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Maybe This Is the First Step in Facing My Anxiety

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A friend sent me this earlier today:

“My whole life I’ve been telling myself ‘don’t be afraid.’ And it is only now that I’m realizing how stupid that is. Don’t be afraid. Like saying ‘don’t move out of the way when someone tries to punch you’ or ‘don’t flinch at the heat of the fire’ or ‘don’t blink.’ Don’t be human. I’m afraid and you’re afraid and we’re always going to be afraid, because that’s the point. What I should be telling myself is ‘be afraid, but do it anyway. Live anyway.’”  — Unknown

That quote, combined with a late night anxiety spike, got me thinking. What if, instead of being stifled by our demons, we stand up to them? I know what I’m saying is incredibly difficult, and it will take work. So, maybe the first step is facing your demons, looking at them dead in the eye and saying, “Yes I’m terrified of you. But bring it on anyways.”

Facing them, staring them down, and communicating that yes, you are afraid but also are ready for whatever they can dish out, can take away their power. Just for a little bit, until they retaliate. But for that small frame of time, you may feel free. Because you have thrown off the demons. You have confused them. They don’t recognize this person standing up to them. Where did that other person go? She’s gone. At least for a few moments.

My point is, facing our demons and standing up to them is quite possibly a very large step towards recovery. I did it for the first time tonight, and so far it’s been wonderful. I will endeavor to do it more and more often, whenever I need to, and I suggest you do the same. It may just be the one action that breaks those chains and helps you stand on your own two feet to fend off those demons once and for all. I have faith in each and every one of you. We can do it!

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When Self-Doubt Is Constant

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Doubt is the hidden antagonist that aides in the development of both my anxiety and depression. Doubt invades everything.

I have doubts mostly about my own abilities. Doubts about doing laundry  will I ruin all the clothes? Doubts about driving — will I cause a crash? Doubts about my relationship — how will I wreck it? Doubts about working — are they talking about me? Am I doing a good enough job? Is there something I could be doing better? Is there someone doing better than I am?

I doubt everything about myself. There are times when this doubt freezes me, leaves me jobless and doing poorly in school. I know I can do better, but this constant doubt that runs through my head feels stronger than me some days. And other days, I am stronger. Some days I overcome these feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. Some days I persevere and complete the tasks the day sets out before me. But some days I don’t. And that is OK. I know I am still a good person. Even though some days this symptom of my mental illness is overpowering, I am still here. I am still alive, and I have many more days to get better at this. And through therapy and medication, I am learning how to better deal with my doubts.

For now, I acknowledge the thoughts and then I push them from my head. I use distractions to live out my day-to-day life. There is this constant self-doubt inside me. Some days it feels like it wins, and some days it doesn’t. For that I am happy; for that I am appreciative of how much growth I have made in recent months. I know I will keep getting better, even when I try to talk myself out of it.

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The (Not-So) Silent Workplace Battle With Anxiety

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Another afternoon in the office. I’m sitting at my desk, a Word document open in front of me on my computer. The lines blur, and the words don’t make sense. My brain feels like treacle as I try to process the task in front of me. My heart pounds as I look at this simple paragraph which no longer has any meaning. I feel the palms of my hand get sweaty on the mouse. With my other hand, I grip the edge of my desk, digging my fingernails into the wood. The familiar wave of nausea washes over me as I battle to swallow the growing lump in my throat. My breath catches as I try to slow my breathing.

Suddenly the phone rings and knocks me out of my bubble. I answer, my voice high-pitched and strained. It’s my boss.

“How are you?”

My voice sticks in my throat. Eventually I un-glue my tongue and manage to speak.

“Fine, thank you. Yourself?”

It’s an all-too-familiar ritual. The panic, the mind-blanks, the lapse in concentration. The phone call, the “how are you?” question, and the age-old lie: “I’m fine.”

I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened now. How often colleagues glance at me as I scratch my fingernails across the desk, as I fidget uncontrollably in my chair, as I chew my lip and frown at my computer in an attempt to concentrate. The look on their faces says it all: We don’t want to ask. We don’t want to know.

My boss feigns interest – but I feel like a burden to him. We are all working flat-out, and my mental health issues are just another thing for him to deal with in our busy working life. I’ve tried to explain to him how it feels to be me, how I cannot control what goes on in my head, but he can’t – or won’t – understand. He deals in facts, not feelings. And the fact of the matter is that I am under-performing because of my lack of concentration and mental blocks. I procrastinate too. The tasks facing me feel overwhelming and huge, so I put them off as long as I can. Deadlines get missed, mistakes get made, my boss gets annoyed. And all this contributes to my already increasing anxiety.

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The workplace battle is often a silent one. I am lucky enough to have an employer that has been prepared to listen and support me. Our HR team are fantastic and have been open to discussions with me and I hope have also helped managers understand a bit more about how my depression and anxiety affect me. But I still struggle day-in, day-out, in silence. I don’t feel able to grab a colleague when my anxiety is overwhelming and tell them I need grounding. If I admit I’m struggling, I feel like I’m admitting defeat – and admitting defeat makes you vulnerable.

When your condition is invisible, people cannot understand the impact it has on your life. Mental illness is horrible – it sneaks up on you, it follows you around and whispers in your ear – you’re not good enough, you don’t deserve this. It never ceases to amaze me how much you start to listen to those nagging, negative thoughts when you’re in a bout of illness. I wake up every day to these thoughts, and no one but me can see and hear them. Just for one day, I would love to have a little TV screen above my head which shows the outside world what goes on in my head. It would be messy, but it might make people understand a bit more.

In the workplace, any weakness is sniffed as easily as rotting fish. You become an unintentional target of additional monitoring, of micro-management as your boss makes sure you’re constantly on form. That in itself is exhausting. Not being able to express your mental health at work is even more exhausting. I hide it in shame every day. I try to form a wall around me so people can’t see it. But that invisible illness suddenly becomes visible as the cracks start to show. The cracks constitute missed deadlines and obvious errors being made in work. The cracks shine bright and any positives quickly slide into the background. And as you become more aware of these cracks appearing, the wider and larger these cracks get – until you either burn out from stress or admit you cannot cope.

And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m currently signed off work because I reached breaking point. I am acutely aware of workloads piling up and the effect this will have on the rest of the team, and this does nothing to ease my anxiety. I’m supposed to be resting, but all I can think about is how my boss must be perceiving my mental health, how my absence is causing emails to pile up and workloads to increase. I am supposed to be back in on Monday if my GP agrees, but I fear returning to work because I worry about the repercussions.

So I have a choice. I either carry on burying my head in the sand and accept that I struggle in silence or take the brave but difficult route and speak out. And right now neither one looks particularly attractive.

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3 New Year's Resolutions I'm Making as Someone With Anxiety

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The year 2016 has been a rough one for me personally, and I know it has been for many others as well. Among the many things that have been going on in my life this year, I know I haven’t taken care of my mental health or dealt with my anxiety as much as I should have.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, in 2017 there are a few things I need to work on to try and make it a better year for my metal health. These are the top three goals I want to work on in the coming year.

1. Reach out more and ask for help

One thing I struggle with a lot as a person with anxiety is opening up to others about how I’m feeling. Even when I am having a particularly difficult time with my anxiety and I know that I could use help, I still typically opt to keep these feelings to myself. I’m not sure why I have this tendency to downplay my feelings and keep my struggles quiet, but I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. I don’t even like to talk about these things with family or close friends. I think it has a lot to do with not wanting to seem “weak,” or worrying that I will be judged negatively.

I know, logically, that my family and friends would be supportive if I reached out to them, and when I have in the past I have never been met with judgment or criticism. I also know that creating a support system is crucial when dealing with a mental illness. So this year, I want to try harder to reach out to those close to me and ask for help and support when I need it.

2. Forgive myself.

My anxiety makes me incredibly hard on myself a lot of the time. I know that I am overly critical toward myself for things I have done in the past and I dwell on mistakes way past the point of being helpful. I also get a lot of anxiety whenever I feel like I’m not doing enough, not working hard enough or accomplishing things fast enough. I start to worry that I’m not meeting goals that I’ve set for myself as quickly as I would like, and then my mind takes that and spins it into thoughts like, “Well, you haven’t even managed to complete this one goal yet, so obviously your career will never work out and you’re going to be a failure. And also you’ll die alone.”

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These negative thoughts make it hard to move forward, because instead of focusing on what needs to be done, I’m focused on the anxiety. And when the anxiety feels like it’s holding me back, I get more anxious and more critical of myself. This year, I want to be less hard on myself, understand that my life isn’t on a path of failure, and forgive myself for the times that anxiety has consumed me and made it hard for me to move forward.

3. Take things one day at a time.

A big source of my anxiety is worries about the future. What am I going to do next month, next year, five years from now? I get so anxious about what’s going to happen in the future that sometimes it paralyzes me and makes it impossible to make decisions about what is happening now. It makes it hard for me to be present in the moment, because I am constantly thinking about what comes next. In 2017, I want to work on taking things one day at a time, appreciating the here and now and not letting fear of the future keep me from living in the present.

While dealing with anxiety and working toward better mental health isn’t easy, I know that it’s worth it. I hope anyone else who is resolving to work on their mental health in the coming year find the strength that they need to do it. Here’s to hoping that 2017 is kinder to us all.

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How It Feels When Someone Says, 'Everyone Has Anxiety'

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Time and time again I’ve had people tell me to my face or over text that “everyone has anxiety” and that I “just need to learn how to deal with it.” Hearing those words always makes me feel sad because people don’t understand the struggle I live with every single day.

I get it — everyone has experienced anxiety, but some people struggle with it every day. I, for example, have to take medications for my anxiety because my anxiety can get out of hand. I’ve been dealing with my anxiety for years, and for years I’ve been learning how to cope with my anxiety and even my panic attacks.

It’s not easy for people like me who have a mental illness because I feel like I can never get others to understand. Sometimes I’m fighting with myself on a daily basis because I’m so overwhelmed with my thoughts and what can happen. It’s a constant battle, every day.

Not everyone has to go through what I have to go through. Not everyone has to be on medications and go to therapy to learn how to manage anxiety. Not everyone can understand how bad a panic attack is and how I feel like I’m dying because I feel like I’ve lost all control. And not everyone has to decide whether or not getting out of bed is worth it because you’re so emotionally and mentally drained by anxiety.

The next time you tell someone “everyone has anxiety,” please think about what you are saying. It’s a slap in the face to me when people tell me that, and it hurts. Anxiety is a monster that hovers over me wherever I go, and sometimes it acts like a tornado because it destroys everything around me with my emotions. Instead of telling me everyone has anxiety, next time just tell me I’ll be OK or things will be better soon.

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How I Helped My Son Through an Anxiety Attack by Using 'Inside Out'

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My 7-year-old son is in the first grade and struggles with anxiety. He is typically quiet and not the emotional type. He gets along with almost everyone and enjoys going to school.

A few months ago, I overslept and was running late taking the kids to school. I could sense a little panic in my son’s behavior, but I didn’t think too much into it. When we arrived at their school 10 minutes late, my son refused to get out of the car. I was running late for work myself and was in a rush to get the kids to their classrooms. I could see his scared face and body tense up so I parked my car and walked him up to his classroom. Thirty minutes later, my son, his teacher, the principal and myself were sitting outside his classroom trying to get him to relax and walk into his classroom. I have never seen this side of him before. This was more than just being shy – this was an anxiety attack.

I recognized his symptoms and behaviors and have seen them in myself. He wasn’t crying or throwing a tantrum or screaming because he just didn’t want to go to class. His body was shaking. He just stood there moving his hands in front of his face back and forth, trying to breathe and work up the courage to walk into his classroom. Eventually, I was forced to leave and let the teachers handle the situation. I felt like utter crap walking away. (Worst. Parent. Ever.) I wanted to take him home and talk to him about what he was thinking and what his fears were. It was an extremely difficult moment for me as a parent.

After this incident, I did my very best to leave the house early and always arrive a few minutes early so he could get to his class on time. Well, just last week we left the house at our usual early time and hit traffic. There was a horrible car accident, and I knew we were going to be late for school. Because I was sitting in traffic, I had some time to come up with a plan to help my son face his fear. I kept quiet about the time until he asked me in concern if we were going to be late. I said we were and that I was going to be there by his side to help him get into his classroom.

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I had to make this as distracting and fun as possible. Sure, it may sound ridiculous, but it was all I could come up with in such a short time. Right after he asked me if we were going to be late, I mentioned the movie “Inside Out.” I asked him to tell me the five emotions that the movie talked about: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy, he responded. I said, “Great! Right now, in this moment Fear is taking over all the other emotions in your mind and trying to stop you from going into your classroom. Let’s tell Fear to step aside for a moment so you can handle this yourself. But – don’t tell him to go away! We need Fear. We don’t want to never see him again. He’s an emotion we can’t and don’t necessarily want to get rid of.” My son laughed and said, “OK, Mom.” I looked in the rearview mirror and could see him in deep thought as if he was actually picturing the emotions in his head just like in the movie. It was cute.

Perhaps I went a little too far, but I was having fun with this scenario so I kept going:

Me: Can you tell me what Disgust is saying right now?
Son: I hope we don’t have carrots for lunch today! Gross!

Me: Haha great! Now what is Anger telling you?
Son: Stupid traffic! People need to learn how to drive better!

Me: No kidding! Now, what about Sadness?
Son: I hope everyone in the car accident is OK. (So sweet, right?!)

Me: I was thinking the same thing! Now, what about Joy?
Son: Recess is going to so much fun!

Me: “Awesome, now let’s remember to tell Fear it’s all going to be OK. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

He seemed incredibly distracted at this point. So far my plan had been working. Of course, it helped that his big sister was engaged as well.

We pulled up to the school, I parked and walked my son to his classroom while trying to remain positive and discussing such Fear. My son was giggling and basically looking at me like I was the silliest person. (Let’s face it, I was.) It came down to the moment of drop off, and he started to tense up and shake. I got down on his level and looked him in the eyes and said, “What do we tell Fear?” He replied, “Step aside!” Then he grabbed the door handle and walked into his classroom – just. like. that.

Wow. It actually worked.

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