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What My Everyday Struggle With Anxiety Is Like

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Anxiety is always being scared you won’t fit in.

Anxiety is not going into places because you’re scared you will get weird stares.

Anxiety is having to talk to yourself and calm yourself down every second of your day.

Anxiety is a constant struggle. Not many people understand what I feel like, and they judge me.

Danielle, why can’t you just come in with me? It’s not a big deal. Danielle, why can’t you just do this one simple task?

It’s sad when you don’t have an answer for it. You don’t know what about being out in public makes you so uncomfortable that you try to avoid it all together. You don’t know what is actually scaring you and making you so nervous. You have to think about your every move.

Sometimes, I look at other people and wonder why I am like this. Why can’t I just be “normal” like them? Why do I need a safety blanket everywhere I go? Why can’t I go anywhere alone and feel safe and comfortable with myself?

Anxiety is overthinking the simplest task or overcomplicating the simplest thoughts. People out there feel the same. You’re not alone. Always remember that.

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What It Means to Have a 'Self-Esteem Attack'

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Those who face anxiety attacks show different symptoms.

Sometimes, it’s talking fast or stuttering. Sometimes, it’s not talking at all. Sometimes, it’s unpredictable irritability. Sometimes, it’s clenching your teeth or wringing your hands. Sometimes, it’s sitting in a trance. Sometimes, it’s hypersensitivity. Sometimes, it’s not being able to stop crying or shaking.

There are many different types and causes of anxiety attacks. Some of the different forms include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social disorder, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For me, the anxiety attack I am most familiar with is a “self-esteem attack.”

For “normal” people, if they make some kind of mistake or get criticized by someone, they can think, “OK, I screwed up,” and then move on with their day. For me and for others who face self-esteem attacks, they don’t think this way. Instead of thinking, “I made a mistake,” they think, “I am a mistake.” When someone doesn’t like them, instead of thinking, “Well, that’s their loss,” they think, “There must be something wrong with me.”

For a few moments, a few hours or maybe even a few days, you’re filled with an all-consuming and illogical self-hate. You internalize a circumstance, thinking it’s telling of the kind of person you are when, in fact, it does not.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, I missed a meeting at work. I was selected to be on a jury in a trial, and I was so nervous I completely forgot to check my work calendar. As a result, I received an email to me and my boss from a pretty pissed off coworker, and I started to panic.

“I’m going to get fired. How did I even get this job? I am such an idiot. I’m so unprofessional. Everyone’s going to hate me. No one will ever respect me again.”

Guess what? It turned out to be nothing.

I called my boss, who told me, “You had jury duty, You had a lot on your mind, and you’ve never missed a meeting before. How many times have people stood you up? Seriously, don’t worry about it.”

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I emailed the people who I missed the meeting with, profusely apologizing.

“Thank you for your email. It’s OK. It was only a half an hour,” they responded.

With my brain, I had completely blown things out of proportion. My palms started to sweat, my face was hot and I felt like I was going to be sick. I jumped immediately to the unrealistic conclusion that I would be fired, homeless and no one would want to hire me again. All  because of a simple, easy to correct mistake.

The Self-Esteem Institute describes a self-esteem attack as occurring “whenever a person with low self-esteem does or says something that he afterward deems to have been inappropriate, rude, obnoxious, off target or inaccurate. At that time, the person may experience immediate remorse, excruciating anxiety, his heart racing, his face turning red, a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation.”

For me, when I’m having a self-esteem attack, for that moment, I can’t see anything outside of how bad I feel about myself. Even though in the back of my mind, I know the things my brain is telling me aren’t true, I can’t seem to stop. When I try to tell myself, “Stop it! You’re overreacting!” I only feel worse.

So, what should you do if you’re having a self-esteem attack?

Well, first of all, as I always say, know you’re not alone. Know you don’t have to feel this way alone. Don’t be ashamed and don’t apologize to anyone for your self-esteem attack. Instead, find a friend, a family member or a therapist to call when you feel like this, to be there for you until it passes.

Make sure it’s someone you trust. If anyone ever makes you feel like you’re a burden, know they are wrong. I have learned, for every person who judges you for the way you feel, there are even more who understand, who feel the same way and who want to support you.

Once you know there’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel, slowly and surely, you’ll start to realize that there is also nothing wrong with you.

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What a Night With My Anxiety Looks Like

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

7:28 p.m.

Dinner starts to wrap up, and where do I go from there? Everyone in my family starts to do their own thing, and I’m left alone to find something to distract my brain. Reading a book doesn’t help because it’s too quiet. Listening to music is just too much noise right now.

8:30 p.m.

Taking a bath sounds nice, right? Wrong. I am alone, and I just think. I think of all the “what ifs,” and on difficult nights, this is when I might be tempted to self-harm. I know it’s not what I should do, but in those moments it feels like all I have.

11:00 p.m.

This is where my brain starts to play all of its mind games.

“You’ve messed up with your family again today.”

“He doesn’t actually love you; he’s using you. He will find a girl he actually loves to replace you.”

“Why are you even dancing still? You’re no good at it.”

“His parents don’t even like you. They think you’re ‘insane.’”

“Just leave.”

My brain hates me; it’s the biggest bully I have ever faced in my life. I am my own worst enemy. I tear myself down so much at night, and I never realize it until I am at the point of tears.

4:00 a.m.

I am drained at this point. I know I need sleep, but my brain keeps going on and on. It gets so bad I want to rip at my skin. I feel trapped too often and I want to escape, but I can’t figure out how. Sometimes, to help get rid of this feeling (if I can even do that), I walk around the forest around my house. Or I will eventually cry myself to sleep if I’m in my bed.

Every day is a struggle for me. I never know what the day will bring. If I get triggered, I’m done for that day and it makes everything worse for the next 24 hours. The biggest fear I have is myself, because I know what I’m capable of doing. I know how strong I am and how fast my brain can make its own decisions. It scares me, because I feel alone at night. But getting over this is the first step I’ve taken to recovery. Yes, I still have difficult nights, but not to the extremes I’ve experienced before. My brain is my worst enemy, but letting my true colors show has helped me become the person I was before this all started.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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8 Messages From Your Friend With Anxiety and Depression

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Dear my friend,

As you may or may not know, I deal with mental illness. It is as integral and innately a part of me as the color of my eyes, my distaste for mathematics and my love for breakfast burritos. In the moments when we smile and laugh and adventure happily, you may forget I am sick. That I am different than you. However, for each of those moments there will be moments when I sob in your arms or on the phone to you about something you’ve heard a hundred times, and you will be acutely aware that I’m struggling. While there isn’t a textbook or a checklist to being my friend or loving me when it’s rough, here are eight things I want you to know.

1. This isn’t a choice.

There may be moments when I am not as visibly sick or where the symptoms aren’t there, but there will be many moments –while you’re on a date, when we’re in class or at 3 a.m. — when it’ll rear it’s ugly head. And it isn’t my choice when or how it hits.

2. It makes me doubt myself.

A good dose of self-doubt can be healthy, but I have more than that. There are days when I doubt I’ll make it out of bed without a disaster. There are days when I fear failing everything. There are times when I think everyone hates me. Anxiety cripples my confidence, depression cripples my perspective. It isn’t logical or rational, but it’s real to me.

3. I smile through the pain.

There are many days when I’ll sit in class or a meeting or on your couch listening to you when my heart is breaking, my head is spinning and my sanity is slipping. Sometimes smiling feels like the only option, but just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean I don’t hurt.

4. I care, about everything, possibly too much.

There will be moments in our friendship when I annoy the crap out of you. When I will do the dreaded double (or gasp, a triple) text. There will be moments when I sob over something you find trivial. There will be moments when I feel too much and I won’t know exactly why. I care and caring is a wonderful gift — but it isn’t always easy (on me or you).

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5. I need you to check in on me.

No matter how much I say I am OK or how much I push you away, I need you and want you in my life. Text me to say hi. Text to ask how I’m doing. Call to catch up. Accept my answers with love and don’t hold it against me if I don’t respond.

6. Know that if I reschedule I still love you.

My life is messy outside of my illness, know that as a base fact. Beyond that, know that when I make plans I have the best of intentions and do really want to hang out with you. However, some days I need to sleep another hour (cause I was up counting sheep all night), going out in public would be too much for me or I need to have a mental health day.

7. Be open and honest with me.

I know I can be a hard person to be friends with. The thing I ask for most is honesty. I would rather have the harsh reality than a lack of information (because that makes my head go to the worst place and back a few times). If my over-sharing is burdensome, let me know. If you think I need to work on something, holla at me. If you want space, just ask. If you need something for me, tell me.

8. I love you more than you know.

I may not always express it or thank you enough, but I’m so thankful for your impact in my life. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for problem solving with me. Thank you for feeding me. Thank you for holding me as I cry. Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving me. I love you!

Love,
Your anxious (and at times overwhelming) but grateful friend

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When Anxiety Makes You Feel Like a Fish Suffocating Underwater

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Imagine being a blue tang fish (like Dory from “Finding Dory”). You are just swimming around in your underwater palace. You enter the banquet hall and see there are a lot of strangers there. You didn’t know about the party.

As you greet the guests, you feel like they are all staring. You know they are not staring, but it still feels like it. You continue to act like nothing is wrong. Then, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Your insecurities show up.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe underwater like you always have. You start trying to breathe, but it just isn’t working. Your throat burns. No one really notices because you are being silent. You try to control yourself, but nothing is working.

This is what it’s like to have anxiety. It can happen over the smallest things, like when you are eating in public or just by walking. Anxiety is not cute. It is not funny. It is a real problem. No one should want anxiety.

Anxiety can cause people to do weird things, like always check their phone to make sure no one called or refuse to talk on the phone because they are scared. They may make excuses when invited places so they don’t have to see people. Just the thought of being in a public place or an upcoming event can cause a panic attack.

Anxiety should not be overlooked. If you have a friend who struggles with it, then let them know you are there for them. Sometimes, just hearing, “You will be OK. I am here for you,” can calm someone so much.

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20 Calming Strategies to Help Children Manage Anxiety and Stress

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This is for anyone who cares for a child who can be anxious and stressed under certain situations. I have compiled a list of “calm-down” strategies to help bring a child back to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. Many of these strategies have been helpful and have shown positive results. Please, keep in mind every child is unique and what may work for one child, may not work for another. Also, a certain strategy that works for a child one day, may not work for that same child the next day.

However, here’s your list of refreshing ideas and ways to help make the day a little easier and shift a child to a happier place. Don’t forget to share this post if you know someone who could benefit from the information listed below! Easing a child’s body and mind into a more comfortable state is a great way to make a positive difference in the life of our children.

1. Create a quiet “calm down area” for your child to decompress and relax in.

You can take a play tent and stuff it with blankets, comforters, pillows and stuffed animals. Allow your child to dive in there and snuggle. The deep pressure is relaxing and soothing for children.

2. Go to a quiet place.

Simply removing your child from a busy area with lots of auditory and visual sensory stimuli can help relax your child. Children can become overstimulated when they are in the midst of lots of sensory information (loud noises, lots of visual activity and movement.) Leaving the “busy-ness” momentarily can help.

3. Listen to music.

You can give your child headphones (not earbuds) and allow him/her to listen to a relaxation CD with soothing sounds on it or any kind of music that is calming and relaxing to listen to. If you’re able to, then you can even go outside and listen to nature sounds. Listen for the birds, insects, frogs and the “swoosh” of the wind.

4. Keep a photo album of family and loved ones nearby.

This will be a handy tool to look through as a calming strategy.

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5. Practice deep breathing.

Deep breathing is a skill that needs to be taught and must be practiced. One way to do this is to have a child lay down and place a small stuffed animal on their belly and see how the animal rises and falls with each breath. For children who have difficulty following verbal directions, deep breathing can be initiated in other ways. You can have your child blow a pinwheel to watch it spin, blow bubbles or have a “race” to see who can blow a cotton ball or pom-pom off a table first.

6. Engage in any type of physical exercise.

This stimulates the release of those feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. If it’s summer, then go to the playground, go swimming, ride a bike or jump on a trampoline. If it’s winter, then play in or shovel snow!

7. Provide deep pressure input.

Have your child lay down on their stomach on a soft surface on the floor and roll a large exercise ball over his/her body. The idea is to press down with the ball, using firm, even pressure. This will gently compress your child and give organizing deep pressure sensory input to the body. Just be careful to listen to your child for when he/she has had enough and to not press down too hard (and never roll the ball over a child’s head.)

8. Drink water and make sure your child is always hydrated.

Brain tissue is 85 percent water! When your body is dehydrated, it doesn’t function properly, and it can cause muscles to tense up, affect hormone balance and exacerbate anxiety symptoms. If your child doesn’t like drinking water, then you can change the drinking experience to make it more “fun.” Let your child drink water through a silly straw or put it in a “fancy” cup with a little drink umbrella and colored ice cubes in it (ice cubes made out of juice). You can put a lemon wedge, a slice of orange or a little juice in it the water to give it some flavor. Still struggling? Feed your child water-rich foods such as watermelon. Homemade juice popsicles or smoothies can keep your child hydrated.

9. Oral work can provide calming and organizing sensory input!

Have your child drink through something that provides a little bit of resistance, such as a water bottle with a bite-valve. (Camelbak makes a great kids’ water-bottle with a bite valve straw.) Other options are drinking thick liquids through a straw (such as a smoothie) or snacking on crunchy/chewy foods such as crunchy cereal, pretzels, raw veggies or all-natural fruit leather.

10. Wrap your child in a blanket.

Wrapping snugly in a blanket or even in a tube of stretchy fabric mimics the feelings of security of being swaddled as an infant. It can provide quick relief from anxiety and stress.

11. Draw a picture.

Children are able to express themselves through art in times of high emotion to help relieve some stress and get to the root of their feelings. If your child is not on the level of being able to communicate their feelings through drawings, then provide him/her with some drawing utensils such as crayons, markers or finger-paint. Even just simple scribbling and making marks on the paper can be incredibly therapeutic.

12. Hum a song.

Humming is more calming than singing because of the vibrations produced.

13. Go out in nature.

Playing outdoors and spending time outside in the sun and fresh air is one of the most relaxing and grounding things a person can do. It’s like a “reset button” for our bodies and minds. Have your child walk barefoot in the grass, breathe in the fresh air and feel the sun. Get away from the wifi, TV screens, cell phones, electronics and schedule relaxing activities outdoors. We need to take the time to get close to nature after being disconnected from it for most of the day.

14. Imagine a safe place.

Imagination is a powerful tool. Have your child imagine a safe place they can go to.

15. Ask for a hug.

Teach your child that it’s OK to ask for a hug when he/she needs to be comforted. Sometimes, a firm hug and verbally acknowledging their feelings can be extremely comforting.

16. Count slowly.

This can be combined with breathing techniques to make it even more effective.

17. Whisper a “story” about a happy, positive memory your child has.

This can be something fun your child did recently or a favorite place your child really loves. Reciting something familiar and comforting in story form is a good anxiety reducing technique because it brings them to a “happy place” immediately. Whispering it helps them to focus on something other than their negative emotions in the moment.

18. Squeeze a stress ball or use a mini massager.

Your child can ask you to massage his/her back or neck with this.

19. Place a drop of lavender essential oil on a cotton ball and let your child inhale.

For a more fun and kid-friendly approach, you can make lavender scented play-dough in a purple color. Check Pinterest for a recipe.

20. Use items with calming, visual information.

A kaleidoscope, liquid visual timer, fish tank, watching the clouds and a lava lamp all can be soothing to watch.

This post originally appeared on Sensory TheraPLAY Box. If you’re interested in getting a Sensory Thereplay Subscription, find out more here.

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