5 Simple Reminders for People With Anxiety

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1. You are not alone.

This might be one of the most common things people hear, but let me tell you. There are times I still feel like I’m the only one who is going through this. Anxiety disorder and panic disorder have such a wide spectrum. It is possible you might not ever come across someone who has the same type of anxiety you do, but you will find someone who can understand what it’s like to feel anxious that goes beyond just a simple, “I’m nervous.”

I have severe travel anxiety, and I still haven’t met anyone who has that type of anxiety or gets panic attacks similar to mine. On the other hand though, I have met people who have had panic attacks so they understand the feeling of needing to get out of the situation and back to a place of comfort. No matter how uncommon you may think your anxiety is, you are not alone. I’m here for you. We are all here for you.

2. Your anxiety does not define you.

Person first. I never say I’m an anxious person. I always say, “I’m Alison, and I have anxiety.” Anxiety is only a small part of you. Could it interfere majorly with one’s life? Of course, but it’s still only a small part. Before our anxiety, we are mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, friends, artists and teachers. We are lovable, friendly, introverted, extroverted, silly, serious, sensitive and empathetic. You are so much more than the anxiety.

3. Don’t ever be ashamed or embarrassed.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to never feel guilty about canceling plans or leaving a situation that became uncomfortable. You can’t control when a panic attack comes, and it’s hard to control anxiety. You’re not purposely making a situation uncomfortable for yourself. Why feel ashamed and embarrassed? People are usually understanding when someone gets physical ill. They should be just as understanding if your symptoms are due a mental illness. Your well-being is important, and your family and friends should understand that.

4. You are good enough.

Had a panic attack today? Still good enough. Couldn’t stick to your plans the other day? Still good enough. Left a dinner with friends early because your anxiety started creeping up? Still good enough. Skipped a class today because you were feeling really anxious? Still good enough. Don’t ever let anyone tell you or make you feel like you aren’t good enough because you are.

If someone doesn’t want to be your friend or have any romantic relationship with you, then it’s their loss. They are losing out on a sensitive person who is keen to their surroundings, appreciates the little things and who can notice even the tiniest of differences. They are missing out on someone who would never judge anyone for what they are going through because we know what it’s like to feel misunderstood.

5. Be kind to yourself.

At the end of the day, the only person who will always be there for you 100 percent of the time is yourself. So treat yourself well. Give your body and mind the care it deserves for it has never given up on you even during the toughest of times. Nourish your body in a positive and healthy way. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Had a bad day? It’s OK! Give yourself credit for making it through that day and reward yourself with a nice bath or dancing in your pajamas while singing into a pretend microphone (a personal fav). Cook your favorite meal. Treat yourself to that new shirt or movie. Be there for yourself. You’ll be happy you did. I promise.

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When Anxiety Nearly Stole My Identity

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I have a history of anxiety and have struggled daily. I want to use my voice to help others and break the stigma attached to mental health. I am speaking out for myself but also for other people.

I never thought I’d be in a position where I would be obsessively whispering the phrase to myself, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” Surely that is a line taken out of a teen crime drama or a melodramatic soap opera? I thought it sounded ridiculous too, but nothing described what I felt more accurately. Slowly but surely, anxiety was spreading to different areas of my life without even a trace of noise, predictability or warning.

In hindsight, the onset was early. It started with things that could be easily misconstrued as timidity or embarrassment. My first public speaking task was in high school, and I vividly remember the palpitations, the sweating and the feeling of being judged before anyone had even opened their mouth to give feedback.

I joined a youth theater group in hopes that acting would help me adjust and make it go away. It helped for awhile, and I began to love it but only because I was in character. I was someone else. If I was myself, then I was screwed. I started treating a lot of things as an act. I was proud of myself because I found a temporary solution to (little did I know) an ever-growing problem.

The problem started to manifest itself in more (unnoticeable) ways. It is only now that I realize because it has interrupted my life for quite some time. My family starting picking up on my irrational fears, such us the overwhelming horror that came with making a phone call, the devilish tear-provoking times I had to stand up in assembly to receive an award or the shameful act of getting on public transport, fearing I would ask for the wrong ticket or get on the wrong bus.

Being in my teens when this all started meant a lot of it could be blamed on “hormones.” I told myself it was normal. My parents, doctors, nurses, teachers and friends all presumed so, too. However, I wasn’t really sharing the extent of it with them. I was absolutely terrified. I started missing out on huge opportunities because I couldn’t even get over the first obstacle. Things that “normal” teenagers would enjoy such as going to clubs, playing team sports and non-school uniform days were my worst fears and took every ounce of courage I had.

I got to the point that life was so full of fear and unbearably terrifying that I’d rather not be living it. I had hit depression, hard.

My anxiety became all-consuming, affecting nearly every part of my world. These are the areas of my life that were impacted by my anxiety:

1. Anxiety affected my self-esteem.

I eventually broke out of my deep depression by changing up my image. In all honesty, I think I helped myself accidentally. I wanted to be noticed by boys and be one of the “popular” girls. When I reached 10th grade, I started dressing up more and tried boosting my confidence. It helped for awhile; I got attention from my four-year-long crush and things were picking up! It still felt like one massive act though because as soon as I got home and locked myself away, it all kicked in again. I remember distinctively covering up mirrors around the house because I had picked up the compulsive habit of looking in it every minute. I’m not even exaggerating. It was hard because my anxiety was telling me people thought I was vain. In reality, it was just my insecurity and me not feeling good enough.

2. My family relationships were affected greatly.

I was an irritable and angry person. I only now realize this was the anxiety. Irritability is something that is very much uncovered during an anxiety attack. I never really meant to lash out, it just all got too much at times. I remember my parents or sister often saying, “Sometimes, I think you really hate me.” I didn’t. Of course, I didn’t. I tried so hard to stop myself, but it often got to be too much.

3. My anxiety affected my senses.

A person with anxiety is generally more sensitive to light, sound and their general surroundings. They automatically try and filter factors to control the situation. Meal times were the worst. The sound of people eating, chewing, talking, the bright lights, often my sister’s baby crying, the dog barking, the radio on, the sound of cutlery on plates and steam rising off of the hot food. Everything was times 10. Suddenly, my tone changed. I fell into an angry, resentful, tense state, which resulted in me often being a horrible person. I wish to this day that I could change it.

4. My sleep patterns changed.

I’d either not sleep much at all due to excessive racing thoughts, or I’d tire myself out in the day so much I would sleep for 17 hours. I didn’t really want to eat. My anxiety gave me a nervous stomach that made me feel nauseous a lot. I had aches and pains in my muscles and joints. I was just so tense and wound up.

5. My memory and thought patterns were altered by anxiety.

Even my focus and memory eventually became fragmented. I couldn’t find anything I enjoyed doing for a long period of time. Nothing was fun anymore. Even if it was, I didn’t have the focus to stick to it. I loved reading, but I couldn’t even read one page at the time. I wanted to sit and watch a film, but I couldn’t follow the plot nor could I sit still for that long because I was so restless and agitated.

6. People’s perceptions of me changed.

My identity was warped by anxiety in front of everyone’s eyes. I was tired, angry, jealous, irritable, insecure, lonely, misunderstood, restless, desperate, anxious and scared. I just wanted to live normally. I wanted to wake up and not be scared of little things. I wanted to not expect the worst out of my day. I wanted to go out and live my dreams without convincing myself I’d fail.

7. Anxiety impacted my ability to have a relationship.

Six months ago, I got into a relationship with a person who I would call my first real love. We are still together now. Anxiety had never affected my relationships before probably because they weren’t serious or it was still “high school.” Maybe this guy is just more special. I have never been a jealous person nor have I been a control freak. It was now evident that Jess, as I knew myself before, had gone. I was scared of pretty girls that could want him. I was scared he would want them. I was scared of good looking guys that he might even want. The thoughts in my head were haunting and I could barely recognize myself anymore.

 

Acceptance was the first step to moving forward and recovering. I am not “crazy.” I just have anxiety. I’m not mad. I just have anxiety. Sometimes, it’s difficult and I have to keep reminding myself. These scary thoughts are beyond my control. I am still struggling. It is a daily battle, but it’s slowly getting better.

Yes, I still have panic attacks. I still can’t focus on things well. I do overthink and jump to conclusions. However, I am trying different methods and supplements. Maybe someday I’ll be able to live freely without the torment of these terrifying and exhausting thoughts. I say, “Anxiety nearly stole my identity,” because I won’t let it win. It’s not over yet.

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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When You Spend Every Day Thinking About 'What Ifs'

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As my alarm buzzes for the seventh time, I finally open my eyes and force myself to climb down from my loft. I go through the motions of putting on my makeup and combing through my closet to find an outfit that makes me look decent without looking like I’m trying too hard. I quickly brush my teeth and run out the door with knots in my stomach.

It’s just a normal Monday, but it feels like I can’t catch my breath as I walk to class. My anxiety consumes my entire body as I think about the “what ifs:” getting called on when my hand isn’t raised, not being able to articulate my ideas accurately while answering a question, stuttering or involuntarily shaking to the point where it’s noticeable. I finally arrive to class and manage to make it through (along with the next two lectures) in one piece.

Yet, then I run to work cleaning tables at the dining center. It’s not a horrible job. It’s simple. Just wipe down all the tables and interact with my coworkers. Yet, every time I put on my short-sleeve work polo, I can’t help but feel completely exposed. I become hyper-aware of my old self-harm scars that cover my left arm. I try to remind myself that people won’t be paying attention to my arms. They’re just there to eat with their friends.

However, I internally cringe every time a customer says something to me. I just have to smile and make polite conversation, but it feels like I can’t move. Somehow, I always manage to make it through my shift without cracking, but when I get back to my dorm and try to focus on writing essays, I always end up thinking about how awkward I was throughout the day.

Even when I try to sleep, the thoughts about the past day won’t stop flowing through my brain. When those thoughts start to subtly subside, the anxiety for what lies ahead takes over. I spend hours over-analyzing every aspect of the “what ifs.” Finally, I fall asleep for a few hours, and I wake up to relive the same day with some variation over and over again.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Things People With Anxiety Are Tired of Hearing

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People with anxiety explain what they don’t what to hear, and what you can say instead.

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When You Can No Longer Hide Your Anxiety From Your Friends

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Establishing and maintaining friendships has never been easy for me. As a child, I was so painfully shy, I could only have one friend at a time. I would cherish and love that friend with every part of me, and I would fall apart when our friendship would fizzle out.

As I got older, I tried hard to hold onto my friendships by projecting a “perfect” image of myself. This meant hiding the parts of me that were considered off-putting or made people feel uncomfortable, the parts of me that were considered weak or shameful. This meant hiding the stomach aches, the embarrassing frequent feelings of urination, the lump in my throat that made me feel like I was going to throw up and the hours spent awake at night overthinking and catastrophizing the day’s events. This meant none of my friends knew about my anxiety.

I hid my anxiety because I didn’t want to scare my friends away. I didn’t want them to change their thoughts about me once they saw me for who I really was. I feared they would suddenly see me as someone who was too difficult to be friends with. I feared they would withdraw if they didn’t understand or know how to react. My biggest fear, however, was that they would invalidate my anxiety. That they would interpret it as my way of overreacting or being “too sensitive.”

When I went to college, I feared living with a roommate would make it harder for me to keep my anxiety a secret. Yet, I managed to hold myself together while around her. When I’d feel anxious, I’d leave the room to find a quiet spot to cry. When I’d wake up in the morning in a panic, I’d go for a run outside. When I’d need to talk through how I was feeling, I’d call my mom in the hallway. I was able to keep this up for more than a year.

A few days into my sophomore year, I decided to go to therapy on campus. While I knew there was no shame in seeking help, I still felt reluctant to tell anyone. I knew my decision was deeply personal and that I was not obligated to tell anyone about it. Yet, a part of me felt like I was lying to the people I loved if I didn’t. So, I decided to tell my roommate. The whole encounter lasted less than a few minutes and to my relief she was supportive. Granted, I was vague and spared her the details of my anxiety.

A few weeks later, she saw me have a full-blown anxiety attack. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I was ashamed and embarrassed for letting my guard down. The fear that she would stop being my friend or view me differently after seeing me in this state only perpetuated my anxiety in that moment. To my relief, she hugged me tight and told me to sit down. She got me water and told me to breathe. She sat with me until I was able to calm down. We didn’t talk much that night about what was going on with me, but her calming presence was enough.

The next day, I apologized profusely. I explained to her that I completely understood if she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I was so convinced after seeing me in my most vulnerable state, at the peak of my anxiety, that she would want nothing to do with me. In that moment, her response was everything I needed to hear.

She told me, “Lauren, don’t be sorry. You can trust me. I don’t see you any differently at all, and you’re allowed as many bad days/weeks as you need. I care about you and just want to help however I can.”

This was so meaningful to me because she reminded me that my anxiety was not something I had to apologize for. My anxiety was not a weakness or something that had to be hidden in shame. It was not something I made up for attention. It was real and perfectly normal.

It was also not something that would affect the way my friends saw me. Who I was before my friends formally knew I had anxiety and after was the exact same person. This small part of me could not possibly change my compassion, kindness, patience, sense of humor or any of the other amazing traits my friends loved about me.

She also reminded me that I could be vulnerable in front of her. I didn’t have to cry in the stairwell or call my mom in the hallway. She gave me permission not to hide anymore. I could be honest with her in a safe and supportive space. For that, I am forever grateful.

She didn’t admit to always knowing the right thing to say or to always knowing how to help in the way I needed it, but I don’t expect that from her. I know anxiety can be a hard thing to understand for someone who has never experienced it. I know it’s impossible to always know the right thing to say. I know it can be hard to listen to the same irrational fears you don’t understand over and over again.

I don’t need a “perfect” friend. All I need is a friend who supports me in the best way they know how and who loves me for all parts of me, anxiety and all.

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Why I Am No Longer Ashamed to Take Medication for My Anxiety

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Freshman year of high school, my anxiety hit me pretty hard. This was the time I was actually diagnosed, but I knew years before I was different.

I never realized how much could actually change in one year. In this year, I lost many people I thought were friends. Some days, I looked in the mirror, and I couldn’t even find myself. Pushing people away seemed to be the only thing I was good at.

When my parents decided to put me in therapy, it was their last resort. I wasn’t going to school, and all I remember doing was sleeping. That was the only time when I couldn’t feel. This sleep wasn’t because I was physically tired but because I was mentally done. The hardest thing you will ever have to do is fight with your own mind.

From the the moment I started therapy, they offered medicine. I thought taking medicine would make me weak. I wanted to be able to fix myself without their help. At this time, I thought I was alone. I was always reminded that others were facing the same battles. Yet, when you’re this far down, you think they’re lying. It was hard to put faith in others when I couldn’t even put faith in myself.

From the help of my therapist and my support system, I learned ways to cope. These mostly included breathing exercises. I knew what my triggers were so I knew exactly when I would have a panic attack. When I did start to panic, I would start my breathing and think of a happy place. I was able to distract my mind through music, dance and art. I was able to express my feelings, and I became more open to what I was going through. I was no longer afraid of being what I used to think was “different.”

I’m now in my third year of college, and recently, my anxiety attacks have gotten bad again. I knew they were getting out of control when I could barely make it through a workday or class. I even was getting them while doing the things I loved, like hanging with my friends or family. They became more severe. I didn’t know why they were happening. These attacks were so hard to make it through. Most days, I had more than one attack.

I waited until they got so bad that I couldn’t go to work. I didn’t go to school. Most days, I didn’t even leave my bed. I just didn’t want to go on any longer. I decided to go back to a therapist, and this time, I wanted medicine.

When I received the prescription, it took me three weeks to even try them. It took this long because I was scared. I didn’t want to have to rely on these pills to make me “normal.” I feared becoming addicted to them.

I’m sharing this story because I know others may fear trying medicine. For me, they are helping. I try not to take them much. I only take them when I cannot control my anxiety.

For anyone who feels like a failure like I did, here’s the reality: People take medication every day. Some people have to take certain pills to keep them alive. If you needed to take a medicine to stay alive, wouldn’t you? Well why not try taking medicine that will help you feel more alive? Don’t be ashamed for taking something that will help you.

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