When Anxiety Convinces Me Everyone Is Judging My Appearance

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My anxiety has dictated my schedule for a long time.

Almost everything I need to do outside the house — school, work, grocery shopping, the occasional haircut, etc. —is within 10 minutes of my house. Because of this, normally I wouldn’t need to wake up until maybe 20 minutes beforehand — get up, dress in five minutes, and I’m out the door.

But because of my anxiety, it takes an extra 30 to 40 minutes to make myself believe I can leave the house. I have to do my makeup — something I never used to do and still find irritating —and carefully analyze if I look “good enough.” I have to second-guess the clothing I chose last night (with a similarly long decision process) and often end up changing… despite having loved that outfit choice the night before. I have to double and triple check I have anything and everything I might need (which usually involves taking multiple items I won’t require, “just in case”). I fiddle. I remake the bed, I re-check that the cat has food, and I debate whether or not I have the stomach for breakfast, even though by this point, I usually only have the requisite five minutes before I must leave, and there isn’t time anyway.

Then one day, I stopped, and I forced myself to sit down and really think carefully about why I was doing extra steps. Why was I sacrificing sleep at night repeating over and over what I had to do the next day? Why was I waking up an hour early to drag myself out of bed prematurely to do things like eye shadow and blush when I didn’t particularly care about decorating my face (it’s not at all that I don’t like makeup — I think it looks beautiful. But I really am just as all right with my face as is.)?

I knew why. It’s because no matter how much I know my schedule, I look forward to my daily activities, I like the clothes I wear and I’m OK with my own natural face… I just assume the outside world is picking me apart.

The minute I leave my front door, I am aware of eyes. I have neighbors. There are often workmen up the street or people walking dogs and getting mail. I hit the stoplight — and there are other cars whose drivers and passengers must be endangering themselves to turn and stare at me. Cataloging whether or not I took the time to take care of my appearance and whether or not I know where I’m going and what I’m doing. All of those eyes are on me, and they are mocking.

Except, I know they’re not. No one cares about little old me leaving to go to school. At the end of that drive, I know my classmates are also tired, worn out by their day, wearing sweat pants and dirty jeans and comfortable t-shirts, and they couldn’t care less what I wear or do. If I do not want to wear eye shadow for my three-hour class, I do not have to; they do not think less of me.

On the other end of the spectrum from that overwhelming self-consciousness, my anxiety does something else to me. It leaves me stuck, afraid to get out of bed for fear of messing up just by walking around my house. It leaves me scared to look at the clothing I selected, in case I realize how ridiculous I would look in the light of day. And when I’m rushing to leave the house, having stayed in bed far too long, it reminds me no one cares enough for me to waste time and make myself late over foundation and eyeliner.

But that’s the thing — it isn’t that no one cares. It’s that I don’t have to impress anyone and anyway, no one is critiquing me that closely. I know that, and I can tell my anxiety that as I grab my keys and backpack, barefaced and wearing whatever I want.

No one is going to look at my pale face with its sort-of freckles and pink cheeks — man, do I have a rosy complexion — and say, “Ha, you didn’t put on makeup, you failed today.” In fact, for a long time when I was young people mistook my very pink lips as me always wearing lipstick, so I suspect I have some natural assets in that department.

And because of that alternative side of things, where my anxiety is the very reason I don’t dedicate morning time that would have been spent on sleep, or visiting with my husband, or checking email to putting on beauty products I don’t particularly want to wear, I’ve learned to look in the mirror differently.

This morning, I overslept. I got up, realizing everything I have planned today is casual and that I am free to be comfortable in my own skin for it. I put on clothes I feel good in, and I washed my face and brushed my hair, then stopped, and stared at that white-skinned, pink-cheeked face, with sleep-deprived shadows under the eyes and tiny marks here and there that I would normally dab concealer onto.

But really, who is going to look at me and say, “You look too human. Go pretty up?”

Only me, I suspect.

So today, I’m going without makeup, and I am doing so with confidence. Because this is me — anxiety and sleepless nights and self-consciousness included. Let’s go grab a coffee and talk. I feel OK today.

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Thinkstock photo by pecaphoto77

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My Life With Anxiety: A Poem

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Every morning is waking up
to another day of thinking,
putting myself down, nothing
else but a smile covering a
sad man.

The headaches, nervous stomach,
the tingling feeling in you body.
The weakness is my legs, the feeling
of going “crazy.” The chest pains,
Incapable of sleeping. All this because
Of my dear friend Anxiety.

Thinking of different subjects
In my mind through out the day
The feeling of losing Someone
you love so much and
she probably doesn’t even care.

Everything I do to make someone
happy always seems to turn out to
a mess. Trying your best to get better
but the closest person you have,
has no time, doesn’t encourage you.
All I see is people walking away.

I never thought I was good enough for
anyone. I think a lot about who really
cares about me and who will support me.
I don’t want people thinking this is a joke.
All I want is to be good and to be the best
example for my amazing son.

After all one day of thinking has a gone
by, and feeling every possible mood,
goes to bed the same tired and sad
man, who cries himself to sleep.
I will never give up.

My life with Anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo by FL-photography

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When Anxiety Is All-Consuming

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It’s 4:16 a.m., and I’m lying here, unable to sleep.

I’ve dealt with anxiety disorders for over six years now. You’d think after all this time, I’d have gotten used to it. But no. I still feel the same fear entering my heart whenever the fluttering feeling sets in.

Sometimes it’s just that – butterflies in the stomach.

But even then I fear. Why?

Because apart from multiple chronic illnesses, I have also been diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety, to name a few. And needless to say, anxiety affects every aspect of my life.

Not a day goes when I don’t get panic attacks. Sometimes they are mild and pass quickly, and even then they leave me so restless, so frightened that the mere thought of it makes me shudder.

And when they are severe, I’m left breathless, extremely dizzy with pain in my chest until I eventually pass out.

The fear that the world is going to end and that I’m going to die, the feeling that nothing will ever be all right, and the unexplained, unnatural and scary thought of an impending doom makes me feel sick to the point I actually start believing this attack could kill me.

I often compare my depression to an ocean, the black waters of which continuously torture me, giving me only two options – drown or spend my entire life caught in its rusty, dreary shadows.

While my depression is like an ocean, with anxiety I feel like I am falling off a cliff.

It’s all beautiful and green surrounding me, and then all of a sudden, I see my life slipping away.

I feel like I’m in a free fall, going down and down and down — fast enough that I cannot make sense of what is happening, and slow enough to make sure I experience every single moment with full intensity.

I keep falling and falling.

My chest becomes too heavy and too tight, as if something strong and heavy is sitting on it, pulling breaths out of me — one by one.

I get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, constantly making me feel like I want to throw up.

The nausea, the fear, the chest pain, the trembling, the tightness a panic attack brings is something you cannot imagine.

It’s so terrible, so frightening that it haunts you long after the original attack has passed.

I feel anxious every day. Sometimes all day. And it is dreary — to not be able to breathe and to feel like you’ll pass out — and then the actual passing out.

Living with anxiety is a nightmare. A nightmare that becomes reality and tortures me day in and day out, consuming my life in all of its entirety, making breathing the most difficult task ever.

If you are struggling tonight, please know I am here for you.

The whole purpose of writing this is to let you know that no matter what happens and no matter how hard things get, you are never alone.

There’s always someone somewhere going through something similar, if not the exactly the same thing.

You need to know that no matter how horrible and how powerful anxiety feels like, we are always stronger.

I have so many things I like to do to distract myself in case of a panic attack or when I feel the first signs setting in.

They don’t always help. But they don’t always fail either.

Sometimes just listening to an audio book (which is by far my favorite and most helpful technique when it comes to anxiety) or taking random pictures on my phone helps prevent an attack that would have occurred if I had kept still.

I have noticed that just living in the moment and taking things one at a time, I feel more grounded and relaxed.

You could also have something that might help you.

I’d really love if even one person feels less alone reading this.

Because I know how it feels.

And because I never want anyone else to feel the same.

Also, if you want someone to talk to or just vent to, I’m always here.You can message me on my Instagram @its_little_ayra, my chronic illness recovery account) anytime.

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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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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4 Things I’ve Learned About My Anxiety Disorder

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1. Anxiety can be ambiguous.

What does the word “anxiety” make you think of? What about the terms “anxiety disorder” or “socially anxious?” For people who may not understand what it’s like to live with ongoing anxiety, these words and phrases may evoke the image of someone who is nervous a lot, someone who “worries too much” or someone who is very shy. However, those who struggle on a daily basis know having anxiety means more than worrying and being shy or nervous. In my own experience, I’ve learned that living with ongoing anxiety or having an anxiety disorder looks different for different people. I remember college days like they were yesterday because it was a span of time when I met other people who had anxiety in one form or another. Most of them identified as socially anxious whether or not they had an anxiety disorder. As I came to know them as friends, I realized my experiences with anxiety were different from theirs, depending on the situation.

For example, one of my friends found it significantly difficult to eat in the college dining halls; instead, she chose to eat the majority of meals in her room. I, on the other hand, found eating in the dining hall relatively easy to do, as long as I was able to quickly find a place to sit. This same friend had almost no fear of driving a car, which was something I was unable to do due to the amount of physical and mental anxiety it caused anytime I sat behind the wheel.

During the past years I’ve tried to figure out my own anxiety, and I’ve discovered there is no “one way” people experience anxiety. Situations which are completely non-threatening to some people can be terribly anxiety-provoking for others. There is also no sure way to know whether or not a person struggles with anxiety unless they tell you. These days, I’m not entirely sure whether or not it’s obvious I’m a person who struggles with anxiety. My guess is, most of the time I appear to others as shy (and probably a bit bashful), but nowhere near as anxious as I truly feel. I have also learned how to cope with what felt like irrational fears (such as making telephone calls, speaking in small groups or taking public transportation), which has led me to feeling fundamentally different from my “old” self. There are days when I almost feel like I don’t have an anxiety disorder anymore, and there are days when my anxiety seems to affect me more than usual or where my symptoms seem to double in intensity. Because there is no sure way for me to predict how anxious I will feel on any given day — and because most of the time I try to hide my anxiety from others — there are times I feel my symptoms are too ambiguous or inconsistent to thoroughly explain.

2. Anxiety and confidence don’t always mix.

I feel people, no matter who they are or what relation they have to me,  seem surprised to learn my confidence and self-esteem levels are not very high. But, to me, it makes a lot of sense that someone with social anxiety might have a hard time cultivating a sense of true confidence in themselves. Because one of the most common symptoms of social anxiety disorder is “an overwhelming fear of being judged by others in social situations,” it’s no surprise my social anxiety disorder manifests itself as preoccupation about how others may perceive me. For some people, these preoccupations could be intense and debilitating. For me, these preoccupations sound like, “What if I sounded stupid when I said that?” “Did that person notice the way I slightly tripped while I was walking?” “Did my eyes dart to the ground too quickly when I tried to make eye contact with that person?” “Do I look weird sitting over here in the corner by myself?” Even with friends, I have similar thoughts, such as, “Why did I mention that to them?” or “Why am I still so awkward with them, even though I trust them?”

A fear of being judged by others is not exactly a hallmark of confidence. For me, growing up with social anxiety meant metaphorically walking on eggshells to avoid being negatively judged by others. It also meant not making eye contact, being sure not to show too much emotion in public, speaking only when spoken to, spending as little time as possible making it from point A to point B (to avoid being noticed), and being generally hesitant and submissive. From early on, it was probably painfully obvious to others it was difficult for me to even exist in public. Friends, family, teachers, classmates, acquaintances, and even strangers would ask me why I was so quiet, or tell me I needed to speak up. The advice I was given about needing to be assertive increased as I got older and people grew more frustrated with my unassertiveness.

Growing up as an anxious person definitely had an impact on me. By the age of 10 or 11, I had internalized a number of negative beliefs about myself. I blamed myself for my anxieties and my social awkwardness. With each passing year I grew to dislike myself more and feel more inferior to others, which then led to depression by my mid-teens. Depression and anxiety definitely did not translate into any sort of confidence or self-assurance, despite my parents’ efforts to try to instill that in me. These days I still struggle to conduct myself with the confidence I feel is required of me.

3. Anxiety can be hard to justify to other people.

With every year I get older, I find it harder to justify my anxiety to other people — specifically to those who don’t understand what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder. Some of us who have anxiety problems or anxiety disorders may be plagued by fears others deem irrational. Actually, I would venture to say most of us with anxiety know our fears are irrational, but often feel incapable of overcoming those fears. From an early age, I have encountered people who have a difficult time understanding why I would be afraid of things such as making phone calls, speaking in a class or a meeting, or driving a car. As I’ve gotten older, I feel people understand less and less why these issues would affect someone my age.

When I think about it, it makes sense why people wouldn’t understand why such simple tasks make me feel anxious or fearful. If there is one thing I’ve experienced over the years, it’s that with getting older expectations about being assertive, speaking up and being independent increase. A 20-something who has trouble doing all of these things may not be received well by many people. In the past, when I have admitted to being insecure or fearful about small things, I’ve been advised, told or scolded about needing to “get over” those fears. Submissiveness and lack of confidence seems to be something looked down upon especially in adults. It may be because of my own insecurities, but I feel less comfortable with admitting I struggle with anxiety because of what I feel is my inability to justify it to anyone outside of people who already understand what it’s like to struggle with it. Even though I don’t blame others for their lack of understanding, it can still be frustrating when others don’t understand why I struggle to change my anxious thoughts and behaviors.

4. Anxiety is pervasive.

It took me a long time to realize anxiety affects every area and aspect of my life for my entire life. My first memories of any type of anxiety begin at age 4, long before I understood what anxiety was and how it made me feel. However, it took me years to realize how pervasive my anxiety truly was. Social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and later on depression, have had an impact on my entire life experience and created a lens through which I experience the world. Many of my characteristics can be explained by my anxiety – my nervous habits (such as hair twisting, fidgeting and lip biting), my constant racing thoughts that make it hard for me to concentrate and never seem to stop, any number of physical symptoms (sweating, blushing, racing heart, nausea, etc.), my eating habits and my frequent use of food for comfort, my perfectionism and simultaneous procrastination on projects and assignments that I care about, the interactions I have with other people, the depressive episodes I repeatedly struggle with, and so on. I’m going through a phase where I’m stating to realize all the opportunities I turned down throughout my life and the hobbies I didn’t pursue as a direct result of my anxiety. I often have regrets about the way I’ve lived my life and the person I have turned out to be.

But, for me, there is another side to this pervasiveness. Having anxiety has undeniably informed my entire life experience, so it’s only fair to highlight the ways in which it has positively impacted me. Having anxiety has taught me how to act with more compassion, patience, kindness and understanding. I have learned from an early age what it’s like to need these things from other people. Being quiet and reluctant to speak has also allowed me to learn to become a good listener. Being hyper-aware of what others might be thinking or feeling has helped me to recognize anxiety in other people and — hopefully —  be a source of comfort to others, simply by relating to and empathizing with them.

Living with an anxiety disorder is a struggle, and it could be easy to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, isolated and misunderstood. This is certainly the impact it has had on me, but I’m also fortunate to have learned about my anxiety disorders over the years. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m still faced with the challenges of managing and living with anxiety on a day-to-day basis. However, I also feel more able to speak about it and share my experience with others. I’ve found sharing my experience is the most productive way for me to combat any feelings of worthlessness that my anxiety may bring on.

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When Anxiety Takes the Steering Wheel

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We all have this monster somewhere inside of us. Those of us living with anxiety know how hard it can be to control. There are days when it is manageable and we can go about our daily lives and not have to worry about having an anxiety attack. Then there are days when it is so hard to pull yourself out of bed and even get yourself to eat something.

Those days are the days where I don’t feel in control of myself. These are the days when anxiety takes the steering wheel and knocks me in the backseat to just be along for the ride. It is as if I cease to exist and anxiety takes control of the functions and tells my brain what body what to do. It’s like going on autopilot and it’s supposed to be smooth sailing, but when you go back to manual control you find yourself with more problems than when you started.

From what I’ve experienced, those problems can range from a pile up of responsibilities from work or school to problems in my relationships. Many of these problems you don’t intentionally want to happen. If you’re like me, you feel frustrated. You want to do your best to be in the present moment, but you find anxiety rears its head and knocks you back. I describe it as going into an emotional high and the only way to come down is to come crashing down. To have this happen every time is so exhausting and puts a toll on you.

There are days when I find it hard to do all the things on my plate so I have to dial back and do what I can and not expect so much from myself. It is very hard to do, but sometimes when anxiety takes your car and insists on driving, you have to let yourself do what you can and not expect perfection until you are given the wheel back.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic.

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The Importance of Learning to Be Patient With Myself With Anxiety

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Ever go into a therapy session feeling on top of the world, like the sun is smiling down on you and you’re thinking, “life is pretty darn great,” only to come out of it feeling on the brink of a panic attack because some drudged-up memory just triggered the anxiety monster in your brain?

My anxiety comes in phases. Sometimes the phases last from a couple of days, to months at a time. Some phases are more severe than others, ranging from nervous jitters waiting in line somewhere, to can’t even leave the house to go to the grocery store.

I’ve been in a good phase the last couple of months and I chalked it up to regularly working with a therapist, completing my dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) workbooks, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

But then as I was in therapy, something triggered the darkness hiding deep in my brain, and I realized it would never go away. This thing will always be lying dormant there, even when I’m feeling “normal” and like my best self.

I am an extremely impatient person… just ask my husband when we order pizza and I ask him to check what time he called over and over, waiting for the delivery man to arrive. I wasn’t expecting a quick fix for my anxiety disorder. I guess I had hoped it might go away with time and I could remember it like, “Hey remember that 28-year phase I struggled with anxiety? Man, that was tough. Glad that’s over!”

I’m learning to be patient with myself and I’ll always have to practice my mindfulness and other techniques that help. I’ve realized I need to exercise my brain and my emotional health just as much as physical health.

For me it’s been 20 years of living with generalized panic disorder, and only two years of actually learning behaviors that will help me to develop techniques to be able to live with it and get through the bad phases. You need to be kind and patient to yourself, because it will always be a learning process.

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