three bikes lined up outside

When Anxiety Starts a Cycle of 'What Ifs'

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My boyfriend invited me to Bike Party tonight. Considering how clingy it’s been lately, I extended the invitation to anxiety, as well. I may as well. It’s coming regardless of whether I want it to or not. Bike Party is a monthly, weekend event in my hometown, where a large group of people meet up at night on their bikes and ride a predetermined route together. There is music, and it’s overall a blast from what I hear.

Let’s all laugh out loud at once. What a perfect event for someone like me, who totes her anxiety like it’s the newest hot accessory. (Note the sarcasm here.) This is my literal nightmare. Large crowds, night time bike riding, cars, crowding, traffic, so many unknowns. Oh, hello anxiety!

I’ve never been to Bike Party before, mostly because of the aforementioned reasons. So many things could go wrong. I’m talking worst-case scenario things because obviously that’s where my brain takes me. Anxiety causes me to jump down the rabbit hole almost immediately.

Rather than think about how much fun I would have spending time with my partner, I think about the clearly inevitable moment when a car comes careening through the crowd of bicyclists, crushing us all in frustration. Rather than get excited about how fun bicycling is, I’ve already determined I will not be able to keep up with my boyfriend’s pace. Instead, I’ll be the heaving, sweaty, grunting person pulling up the rear, frantically looking over my shoulder for, you guessed it, inevitable careening car.

What if I get a flat tire? What if we go into a neighborhood I’m not comfortable with? What if I get tired but he wants to keep going? What if we get separated? I could keep going, but I’ll spare you the never-ending thought train.

Each of those “what if” questions has their own little cascading group of questions to follow it, similar to a family tree or a brainstorming exercise. Let’s just take the, “What if I get a flat tire?” question as an example. What if I get a flat tire? Will I have the tools to fix it? What if it’s not fixable and we have to walk? What if we have to walk miles? What if my shoes hurt my feet on said walk? What if we ran into trouble? Maybe I should just get a ride so I don’t have to worry about dangerous situations. If I got an Uber, do they have bike racks? Oh Lord, Jesus take the wheel.

Anxiety has determined this will be a bumpy ride. My boyfriend has been begging me to do this with him for years (Literal years.) Sure, I could say no. I don’t want to go. It would certainly end part of my anxiety troubles.

Ultimately though, if I was at home and he was out there, then I’d just be stewing about all the same worries, with him as the main character instead of myself. Now that I’ve finally said OK, all he can think about is how much fun we will have together. Meanwhile, I’m over here planning a doomsday scenario in my mind within seconds of agreeing.

I’m tired of living like this. It’s so easy to fall down the hole into the worry abyss, never to return. Yet, the logical part of my mind is strong, and urges me to just try. Because the one “what if” question my anxiety never seems to visit is: What if I have fun? Gasp!

So, I said yes, despite my anxiety’s best effort to stop me. When my mind is clear, Bike Party does sound fun in theory to me. I wish I could be cavalier and drop all my worries, but I have to accept my brain just doesn’t work that way. I’m going to confront the worries head on, woman up and hit the streets with my boo tonight. I may get squashed by a car, but probably not. I may get tired, but he won’t force me to truck on. I may get a flat. I may not.

Anxiety, buckle up. We are going on a bike ride tonight.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Things I Don't Want to Hear as Someone With Anxiety and Depression

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People with mental health problems have probably heard it all. “Just smile.” “Just stop thinking about it.” “Just go to bed early.” Here’s a little list of what you could not say to someone who may be struggling. I’ve written these down from things people have said to me, or things I know other people have heard.

Anxiety

1. But why are you anxious?

We don’t always know. Really. It can be annoying, we know, but sometimes the anxiety just hits us for an unknown reason.

2. Just stop being anxious.

Cured us right there! Not. If only it was that easy!

3. Why don’t you just come out with us? You’re so boring.

We don’t necessarily enjoy sitting in our rooms all day, but sometimes facing the outside world is just a no for us. Perhaps seeing just a small group of people indoors at first and gradually getting our guts up to leave the house would be easier.

4. You’re just being silly.

What might seem silly to you could seem like the end of the world to us. Sometimes, just stepping into a shop can make us anxious. Give us time.

Depression

1. Why are you sad?

We don’t always know. Seriously.

2. You have nothing to be depressed about.

Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have depression. It can be a chemical imbalance in the brain. We don’t want to be like this. We didn’t ask to be like this. And to be honest, you don’t always know what a person has going on in her life behind closed doors. People with depression are often good actors; we can act totally fine when we’re actually not.

3. Just think happy thoughts.

Well, why didn’t I think of that in the first place? No. It. Does not. Work like that.

4. You seem happy today. Are you cured?

We are allowed to be happy and have depression. Having depression doesn’t mean I have to be sad 24/7. I can still have a laugh, I can still smile. I can still try and have fun!

5. Depression isn’t real. It’s just in your head.

Yes, it is in my head, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Depression is a medically-diagnosed illness. It is very real!

6. You seem a bit sad today. Did you forget to take your medication?

Yes, I have heard this one before. It does not work like that. I can still have bad or good days while I am taking my medication. I don’t get 100 percent better as soon as I start my tablets, and if I miss a dose it doesn’t mean I will sit and cry all day.

It can hurt to hear things like this. You might not think it would, but it often does. We may not act like it does, but it can circle in our heads for a long time. If you don’t understand, maybe it’s best not to say what you think, or do some research. Just try to be a bit sensitive.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Fish Out of Water 96.

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When You Can’t Do What You Want to Do Because of Your Anxiety

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Today, I’d like to talk about something that means a great deal to me. When I was younger and didn’t deal with anxiety as much, I loved going places. I loved shopping, going to birthday parties and really just getting out of the house. However, now that my anxiety is much worse and harder to cope with, it’s difficult for me to get out.

Do I miss it? Absolutely! Do I wish I could just go wherever I want and have a good time without worrying? 100 percent, yes! However, as many of you who struggle with anxiety know, it’s not always that easy. As much as we may want to do something, sometimes our anxiety holds us back. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult for us to even picture going anywhere without feeling anxious.

Unfortunately, I don’t think people always understand this. I have relatives who seriously believe if I wanted to do things badly enough, I just would. I’m sorry to say this is not the case. When my mom or someone else invites me to go somewhere, I want so much to say, “Yes! When are we going?” Usually though, I don’t. Usually, I say, “I’m sorry I can’t, but I wish I could.”

It’s admittedly hard to feel as though people don’t believe you, especially your loved ones. I don’t want my family and friends to think I don’t miss doing things with them or I don’t wish I could. The truth is though I know I’m not ready to go somewhere and walk around for an extended period of time. I also know some of the people I’d be going with are not understanding. If I had to leave, then they would get frustrated. I’m not trying to blame others. I’m just stating the facts.

I’m writing this to let anyone who struggles to do the things they want because of anxiety that I understand. You’re not alone. I’m also writing this to remind those who have loved ones who struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues, that we don’t like going through this. We would much rather be going somewhere exciting or doing something fun!

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Getting Through Anxiety.

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A Weekday With Anxiety

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I’ve been struggling with anxiety for quite some time now, and I’ve noticed how many people don’t understand why I get so panicky and stressed out all the time. So to all those people, this article is for you.

My brain talks to me all day, every day and doesn’t stop. This is what a day in my head looks like.

5:00 a.m. “Oh my God, what time is it? Why didn’t my alarm clock ring?”

I check my watch, and when I see it’s OK, I try to get back to sleep. But the voice continues to speak.

“If you fall into a deep sleep you won’t wake when your alarm rings.” “It might not even ring at all. Did you even remember to set it last night?”

I check that it’s set, and see that it’s fine. Still too scared it might not ring, I stay awake till it gets light.

7:00 a.m. Breakfast time.

“Is the soy milk out of date? No, it’s fine. But how long has it been in the fridge for? What if it’s gone bad? Maybe that’s why last night I didn’t feel well… because I ate something that was bad.”

8:00 a.m. Leaving for work.

I check I have my keys, phone, money, bus card.

“But wait, am I missing something? I’m sure I’m forgetting something! What am I forgetting?”

I leave the house, get to the bottom of the stairs and…

“Did I lock the door?”

I run back up and check. It’s locked all right. I hurry down before I miss the bus. I run to the bus stop in fear I’ll miss it, even though I’m 10 minutes early. I get to the bus stop and search eagerly for my bus card.

“Where is it? I just made sure I had it! Oh, there it is, underneath all those receipts. Did I lock the door? Where’s my phone? Why isn’t the bus coming? I’m going to be late for work!”

Finally the bus comes, and I relax.

“No, wait, where’s my phone? Did I leave it at the bus stop? Never mind, it’s right here in my hand.”

I fall asleep during the bus ride from sheer exhaustion, even though the day’s just started. At work my boss calls me into his office.

“Oh my God, am I about to get fired?”

Thankfully he only wants to talk about work-related things. I get back to my desk and try to get on with my work, but thoughts keep coming to my head.

“Is the dog ok? What if she’s messed up the flat? She might have chewed up the sofa, and your landlord’s gonna be furious. He might not let you keep her. You’ll have to give her away.”

I start to feel sick. I desperately need the loo.

“Please don’t be sick.”

I open Facebook in hopes that it might somehow calm me down. I leave work in plenty of time to catch the last bus, but my first bus is late and there’s tons of traffic, and the whole journey I’m terrified I’ll miss the last bus home.

“I can always take a different route instead of the bus straight home,” I try to tell myself, but I’m only relaxed once I’m on the second bus and know I’m almost home.

The day doesn’t end there.

I get on the bus and double, triple, quadruple check I’ve got my keys, phone, bus card, credit card and extra cash… just in case. I get off the bus and check once more that I’ve definitely got my keys and that they haven’t fallen out of my bag and been left on the bus. I feel sweaty walking up the road. I’m still picturing the couch with a huge hole in the middle and my dog having a party in all the stuffing. I get to my door and search frantically for the keys that were just there a minute ago. With my hands shaking, I unlock the door, turn on the lights and see the house is just as I left it. I take the dog for a nice long stroll, not so worried now that I have someone to protect me from danger. I get back and go to bed. But I don’t fall asleep so easily. The day is over, but the night has only just begun. And that you can read about here.

Image via Thinkstock.

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What People Don't Say About Practicing Mindfulness to Help With Anxiety

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 mind·ful·ness

/ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/

noun

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Mindfulness is hard. There’s a huge community in mental health around mindfulness due to its proven positive effects for those who have disorders like anxiety, PTSD and more. My therapist has been recommending I give mindfulness a shot from day one. Even after I started medication and was seeing results, she still insisted that in the long run, mindfulness is what will help me stabilize and be at peace with my disorder.

What people often don’t hear, and what I had to realize on my own, is that mindfulness can be incredibly difficult.

Everyone’s experiences will be different, but I have to say, in my experience and conversations with others who have anxiety disorders, mindfulness is often no easy task. I am by no means an expert, but I have been attempting to practice mindfulness for over two years now. I started with traditional hatha yoga and meditation practices, attending classes and finding videos online. Now, my practice varies from reading “The Little Book of Mindfulness” to listening to guided meditations for five to 10 minutes at night.

And still, I find myself not accepting myself. The point of mindfulness is to bring us back to the now. What are you feeling, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, doing — right in this very moment, and can you just be? Accept the moment for what it is — accept yourself and your feelings for what they are.

As someone with intense anxiety, that sounds like hell. And it kind of is.

My mind wanders. I have what I like to call “high-functioning anxiety.” I don’t think people in my day-to-day life would guess the amount of struggle I go through to keep my life on track. I go to work, I do my job well, I keep my house clean, I’m a dutiful fiancée and dog mom, and I have a regular social life with friends. But inside my head, I’m an unorganized mess. Most of the time.

Mindfulness is supposed to help you bring yourself into the moment, to discourage anxious and obsessive thoughts, and instead help you bring your mind into a state of relaxation, usually focusing on your breath.

It sounds simple enough, and, hey, don’t we breathe all the time? But I’m here to tell you — it is not easy, and you don’t need to feel like it should come naturally. I was severely discouraged from it because I felt like a failure every single time my mind wandered — every time I was interrupted due to intrusive thoughts, every time I couldn’t sleep due to compulsions, every time I skipped a day or two of meditation and felt intense guilt. For those of us whose anxiety manifests as a form of desire to succeed and perfectionism, attempting something we’re not able to master and check off our list can be excruciating — at least, it was for me.

Until I had a breakthrough one day. It was shortly after I’d finished “The Little Book of Mindfulness” and successfully completed a 30-minute guided meditation — by far the longest I’d stayed “relaxed” in years. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, feeling alive and noticing the things around me — how peaceful the morning light in my room was, the feeling of my slippers on my feet, how delicious the strawberries I had were — all of these things delighted me, and I realized that for the very first time, mindfulness was seeping its way into my natural train of thought.

That day at work, I made one of the only spontaneous decisions I have ever made in my life — I got a tattoo that I only thought about for maybe an hour. It’s a “pause” symbol. It’s on the inside of my wrist. And it’s a daily reminder to pause, take a breath, be mindful, and then continue moving forward.

I am by no means healed, or a meditation master. I do not wake up every morning and appreciate the little things. I don’t always take a step back and breathe in the moment. I am simply a girl trying to do better, for herself and her family. I have a million things happening in my life right now, but I now have a constant reminder to live in the moment and keep breathing.

Mindfulness is hard — but it really is the only tool I’ve found that makes me feel better, even if only for a brief pause. I encourage you to give it a shot, in whatever way feels most comfortable to you.

Follow this journey on Naturally Sheyna.

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The 'Weird' Thing That Brings Me Solace When Anxiety Takes Over

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For me, the anxiety is like a blanket. It comes and drowns me in thoughts, twitches and repetitive actions that just don’t stop. Even hours later, the effects can be seen.

My friends often can’t tell. It’s not because they don’t notice. It’s because I’m good at hiding it: Can’t sit still? Oh, I’m just stretching my legs at work. Tapping my pens? I’m just keeping the beat of the music I’m listening to on my headphones. Always an explanation.

Those of us with high-functioning anxiety can be very good at explanations. We may try to use them to settle our own anxiety at the same we use them to keep friends and family from noticing.

I hear the thoughts coming and suddenly feel frozen. They take over and run rampant. So I try and ignore them. Then I try to focus on something else. When I can’t succeed at either, I’ve begun to find solace in “white noise.”

White noise has been documented to help insomniacs in reaching and staying in a sleep state. Waterfalls, forest sounds, etc. can give a person something other than thoughts or anxieties from a day to focus on.

My white noise is nothing like that. Crickets chirping? Here comes the anxiety: Where is it? Find it now! It will just keep chirping all night!

No, I have my classic rock.

Weird, yes. Something designed to “move” the body and mind helps settle me. Odd, perhaps. Anxiety comes knocking; throw on some AC/DC. Turn up the volume. I don’t drown. The thoughts, twitches and repetitive actions do.

I know that part of the reaction I have to my version of white noise is that I got my love of classic rock from my father. He is a man who always seems cool under pressure. No anxiety to be seen no matter the situation. Driving in blizzard conditions at night? Turn on some Pink Floyd and sing along.

My association to white noise might be different from what most people understand. It’s supposed to be calming. Mine is everything but. It works for me. By overpowering the anxiety, I can overcome it. I can move beyond it, even if it will come back. I am not controlled by it.

In my family, the anxiety is well-earned. All four of us struggle with some form of it. My anxiety stems mostly from obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve found what works for me. It doesn’t mean it will work for others, but it helps me keep my anxiety at a manageable level. It allows me to live the life I mean to have.

Anxiety can be a daily battle. Something goes wrong in a day’s plan, and I break out my music. I sing along. I head-bang. When I connect to the music, my white noise, I can finally focus. I can see what is freezing me is not going to stop me. I will succeed.

No waterfalls included. No crickets involved. Good, I’m not a fan of bugs anyway.

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