Anxiety Is a Lot of Things. But It Isn't Your Stereotype.


Anxiety is a lot of things, but it isn’t always what you think. It isn’t always huddling by a tree outside the nightclub, arms wrapped around my knees, shaking and sniffling as a friend rub my back, telling me it’s OK to get overwhelmed. It isn’t always flashing lights, shouting partygoers and pounding music that pulsates through my eyeballs and drives me to the street, abandoning my drink and thoughts of dancing. It isn’t always electricity shooting through my veins with my limbs and extremities tingling with it until I collapse, exhausted by the stimulus my own body can’t interpret the way yours can.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always waking up with a rock in my throat that doesn’t dissolve no matter how hard I swallow. Coffee doesn’t help. Orange juice doesn’t either, although the acidity feels nice burning past it. It doesn’t always dissipate with deep breathing techniques I’ve learned through years of choking on my anxiety. It isn’t always unexpected and unwelcome. Sometimes it’s as sudden as the common cold and as subversive, sneaking into my body through my psyche.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always an unkind word or offhand comment turned around and around in my feverish brain until it’s as smooth and polished as beach glass. It doesn’t always slither in through text messages that probably mean nothing, arguments blown out of proportion, words, phrases and looks to be dissected like so many laboratory table frogs. I can’t always add those slights to my collection in the cement-mixer my brain becomes when it’s time to go to sleep. It isn’t always there, rattling me from restfulness.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

Anxiety can be all of these things or none of them. Its insidious appearance depends on the person who presents it. Mine can be as subtle as snapping at my husband over nothing – that is, nothing he did or said except the thing that touched off a circuit in my brain that has nothing to do with him. It can be thunderous and stormy, a cacophony of shaking and crying that wracks me as physically as it wreaks havoc on my brain. An episode anyone could see and say, “that’s what a panic attack looks like.” But it could also be silent stony faces, retreating behind my crowded room mask, walking quickly to my car so I don’t have to speak and betray my mouth is full of cotton.

So when you think of what anxiety is, let yourself hold many moments in your mind at once. Let yourself think of it as a many-headed beast and remember it regenerates each one it loses. Let yourself listen to the person whose anxiety you’re thinking of and let their individuality be OK. Anxiety is as unique as each of us. The only thing we may have in common is that anxiety always, always is.

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Thinkstock photo via Lapchenko.

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