talking about the anxiety.

6. We’re learning a lot.

Odds are we’re in therapy or at the very least having a lot of thoughts about why this is happening and where it’s coming from. We’re learning a lot about ourselves, about what we need and about what we want. Some things about us might change or we may react to something differently than you expected. If there’s something that’s difficult for you or an issue, talk to us about it. We can explain our thinking and come to an understanding together.

7. We love you, and we are grateful for you.

Ultimately, even if you find yourself saying, “Don’t worry about it” or feeling like you don’t really know us anymore, we still love you. We love that you want to be part of this journey with us, even if you don’t really know how to engage in the conversation or how to handle some of the things we’re going through. Chances are we are struggling, too. We probably don’t say it as much as we should, but we’re so thankful for you. We are thankful you are willing to stick with us as we figure this out. We appreciate your support in whatever way you try to give it.

This is a lot of information, and I know it may not all apply to you. Please, don’t feel like you have to try to remember all of it all the time. This is a process. We’re learning, too.

While I generalized here, we’re all different. So it’s important to talk to your person who deals with anxiety and/or panic about where they are in their journey and what works for them. Maybe none of this stuff applies to them, maybe some of it does or maybe they were nodding along to every word. If you really want to know how best to support them, ask.

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Highly Sensitive People, Remember These 10 Things When You Feel Anxious

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We’ve all felt anxious at some point in our lives. Anxiety is that jittery feeling you get before something big happens, like a first date, a job interview or moving to a new house. Your palms sweat, your heart beats fast and you feel like there’s a ball of lead in your gut.

But then, you might have a hard time falling asleep, relaxing or concentrating because your thoughts are racing. Your stomach might be too upset to eat, or you might eat too much. You might cry more or have an overwhelming desire to seek reassurance from someone.

As highly-sensitive people (HSPs), we tend to be creative and have active minds. However, the downside is this means we’re more vulnerable to anxiety. Our minds can easily conjure up all kinds of negative fantasies that fuel our anxiety and make it worse.

Because of a biological difference in our nervous system, we absorb more stimulation from our environment — like noise, small details that others miss and even other people’s emotions — which can lead us to feel overwhelmed.

Remember these things when you feel anxious:

1. Your anxiety is just one part of the package.

Being highly sensitive is a package deal — you get the bad with the good. Don’t get down on yourself for being who you are. Think about all the good things that come with being sensitive — you may be more creative and considerate, have more empathy for others, notice things that others miss and learn new things quickly.

2. Like the weather, feelings change.

The way you feel right now will not be the way you feel in five minutes, five hours, five days or five years from now. Feelings are only temporary, and like today’s forecast, they change quickly. Like all things eventually do, those scared, anxious, lead-in-your-gut feelings will pass.

“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world — not even our troubles,” said actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin.

3. Talk to someone.

Anxiety can be a lonely feeling, and loneliness increases anxiety — what a terrible cycle! Talk to someone you trust about the feelings or situation you’re dealing with. Just getting the feelings out might make you feel better, plus, having to explain your fears to someone else might help you examine if they’re realistic or not.

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4. Set clearer boundaries in your relationships.

If your relationships are making you anxious, get rid of the source of your anxiety by setting firmer boundaries or even letting some relationships go. Do it, and don’t feel bad about it.

5. Don’t run away from what’s scaring you.

Avoiding the situation or person that’s causing your anxiety will only make your anxiety worse in the long run. Gather your courage to face the problem head-on. Remind yourself it’s only fear, and you will get through it.

6. You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control (or learn tools to control) how you react.

Dr. Hans Selye, a physician who is considered the “father” of the field of stress research, writes, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

7. Your anxiety doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

It just wastes time and doesn’t get you any closer to your life’s goals. “Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far,” writes author Jodi Picoult.

8. Try relaxation techniques.

Inhale deeply, hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale. Brew a cup of chamomile tea. Exercise vigorously — anxiety floods your body with adrenaline, and aerobic exercise burns off adrenaline. Take a warm bath, listen to relaxing music and schedule a massage for later. Distract yourself by reading, surfing the internet or watching Netflix.

9. Keep things in perspective.

Avoid the temptation to make the situation bigger in your mind than it really is. Dr. Steve Maraboli, author and behavioral science academic, writes, “I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety and fear.”

10. It’s really going to be OK.

Author and motivational speaker Daneille LaPorte writes, “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, 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.”

This piece originally appeared on Introvert, Dear. Click here for more stories about being an introvert or highly sensitive person.

Related: Mental Health on The Mighty Podcast

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Anxiety Is a Part of Who I Am, but It Isn't All of Me

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I’ve spent many days and nights editing what I wanted to be perfect paragraphs. Searching for the right words and hoping it made sense to people not like me. I wanted to express what some people are afraid to open up about. But I needed to be brave, and I decided maybe my paragraphs don’t need to be perfect. The truth is, nothing is perfect, and that’s OK.

My name is Alizabeth Stachlinski, and I’m nervous about sharing my thoughts. I’m 20 years old, and I have an anxiety disorder.

I have spent more days and nights wondering what it’s like to be “normal” (or what I thought was “normal”). I can’t remember what it feels like to be anxiety-free. Sure, everyone gets nervous sometimes, but it’s not the same as an anxiety disorder. Some people are scared of talking in front of large groups, but the moment it’s over, their anxiety leaves. That’s not what it’s like for me. When my task is over, I spend nights thinking about ways I could’ve made it better. As if I could go back in time and change it.

Anxiety isn’t glamorous, and it’s not for seeking attention. My thoughts may be irrational, but my symptoms are there. You can feel it building up in you, and at any moment, you could burst. Your mind spins in circles, and you can’t focus on anything but your anxiety. You tell yourself over and over again, just breathe; breathe, please don’t do this. The worst feeling in the world is holding back an anxiety attack in public. You want to isolate yourself and run away.

I spent most of high school in the nurse’s office or bathroom. My teachers thought I didn’t care, but I wanted to be that A student who seemingly had no flaws. That wasn’t who I was. I was the girl everyone thought was “trouble.” I spoke my mind and cared way too much about others instead of myself. If only my teachers understood that I’m not unmotivated, and I did want to learn. I learned to watch people’s emotions. I could see the fake laughs and the pain in other people’s eyes, but I wondered why no one saw it in me. I really did try, and that’s what makes it harder. Those nurse trips were because I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Sometimes the room started to spin and I needed to close my eyes and be at peace. The bathroom trips were me calming myself down right before I had an attack.

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If only my family and friends knew that I didn’t mean to push them away. I made excuses why I couldn’t do things. Sometimes they thought I was being “lazy,” but it was my anxiety. I wanted to be alone where no one could judge me. If you asked my family and friends to describe me, they would probably say I’m a social butterfly. I don’t look sick, and I could hide my pain with a simple smile.

I’m stuck between feeling too much or feeling nothing at all. There is so much anxiety has taken from me. I would love to say it hasn’t, but it has.

Anxiety for me is staring out your window into the dark night at 3 a.m., wondering what it would feel like if everything went black.

Anxiety for me is staring out your front door, looking into the bright sun, wondering what it would be like if you felt safe in the world.

Anxiety for me is being strong and pushing yourself, wondering how much longer you have to push.

I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I could be different, but I should have been accepting who I was and that anxiety was a part of me.

If you’re reading this because you have anxiety, I want you to know you’re brave. Anxiety takes a lot out of you, but don’t let anxiety take your happiness. Buckle up for a bumpy road, because it’s not easy and I won’t lie and say it is. Be easy on yourself, because I’m sure you’re doing the best you can.

If you’re reading this because you know someone with anxiety, please don’t give up on them. They are already pushing themselves and probably already feel like a failure some days. Please remind them they are loved and that no one is perfect, but they are enough. Please do no get tired of helping them.

Anxiety is a part of who I am, but anxiety isn’t all of me. Someone once told me, “Your worst enemy to your success is you.” For me, anxiety is my enemy, and it won’t get in the way of my success.

Do not let anything get in the way of your success. Know you are brave, and know you are enough.

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.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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The Opposite of Anxiety

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I wanted so desperately to talk to Suchin and Lucky, the 8-year-old twin sons of my parents’ friends who were visiting us from India. But my anxiety, circular thinking, and “what-if” questions got the better of me. So, I stood in the corner of our living room pretending to be obsessed with a Lego castle I had constructed earlier that day.

My dad finally moseyed over and knelt down next to me. In his ever-gentle tone he nudged, “Suchin and Lucky are exactly your age, you know. Maybe you can ask them to play.”

“Do I have to? Maybe they don’t want to play.” I glanced over at them now sitting on the sofa staring into space and continued, “They look… busy.”

“Honey, I’m pretty sure if you asked, they’d love to build something with you or go outside on the swing set. What do you think?”

“OK, but I feel nervous.”

What is the opposite of anxiety?
What is the opposite of anxiety?

My dad rubbed my back. He was all too familiar with my anxious episodes and knew the best way to connect with me was with patience and empathy. After a minute or so, my dad squeezed his index finger and thumb really close together until they almost touched and said, “Listen honey, all you need is the tiniest bit of bravery. Just this iddy biddy bit. Think about it and try to talk to them.”

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I reflect on that day sometimes. I think about how I finally mustered up what I thought was courage, and asked the boys with mostly hand gestures to play outside. I think about how Suchin and I became the best of friends and remain close to this day. But I also think often about whether the antidote to anxiety is just a little bit of courage. In fact, I wonder, what is the opposite of anxiety?

If we look at it from a physiological perspective, in the throes of anxiety our bodies kick off the flight-or-fight response — our automated threat response system that releases a cascade of hormones to give us the strength and speed to deal with objective danger. When this alarm goes off, we have some very physical symptoms: our heart races, our breath is shallow, our palms get sweaty, etc. If this response encapsulates anxiety, then the opposite is not courage. The opposite of the fight-or-flight is the rest-and-digest mode, or perhaps just the feeling of peace.

When I think about anxiety, however, I think of it more holistically than just what is happening to my body. I think about the journey of my anxious mind. For example, when I wanted to go talk to Suchin and Lucky, the thoughts passing through my head were something like this:

What if they laugh at me?
What if they ignore me?
What if I say something silly?

Here’s the thing, despite these thoughts, I can tell you with conviction that deep within me lay a wellspring of confidence. In fact, even as a child, humor and charm, strengths highly valued in social situations, were some of my core strengths. The temporary thoughts I had when I felt anxious were notoriously inaccurate, and a hallmark of anxiety. In giving credence to those inaccuracies, I lacked a certain type of faith in myself.

So I dare to say now that the opposite of anxiety is not courage, nor is it peace. While these traits can help manage anxiety, the real vanquisher is something else entirely. The opposite of anxiety is trust. Trust in our core strengths, trust in our resilience, trust in the process, and trust even in the discomfort of our anxious emotions to deliver important messages. Looking back on all those encouraging conversations with my father, I know he was communicating this: “Trust yourself, Renee. You got this.”

Read more by this author at www.gozen.com.

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