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When Anxiety Comes, I Tell It Stories of Better Days

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This morning I woke up at 7:18 a.m. and the first thing I saw was the time, the first thing I felt was the anxiety. Here’s what I feel: shaky, unwound, overwhelmed, overstimulated. Here’s where I feel it: in my stomach, in my arms.

If my anxiety were an animal, right now it is a baby koala hugging my stomach begging me to fold over and just start again tomorrow.

I don’t have that choice though. I have a to do list, I have work, I have the life I love to live on good days, and need to actively immerse myself in on bad ones because it’s my form of self-care. Doing things that make me happy serve as a reminder that good days exist, even if today isn’t one.

One of the most frustrating parts of having anxiety, depression or the feels  —  whether you’ve been clinically diagnosed or not  —  is how little control you have over your ups and downs.

I’m not choosing to feel like this today, or any day I have bad anxiety. Shit, I’m coming down from a really good yesterday. I not only published my most vulnerable essay, but on top of that I decided to share it with a couple of people in my life who are new, and I’ve never chosen to open up to in that way before.

Maybe that’s what I’m coming down from. Regardless, here I am and for as overwhelmed as I feel right now, I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did.

I didn’t let the day just pass me by. We live in a world of back-to-back moments of instant gratification and authentic moments of triumph get lost in them. Moving on to the next one is easy because the last moment taught us that the next one will come.

On bad anxiety or depression days though I don’t have the luxury of knowing. On those days I don’t know how long the anxiety will exist on top of me, I’m unsure of how long this episode of depression will last. So all I’m usually left with are reminders that on any given day this usually made me happy.

I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did because right now I’m telling my anxiety the story of yesterday.

At 10 a.m. I texted my mentor this:

At 4 p.m. I g-chatted my friend this:

At 9 p.m. I was on the phone with my best friend telling her that the essay were thoughts I have only ever shared in therapy. I was writing like I was in therapy and it felt fucking amazing.

Writing was making me happy and anchoring me again.

Fear hadn’t stopped me. I chose to invite people into my uneven world and for the first time in a long time it felt like a choice I could make. Today I’m grateful for those small choices that led to a big moment of bravery for me because they led me here.

I’m in my apartment in New York City, writing in real time about the anxiety I’m feeling. I haven’t changed out of my pajamas, breakfast is a thing I will think of in a while. I’m anchoring myself in writing right now because the rest of the world is unsteady.

There’s something about putting these words down that frees me of their weight  —  maybe it’ll take the baby koala off my stomach and turn it into a baby kitten.

This piece originally appeared on Medium

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Anxiety Is an A-List Actress Who Tries to Steal the Spotlight

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Anxiety is an A-list actress. If anxiety were to audition for a role, especially one that involved imagining threat of death, feeling “insane,” and experiencing pain, anxiety would secure the lead. Because anxiety doesn’t just affect your mind, it inhabits your body too.

Something a lot of people might not realize about anxiety is just how much it hurts physically. People with anxiety don’t necessarily look different to anyone else. There’s no red flashing light spinning on top of their heads. But you know you’ve met a fellow person with anxiety when they get it: the intense sensation that makes it feel like your body is, quite literally, on fire — like someone’s taken a stack of firewood and a big old match and lit a bonfire in your belly, or legs, or back, or whatever body part it chooses to seize the most.

Anxiety is like that. It tends to favor a particular place and hang out there. For me, it’s my legs for adrenaline and my stomach for terror. For others, it might be their throats, that feeling of difficulty swallowing, of tightness, like your neck is a narrow tunnel and your adrenaline is in a traffic jam with your breath. For almost everyone, there’s muscle tension. And of course, at the center, in your most vulnerable place, there’s the heart of you beating like an out-of-control, twitchy metronome. Sound dramatic? Well, remember what I said: drama is anxiety’s favorite past time. Anxiety hates rest and favors fight-or-flight.

If it could have a career preference, anxiety might like to take up personal training, but not for well-being and balance. Anxiety prefers intensity and dominance. I remember once, in a particularly difficult period, beating my fists against my husband’s raised palms (don’t worry, he suggested it) and trying to box it out. With each blow I told anxiety how much I hated it. As it turned out, this only gave it more attention. The boxing match against my invisible foe ended with me collapsed in a stream of tears and it gloating in a corner with a celebratory drink. Fighting is not, I have learned, my best recourse to tackle anxiety, but we will get to what I have come to believe is in a moment.

Anxiety always wants to be front and center. There’s that drama-queen again. And, if it can make you believe it’s all there is, that there is nothing beyond it, that you are no longer you but entirely dictated to, directed by, and controlled by it, then anxiety smiles smugly and calls it a good day at the office.

Forgive all the mixed metaphors, but, see, metaphors are what is needed to define anxiety, because, despite all its kicking, screaming, whining, wailing, beating, baffling, and curtailing… anxiety is not an it after all but a sensation. No, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist because believe me, it does, but rather than a permanent point of identity, a defining characteristic that renders a person little more than anxiety’s puppet, anxiety is a sensation. And sensations don’t define you.

I remember the liberation I felt rushing over me like a sea breeze at sunset when someone first told me this. You are not the subtotal of your anxiety. Too long it has sought to define you. But the truth is, you are more than it. You are bigger than it. No matter how much it seeks, like a machine pumping hot air to inflate you, to occupy not just your legs, and stomach, and mind, but all of you, anxiety is not the only song on your playlist, not the only player in your life.

Psychologists call this expansion. You are bigger than it. Sensations cannot overtake, no matter how much they threaten and cajole. And if you are a Believer, you are bigger because He is bigger. Which leads to another point: acceptance.

I, and many wiser people around me, have been studying anxiety for a long time now. And this is what it comes down to. Anxiety likes fight, it likes attention, it likes center stage, but what it doesn’t like is acceptance. You might try, then, saying something like this politely to anxiety when it drops by stamping, screaming, and frothing at the mouth: ‘Oh, hello old friend, it’s you again. Well, I hardly need to give you a guided tour, you know the place well, so, come on in if you like. But don’t expect royal treatment. Just take a seat. Yes, in my stomach, if you wish, or my legs. I’m not going to fight you anymore. Because I don’t have to.’

That fire, it loves attention, but it can’t stay aflame too long if I don’t keep feeding it. And if it does stay burning longer than I’d like sometimes, because it’s pretty stubborn and those embers hold a lot of heat, that’s OK too because I won’t be consumed by it. No, sir, not anymore. And then, a little while later, perhaps when I least expect it, I might even say something like this, “What, you are leaving? Well, OK, but don’t worry, I won’t even lock the door. There’s no need to. It’s big enough for both of us in here.”

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How to Love a Girl With Anxiety

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This piece was written by Lauren Jarvis-Gibson, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Don’t baby her. Don’t look at her with a worrying gaze every time she reaches her hand out to you. She isn’t broken. She isn’t mental. She’s only human.

When she has a panic attack, don’t assume she’s faking it. Trust me, she isn’t. Hold her through her shaking, and tell her she is going to be OK. Tell her everything’s OK. Don’t think that she’s doing this for attention. She can’t help this. She can’t help what’s going through her mind. She’ll just need you to stay with her and talk to her through it. She needs you to tell her you’re there for her.

Do not pity her. Do not keep her inside to shield her from the world. Let her live. Let her breathe. Have her face her fears.

Take her on adventures. Watch her smile light up at the world around her. Know that sometimes, her world is more beautiful than yours. Know that her world is more beautiful because you are in it.

Don’t freak out when she has a bout of anxiety for no reason. Don’t get mad, and blame her anxiety on just a bad day. Validate her feelings. Validate how she is feeling.

And don’t make it a bigger deal than it already is.

Respect her. Do not push her to over do it. When you notice her hands start to tremble, ask what is wrong. Ask what you can do. Don’t let her go into overdrive. And stay calm, because although she may look good on the outside, her insides could be screaming.

Understand you will never understand how debilitating anxiety can be. Understand you will never truly feel what it’s like to have a panic attack, or to have your heart beat out of your chest, and to have your throat close up.

Just do your best to be there for her. Listen. Respond. Take care of her. Soothe her. Ease her worries when she lists every single thing that makes her afraid. Tell her you understand. Tell her she isn’t insane. And tell her you will be there by her side. No matter what.

Realize she wishes she wasn’t like this. She wishes she didn’t have these thoughts in her head. She gets scared sometimes, thinking that she’s too much for you. She gets worried you will one day leave her.

Show her that you won’t. Show her that you’re the type of guy to stay. The anxiety doesn’t matter. Show her that you love her too much to go. Show her you care too much to ever leave.

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

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10 Things Educators Should Know About Anxiety in Children

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As a parent and an educator, I have sat through many meetings for other children and my own regarding anxiety. One thing I’ve learned is anxiety is a relatively new concept in the area of special needs. I’m continually surprised that most people sitting around the table truly do not understand how difficult it can be for a child to live with anxiety.

There is no judgment in this list I wrote. I believe teachers are superheroes. I also believe every child deserves an equitable educational environment. I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life, and my daughter was diagnosed with it years ago. Helping her manage her anxiety has, in turn, helped me manage mine. My girl is my biggest hero, but so much credit is due to the teachers who were honest with me about how much she was struggling. This list is my small gesture of paying it forward.

1. Anxiety is more than being nervous, worried or sensitive. It is a biochemical reaction in the body. It requires understanding, treatment and attention. If not watched, it can manifest into larger health problems.

2. Anxiety does not look like one thing. Every child with anxiety has different triggers, different levels of intensity and different coping strategies.

3. Anxiety can present itself in different ways in boys and girls. In my educational experience, boys’ reactions tend to be more behavior-driven, while girls’ reactions tend to be more internal. Both require different strategies of managing and teaching effective coping strategies.

4. Parents expressing concern about an anxious child need to be heard, even if that child has never presented anxiety in the classroom. Many children “keep it together” all day only to crumble at home.

5. Telling a child to “calm down” does nothing but potentially pour kerosene on the fire inside of them. They don’t want to be feeling the way they do, going through their anxiety and/or panic. They likely want more than anything to calm down. Telling them to do so might only bring more shame, fear, anger and frustration.

6. Approach an anxious child with a quiet, calm voice and a caring demeanor. Their insides are in massive turmoil, and just breathing can pose as a challenge.

7. Develop a relationship with an anxious child. Know their triggers. Acknowledge that they may need some help, if they are open to it, from time and time. Draft a plan together about strategies that might work when they are in the thick of an anxiety or panic attack. Being understood and not judged can make all the difference in the world.

8. For younger students, help them to understand that their anxiety is not entirely them. Assign an animal, like a cat, to the anxiety and develop a way to help them “train” the cat to calm down when it starts to act up. For example, the child can take five calming, deep breaths if they feel the cat starting to get riled up. Take the cat for a walk. Distract the cat with a funny thought.

9. Older children may not like being singled out. Have an agreed upon and laid out plan in place for when their anxiety arrives. Allow them to take a two-minute walk around the building. Come up with a secret signal so they can communicate that they are struggling and may need a break.

10. Know that anxiety, while difficult, does not define them. Anxiety is a part of them, like freckles may be for another student. It should not be looked at as a deficit or a flaw. Most anxious kids are smart, observant and creative individuals. Focus on those parts of them. Acknowledge who they are apart from their anxiety.

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24 Songs to Help Relax an Anxious Mind

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Music is a huge part of my life. I’ve been brought up listening to all types of music, from The Beatles to Queen, Supertramp to Pink Floyd, Frankie Valli to del Shannon and Spice Girls to Take That. My parents and grandparents love music, and I’ve grown up loving music. I go nowhere without my earphones, and I have playlists for pretty much any mood or occasion. My friend calls me her little jukebox because I love music so much.

I have a playlist of songs I find calming and soothing when I’m in an anxious mood. Songs that can instantly make me feel better or songs that can just make me feel. So I thought I’d share some of the songs that help me through tough times.

1. “Promise” by Ben Howard

2. “Morning” by Beck

3. “5 AM” by Amber Run

4. “Dreamer” by Isbells

5. “Until We Get There” by Lucius

6. “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez

7. “Cycling Trivialities” by Jose Gonzalez

8. “Roslyn” by Bon Iver &St. Vincent

9. “Under My Arrest” by Fossil Collective

10. “The Paper Kites” by St. Clarity

11. “Ours” by The Bravery

12. “A White Demon Love Song” by The Killers

13. “The Violet Hour” by Sea Wolf

14. “Goodbye Mr A” by The Hoosiers

15. “Speak Up” by POP ETC

16. “No More Lonely Night” by Paul McCartney

17. “Playing God” by Paramore

18. “Agape” by Bear’s Den

19. “Honest” by Kodaline

20. “Oceans” by Seafret

21. “Logical Song” by Supertramp

22. “Learning to Fly” by Pink Floyd

23. “Rivers Flow In You” by Yiruma

24. “Debussy” by Claire De Lune

*Also, Christmas music never fails to cheer me up!

Ben Howard is one of my favorite artists anyway. I love his music, and I recommend both his albums, “Every Kingdom” and “I Forgot Where We Were” because his music is so soothing. The song “Promise,” has the sound of rain and an instrumental at the beginning before Howard starts singing. I can have this song on repeat all day and never get sick of it. “Conrad” and “Old Pine” are two others I’d recommend listening to as they’re both just as soothing.

Beck is another musician, like Ben Howard, where I can recommend the full album. “Morning Phase” is the album I recommend. I’ll admit, I don’t know any of his other albums so I cannot comment on those, but “Morning Phase” is fantastic. There are some amazing songs on there, ones I can listen to in bed or when I’m out and about. I know these can bring my anxiety level down.

I recently bought Amber Run’s album “5AM,” and it is amazing. There isn’t a song on there that I dislike. The vocals and the songs are so good. I’ve had it on repeat for weeks now!

Bear’s Den album “Islands” came with a deal when I bought Amber Run’s album. I knew the one song “Agape” before buying it, but I now absolutely love the whole album! “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii” is a lovely song with acoustic guitars and fantastic vocals. I would recommend the album to anyone!

Bon Iver is another musician I found around the same time I found Ben Howard (around 2012). “Skinny Love” would probably be his most famous song, at least it’s the song my friends know, but “Perth” is another song I’d say has to be listened to. The beginning, before he even starts singing and just the music itself, I love it.

A lot of these songs are slower. Some are a bit more upbeat. Yet, they’re just good songs, which I think are nice to relax to. Songs I can enjoy listening to. Songs that aren’t all about sex, drugs and night clubs. Songs that don’t have 10 beats.

These songs have nice musical instruments, acoustic guitars and piano. They have softer music with vocals that aren’t all autotune. These are songs that I, personally, can relax listening to. They take me to a good place, and I love them.

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It Took a Lot for Me to Leave the House This Morning

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As I wake up at 6 a.m., alarm blaring through my skull after I retired to bed just nine and a half hours earlier, I try to put on my “positivity hat.” I feel more tired than when I went to bed the night before — how is that even possible?

I physically struggle to keep my eyes open as I sit up in bed, stomach churning with anxiety and whole body aching from chronic illness. I’m having a flare-up due to stress.

I think about how much I desperately desire a few more hours of sleep. And then I think about how if I did get it, it probably wouldn’t make me feel much better anyway. No amount of sleep helps to relieve my fatigue and exhaustion, and it wouldn’t help me mentally either. Not really. I’d just feel like rubbish and beat myself up for missing work. Again.

The gloomy voice of depression sets in and tells me I’m useless anyway. Why do you bother pretending you can live a regular life? I inevitably crumble at the slightest change to my routine, and my chronic illness flares up at times, catching me off guard and resulting in a worsened mental state in addition to the physical. I feel like I can’t cope.

Old friend Anxiety arrives, too. It reminds me of all the things I could do wrong today and everything I’m not yet comfortable with, that isn’t familiar or predictable to me. I feel like I’m going to be sick. I’m almost paralyzed.

I think about how easy it would be to just cower away under my duvet, or run away and never look back. Sadly, the thought of no longer existing seems the best option for a moment, as it would take away the pain I feel, the doom and gloom hanging over me and the wretched anxiety plaguing me every single minute of every day. It would put a stop to it all. It often presents as seemingly the only way out of me feeling so useless, hopeless and not capable of coping with anything. The delicate link of depression and anxiety for me is debilitating in every way possible.

It starts with anxiety, which sets in when I feel out of control, out of my comfort zone or useless — i.e. when I’m not learning something as quickly as I “should be,” when my routine has changed or when my chronic illness has flared up. This anxiety is constant for me and causes many symptoms, from nausea to diarrhea and insomnia. Having these symptoms constantly initiates more anxiety, and it’s an endless cycle. I’m anxious about being anxious. Feeling this way all the time makes me feel down, and at times I dislike existing, therefore I slip into a depressive state and another bout of depression arrives swiftly. Often, those around me notice it before even I do. Then I’m battling both anxiety and depression, and I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar story to many of you.

Despite waking up feeling so dreadful this morning, hounded by anxiety, depression and chronic illness, I still got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and made my way to work. Every single second on the train, I spent it trying to enforce some positivity: Today will be different. Today, we can do this. Today, I’ll be in control. Trying to calm the anxiety down makes me more anxious, though. But I still left the house today. And it took a lot for me to do so. More than anyone might imagine.

Image via Thinkstock.

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.

Follow this journey on The Invisible Hypothyroidism.

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