8 Things Someone With 'High-Functioning' Anxiety Wishes You Knew

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A Letter to My Anticipatory Anxiety

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One of the hurdles I face and strive to overcome on a regular basis is my anticipatory anxiety. This kind of anxiety builds up prior to my commitments, sometimes days and other times weeks and months in advance. When my anticipatory anxiety is particularly strong, it can be extremely difficult to leave the house and follow through with my day as planned.

The night before any commitment is when I especially struggle with my anticipatory anxiety. I try not to focus on the accumulating worry, but it makes itself known through the coldness of my hands, the tight pressure in my head, the fluctuating temperature of my body and the uneasiness of my stomach. I try to sleep, but I only manage to do so in an interrupted manner. I tend to wake up at one-hour intervals, my thoughts consumed with the next day’s event, wondering if I will be able to uphold my commitment or if I will need to cancel because of the way my anxiousness makes me feel.

I composed the following letter, addressing it to my anticipatory anxiety in recognition of the strong hold it has upon my life and my wish for it to work with me, not against me, as I go about my daily routine.

Dear Anticipatory Anxiety,

Why do you accompany every decision I make? Why do you cause me to second-guess myself? Why do you make it uncomfortable for me to go about my every day?

When I plan to spend time with a friend, you grow in intensity as the days approach our get-together. I so look forward to seeing my friend, but when I’m feeling nervous and tense because of you, I consider canceling my plans. I don’t want to miss out on shared moments with my friends. I know you are just looking out for me, but my friends are here for me too. My friends are an important part of my support system, and they make me feel safe and comforted by reminding me how much they care about me and how much they believe in me. Please believe in me too.

We are in this together and need to trust each other as you accompany me throughout my life. I want to be a team, where you help me to be perceptive of others’ needs and my own, and where I grow in acceptance of you, recognizing you are a part of me that contributes to who I am — a part I don’t need to be ashamed of anymore. I am humbly asking you to not be a hurdle I need to jump over. Help me keep running in the race, because I know I have the strength to do so and I don’t want to give up on myself.

Yearning to better understand you,

Stephanie

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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I Know My Anxiety Is Going to Spike When I Feel These Physical Warning Signs

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It starts with a slightly empty-stomach, nauseated feeling. I might not notice it at first, probably because I’m more focused on why there seems to be a pain point behind my left eye. These are small things that can easily be brushed off as being hungry, thirsty or needing some caffeine in most people. But for me, they are the first warning signs my anxiety is starting to spike. If I can seize control before a full blown anxiety attack, I can limit the physical symptoms to ones that people won’t notice. I can ease them out through tics like bouncing my knee, tapping my fingers or chewing my nails. Little stuff that is so common most people don’t notice.

But after that first indicator, my hands start to tremble ever so slightly and the vicious cycle of negative thoughts encouraged by my own fears — rational or not — start looping in my mind. At that point I get restless. I have to move, I need space to breathe because it feels like there is a weight on my chest and lungs. I have to get outside or into a bigger room or a quieter room to be able to figure out if I’m actually suffocating or if my mind has told my body it is, even when it isn’t.

Then the gut wrenching stomachaches start and the nausea grows worse. I can’t tell if I need to throw up or not and I wind up so dizzy that standing is hard. So I press my back against the wall and try to breath, try to stem the tears the lump in my throat and the burning in my eyelids tell me are going to fall. The symptoms spike quickly once I’m past a controllable stage and spread to weakness in my knees and legs, uncontrolled crying and desperate gasping for air.

Anxiety isn’t just an excuse to try and slide out of obligations, it’s a real illness with real symptoms that manifest both psychologically and physically. No two people with anxiety will display the same symptoms when they are feeling anxious, so I wanted to caveat my article with explaining these are the physical symptoms of my anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via Silmairel.

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What I Need as a Person With Anxiety, but I'm Afraid to Ask For

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I take my medication and go to sleep. I wake up every morning knowing I’m going to worry.

Yes, it is a part of my daily life and it is not the most enjoyable thing, but I don’t need pity and I personally don’t need to be defined by my anxiety. Most of the time I am too afraid to tell my loved ones what I need from them, but all I need is support and a listening ear. I don’t need you to rid me of my anxiety. I don’t need you to feel bad for me. I need someone to try and understand me.

I freak out sometimes and by sometimes, I mean a lot. I want my friends to know I know my thoughts are irrational. I know I’m overreacting and because of that, I feel like a burden to you. When you ask me what I need, I will always say nothing because I assume you are just trying to be nice and I do not want to bother you. When you ask me to let you know if I need your help, I’m never going to reach out because I do not want to bother you. When you try to assure me you are always there for me, I will still hold in my emotions because I do not want to bother you. I do not want you to be annoyed by me and every time I apologize for annoying you, I feel like I am just annoying you more. This is the negative thought cycle my anxiety provides me with. This turns into me isolating myself, which turns in to depression. It’s truly a vicious cycle and I wish I felt comfortable reaching out to you. I don’t know why I don’t. You try and I try, but I do not want to bother you.

If I could tell all my friends what I truly need, this is what I would say. I need you to be the one to reach out sometimes. It doesn’t have to be daily, but just ask me how I am doing every so often. This will take some pressure off me and make me feel like less of a nuisance. When you do reach out, I do not need you to find a solution. I just hope you can be there to support me and listen to me without judgment. Sometimes I will tell you the “craziest” worries, but please don’t treat me like I’m “crazy.” I put myself down enough. Sometimes I won’t tell you anything I’m feeling because I’m too afraid. Please don’t get too frustrated. I am more than frustrated that this is the way my brain works, but I’m doing my best.

Please know this is only a part of me and the best thing you could do is reach out to me every once in a while. If you don’t, that’s OK too — I don’t want to bother you.

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Thinkstock photo via dragana991

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Redefining My Anxiety in the Age of Trump

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Since November, I’ve been dreading a Trump presidency. Since Inauguration Day, I’ve dreaded every day of it. But as a person living with an anxiety disorder, I’m used to dread. I’m used to fear of the unknown. The thing that makes this so different is it’s real and palpable in a way my anxiety usually isn’t. Here, the dread and anxiety are over tangible and concrete actions beyond my control that affect my life and the lives of millions of others  —  some of whom I know and love, others I don’t know at all.

Normally, the things I have anxiety over aren’t a matter of life or death, freedom or restriction, peace or war, or love or hate. They are everyday occurrences, social interactions, the send button on an e-mail, or locking the door to my apartment  —  all of which seem trivial right about now.

One of the main rules you learn in therapy is to accept the things you can’t control and realize most of your anxiety is controllable  —  by you because you are the one with the power, not your anxiety. But that rule doesn’t necessarily apply to a presidency.

Every day I find something I dread more than the next. The Dakota Access Pipeline. The travel ban for Muslim-majority countries. Chemical pollution of waterways. The deconstruction of the Affordable Care Act. The list goes on and on and on. For many, the realization that the majority of the next four years will be like this is just now settling in. The fact that I, as an individual, have little impact to chart any part of the next four years has settled. And I’m fearful. I am so full of dread. I am so full of sadness. I feel I am at a loss.

This era is a new chapter of my life. I am having to redefine my anxiety in the age of Trump. I’m both struggling and, in many ways, succeeding in finding small, concrete things I do have control over and using them to reach sturdier ground and help others if possible. I’m standing firm in my opinions. I’m donating money when I can. I am sharing information. I am joining the masses in the streets. I am talking to friends and strangers. I am telling people I love them more often.

I’ve made so many strides in my anxiety in the last five years or so that to let myself be sunk by Donald Trump would be a tragedy I refuse to allow a stage to play out.

There are many others in my same position. I know I’m not alone, and I hope they know they aren’t either. As we redefine anxiety in the age of Trump, let’s remember that individual human agency is a powerful thing. Power doesn’t always come in pop and circumstance. Sometimes, it’s in the small, almost hidden things we say and do every day.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Image via Twitter/@realDonaldTrump

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How a Neck Injury Taught Me Mental and Physical Pain Are Interconnected

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

“Your body hears everything the mind says.” — Naomi Judd

Does your mental health ever spiral as you experience physical ailments? Mine has. And I never quite understood the depth and powerful reality of the mind-body connection before. As someone with anxiety, when things happen to me that I feel no control over, my anxiety goes wild.

A few weeks ago, I injured my neck skiing and then sleeping in different beds while traveling intensified the pain. The neck pain was then exacerbated by a constant headache and ringing in my ear. The pain remained and no amount of Ibuprofen helped. I went to my doctor, the chiropractor, had a massage, rubbed topical analgesics on my neck and there was little to no relief. I was desperate for relief. I couldn’t sleep, I was crying from the pain by the end of the day. I couldn’t imagine how to live like this and I began to think about not living.

Because many pain medications I took were depressants, they made me go down, far down, hard and fast. And when I was down, I started numbing and mixing drugs with alcohol. And I kept taking whatever I could that offered temporary pain relief, stuck in the cycle of physical anguish fueling mental anguish which fueled the physical and around and around I went. And then, in that down place, I stopped being able to keep track of any medications, including my mood stabilizers. And the insidious dark thoughts started to consume me. I had no idea what to do.

And in the most remarkable coincidence, a friend invited me over for a coloring and conversation night. My friend is a physical therapist who specializes in head and neck pain. I spilled out my story and the terrible acute pain I had been struggling with for over three weeks at that point and she was more than willing to take a look. I laid down and she began working on the knots and analyzing the pain and as she worked on me, she also worked with my mind. She guided me through a visualization where I was to imagine my neck as a frozen steak and with every stroke of heat from her hands was defrosting the meat, making it softer and more malleable with each pass, relieving that pain. She worked for about 30 minutes and came again a few days later and I still can’t believe the improvement I’ve experienced without any medication.

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I got back on track with my own meds, gave up those that were not mine and I’d like to say I learned my lesson. I’m still working on focusing my mind in positive ways to help manage my physical pain. I am so thankful for a trusted friend to help guide me through the depths of my pain and darkness, without judgment. She helped me see and learn what I could not on my own.

I never fully understood the power of the mind-body connection, but now I fully believe in it. I’m fully open to learning more and practicing. I’m fully open to healing – mind and body. I am not healed, but I am healing and for that I am grateful.

“The body achieves what the mind believes.”

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Thinkstock photo via fona2.

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