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I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 12, which seems like a young age to most but for someone with dyspraxia isn’t all that uncommon. My parents took me to see a child psychologist who quickly diagnosed me and tried to treat me. It was a disaster, to say the least. I didn’t feel comfortable with him, I dreaded going to see him and found his treatment strange. I used to beg out of going to see him, but my parents, desperate for anything to help me, kept taking me. Eventually they realized that despite receiving a diagnosis it was clear the treatment wasn’t going to work and maybe I needed medication.

The following year I was put on medication. The results were almost immediate, and my parents could see the difference with me. While the medication helped, I still experienced anxiety attacks, and I was hard on myself because I felt the medication should’ve taken them away from me.

I ended up seeing the high school counselor every couple of weeks just so I could talk through the upcoming challenges I was facing and how I felt but never focusing on any coping strategies. I also started to subconsciously avoid any situations that would set my anxiety off. This meant as time went on I kept my anxiety/panic attacks to a minimum and they became nonexistent.

Fast forward to after school finished: I had completed a six-month business administration course (despite some minor anxiety-related setbacks and an increase in my medication) and had just landed my first job.

The first day I was nervous, as to be expected, but I was fine and managed to get through the day, but the second day I had a major anxiety attack, I couldn’t breathe and I felt helpless. In an open-plan office there was nowhere to hide, and I ended up leaving the job after just two days.

I raced back to my doctor, the same person who had been treating me ever since my initial diagnosis, in tears and feeling like a complete failure. He sat me down and told me I maybe I need to see a psychologist and that medication alone often isn’t just enough. He referred me to psychologist who he felt would be a good fit for me despite my prior experiences with one. I realized that no matter which way I looked I needed more help and maybe, just maybe, a psychologist would be the answer.

My mum insisted on driving me to the appointment because she too felt I needed additional help that she and my dad couldn’t give me. I walked in to the office unsure of what to expect and met someone whom I connected with immediately. We were both on the same page and she helped me realize that the anxiety and panic attacks weren’t my fault. She has given me strategies to help and encouraged me to challenge myself. She has helped me understand my limits and that it’s OK to say no. She has celebrated my victories and helps me through the times when I feel like a failure. She has helped me understand how my mind works and how past experiences have shaped my future. When my life was falling apart last year she was there for me and helped me realzee my job situation wasn’t right for me. Then she helped pick up the pieces when I had no idea what I should do next. She has been a huge support through this period of unemployment and I know no matter what else my life (and anxiety!) throws and me she will be there.

Sometimes medication isn’t enough to treat your mental illness, and that’s OK! All that matters is you find the right treatment that works for you. Everyone’s mental illness journey is different, and we need to acknowledge that sometimes you may need a mix of treatments to help you live to be your very best. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it’s OK to not be OK, and there is no shame in needing extra help.

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

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This piece was written by Melissa Rose, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Anxiety is difficult on a few levels for the individual who has the disorder, but when it’s your partner, it can be challenging to help them get back to being themselves after having a panic attack. It’s scary, it’s confusing and to some people it can feel incredibly isolating. Let me iterate here that it is never your responsibility to “fix” what is going on — but sometimes it can be useful to know how to help your partner feel better. Here are a few things you can do to help your partner when they are having a panic attack.

If it’s possible, help them get to a quiet place.

Noisy, over-populated areas are distracting and can make anxiety in someone worse. Removing them from the current situation can be ideal, so that if and when you talk to them, you can both hear each other well without having to raise your voice. Also, this privacy can help your partner from feeling embarrassed about it later.

Validate. Validate!

Don’t try to undermine their feelings by saying there isn’t anything to worry about. It might seem that way to you, but to them it sounds like, “Stop being a baby.” Tell them you are there for them, and are willing to listen. The way you say things can make the biggest difference. Also, please don’t tell them to calm down or get over it. That is the worst way to help, simply because if they could “get over it” on command, then they would have already.

Remind them they are safe.

Tell them they are safe, and remind them that this is temporary. Assure them they are going to be OK, because chances are they aren’t able to rationalize what’s going on at that moment. Anxiety can make a normally safe situation feel dangerous. Encourage them to take their medication (in a polite way) or help them engage in coping skills if they are able to.

Sometimes the person might take medication to help them feel better during an attack, and encouraging them to take it might be a great solution. Remember to be kind when you say it, because a suggestion like that, if said incorrectly, can come off as condescending. If you know that they like to take walks, try to get them to walk with you; if they have an object that makes them feel better, like a blanket they curl up in or something like that, try to get it for them if it’s available, but remember it’s only if they want it.

Talk with them.

Try to engage them in conversation, to help them think of other things. Bring up things with caution, as you don’t want to re-trigger anything, but bring up that their favorite team is playing this weekend, or that you watched that funny video they sent you. Keep an eye on how they react though; read their body language. If it isn’t helping, then don’t continue with that topic.

Encourage them to breathe.

Have you ever noticed when you were nervous or scared that you forgot to breathe? When people panic, they have short shallow breathes usually. Try to have them breathe deeply. Do it with them and try to have them keep a breathing rhythm with you.

Be there for them.

It may be tempting to leave because it can get uncomfortable, but stay there with them. Remind them that they are loved. Stay by their side until they are able to calm down. They will be so appreciative of it when it’s over.

Having a panic attack is difficult on both parties but hopefully, with these strategies, it is easier to help your partner to a better state. Always remember that a panic attack can be complicated, and if you feel that you aren’t sure of what to do, just stay with the person, at minimum.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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We all have that one song that calms our nerves and makes us feel at peace. Sometimes, it can be an entire playlist. If you find yourself feeling extra anxious about anything, whether it’s that big meeting at work tomorrow or just knowing you have to talk on the phone later, it’s important to find an outlet for your increased stress.

Personally, I’ve found music can be a powerful tool to calm my anxiety. With my anxiety, I will ruminate on my thoughts for hours unless I do something to distract or refocus my mind, so music is a great way to accomplish that. Music not only absorbs my attention, it can help me explore emotions I haven’t even paid attention to yet. It aids in meditation and helps to prevent the mind from wandering too far.

Too busy for it? Music can be played anywhere – whether it’s in the car on the drive to work (that can be a stressful time) or for me, poppin’ in some headphones and listening to my playlist while walking my furry friend. There’s no excuse for having no time. Make time for your mental health.

If you don’t know where to start on this magical, musical journey, I’ll be your anxiety spirit guide.

1. Address your emotions.

When you blast a beat as you’re cleaning your room or listening to an upbeat song during your morning routine or workout, you’re using music therapeutically without even realizing it. When we are thoughtful about the selection of our music, we can build a powerful playlist that combats stress, anxiety and depression while increasing motivation and evoking positive emotions.

To start the process, let’s talk about those emotions. Sometimes this can be a hard step. Personally, I’m very self-aware of my own emotions or anxieties, but if you have trouble, don’t be hard on yourself. Do what makes you feel comfortable. If you can, ask yourself, What’s my current emotional state? Am I anxious, restless, or sad? How would I like to feel instead?

With those questions in mind, you can gradually bring yourself to whatever state of mind you would like to achieve through music. You just need music that’s cathartic for your current mood and slowly guides you to your desired emotional state.

2. Feel that familiar funk.

Start combing through your own collection of music, whether it be your CDs, records, iTunes or Spotify to discover what genre or specific songs really resonate with you. Personally, I’ve been building my “Anxiety Playlist” for a few weeks now and whenever I stumble across a song, whether it be on a Spotify pre-made playlist or just through exploring, I immediately add it to my collection of calm. My favorite feel good song on my playlist happens to be “Why Should I Worry” by Billy Joel and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. It’s one of my favorite Disney movies and it gives me a feeling of complete and total ease. Even hearing the words, “why should I worry” gives me such a instant shock of relief and reality that my life is pretty great. Why should I worry?

Memories, especially emotional ones, are stimulated by music and can transport us back in time instantly to the moment we experienced that specific song and how it made us feel. Be aware of how songs make you feel and label them as happy, energizing, disturbing, etc. Most importantly, trust yourself and how you believe songs make you feel. Only you know what emotions you have and how to combat them. It’s all about finding that trust within yourself. Place different songs into categories according to your common moods such as: depressed, tired, anxious, stressed and so on.

3. Enjoy the experience.

You know when your mom cranks up that country radio station and says, “you’ll love this song”? I love you mom, but I can guarantee you, I won’t. If it doesn’t seep into your bones and feed your soul, don’t bother adding it to your playlist. You know what you like – explore your options and match those songs to different moods.

4. Let it speak to your soul.

Music is the ultimate form of empathy. As humans, we’re constantly striving to be understood. This could explain why we enjoy music that’s relatable or speaks to our soul. Certain lyrics of songs can validate our feelings and even provide comfort when they are suited to our current mood. For example, when you’re listening to sad music it actually causes your brain to produce the same neurochemical that’s released when you cry. This chemical, prolactin, helps to elicit feelings of comfort, which means listening to a sad song when we feel depressed or down not only provides empathy, it’s causing our brains to begin the process of feeling better.

5. Match your mood.

Think about how you’re feeling right this minute. How fast are you moving? Is your heart racing? Are you feeling sluggish? Heavy? How fast are you breathing? There are many questions to consider before changing your mood with music. It can be easier to wade through matching your mood with the beat when you explore different musical elements such as tempo, volume and harmony. Keep these things in mind when you’re creating your playlist. A great example is volume. If you are overstimulated and feel like you need to turn the world off, find a song with soft lyrics and instruments.

6. Lose the lyrics.

While I personally always attach myself to specific lyrics, I’ve found songs without any lyrics have done wonders for my mood and anxiety. Lyrics leave a little less up to the imagination because someone else is telling the story. When lyrics are included in a song, our brain has to work even harder to process them. They could also stimulate more memories – good or bad. If you want to ease stress, allow your mind to wander without so intensely focusing on the music.

7. Trust your intuition.

If you’ve listened to a song and felt yourself on the edge of tears (“Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra – every time) or motivated to run that extra distance, you know the power music can have on your emotions. When we make a conscious effort, music can provide emotional comfort during the struggles of anxiety. We have a serious knack for picking songs that soothe and heal just for us, without thinking too much about it. Trust the way you feel because it’s real and it’s valid.

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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

7 Tips for Building Your 'Anxiety Playlist'

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Smiles, laughter, friends, good grades. These are reasons why people are surprised when I say I have severe anxiety and depression. Because mental illness is easy to hide when you dedicate every ounce of energy to keeping your inner demons to yourself.

I tried for so long to conceal my anxiety and depression and honestly, I did a great job. My life consisted of me waking up, putting on my mask of happiness and struggling through every moment. I would spend time with friends, go to parties, dance and laugh. I was friendly and outgoing and on the outside, I looked healthy and happy. I smiled and laughed my way through debilitating panic attacks unfolding inside of me as I sat at a coffee shop with my friends. I shuddered and shook and pushed my way through the anxiety as I sat in my classroom. I got out of bed at 7:30 a.m. even though I was awake until 5 a.m. crying my eyes out.

The reality? Concealing the pain and torture going on in my head was making it significantly worse. The anxiety and depression reached a point that was unbearable. It was hard for me to eat. I got compliments about how great and skinny I looked and I would take them with a forced smile, knowing my silent cry for help was going unnoticed. I started skipping class, but professors didn’t pay any mind to it. They only acknowledged the fact I was going to fail for being absent so much.

I reached a breaking point at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year. I was rushing sororities which was a major time commitment and required more talking than you can imagine. I was doing well in the beginning, until one moment I was sitting in a chair talking to another girl and began to have a massive panic attack mid-sentence. I was struggling for air, my eyes were filling up with tears and I could barely get words out. The girl had a strange look on her face, but smiled through her confusion as I tried to laugh it off and pretend I was just choking on nothing. I left the house, walking quickly through crowds of girls with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t even care if people saw my weakness anymore, I needed help and it was time to come clean.

I’ve learned so much through my experience with mental illness, but one of the most important lessons I was taught is that it’s OK to be honest about your struggles. I thought faking it would make my symptoms disappear, but the exact opposite happened. As I became more vocal about my illnesses, I realized not all people are cruel and judgmental. Sure there will be many who don’t believe you or think that mental illness isn’t serious, but there are so many people going through something similar and who are there for you to lean on. When you come clean about your battles, it can bring a great sense of relief. You can get the proper help and accommodations you need. You can finally give yourself permission to begin healing the way you need to.

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My anxiety feels like:

… a thumping heart.

… a tight chest.

… short, quick breaths.

… a knot in my stomach.

… a swollen throat.

… heavy eyes.

… warm feet.

… a tingle in my ears.

… a pressure in my forehead.

… a fuzzy head.

… a tremble in my hands.

… and jelly in my legs.

I hear the blood rushing through my veins.

I feel the clammy sweat on my palms.

I smell the cold air.

I see everything.

I taste fear.

How do I look? Same as always.

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Mindfulness is about being aware of what we are doing and experiencing; it forces the brain to be in the here and now, which can help stop anxious thoughts in their tracks. It’s about learning how to control what you spend your attention on.

Not only did the orange give me tools to tackle my anxiety, it taught me a valuable lesson about making snap judgments and a little bit about my own humility.

About two years ago, I had hit a rough patch. I’d reached out to a wellness program run by my health insurance company and they sent me a packet about stress management. It had all the basic information: “Take a walk, call a friend, say no to new projects.” But tucked in the middle of the book was a paragraph about eating an orange. I thought the whole concept was ridiculous. How could eating an orange change my life? How would that help my anxiety? I laughed, I mocked and I shared with friends so they could mock it, too.

Then one night a few months later, I had a panic attack while home alone with and happened to have a bowl full of oranges in the kitchen. What happened next changed my life. I grabbed the little sheet of paper with the exercise on it, grabbed an orange and made myself comfortable.

Then I got to work. I took my time eating the orange. I made sure to focus all my thoughts and energy into that orange. I was completely present in the moment. I felt the orange, smelled the orange, looked at the orange. I thought about the rain and sun that it took to grow the orange. I thought about the long road the orange had to take to get to me. I thought about the scars on the peel of the orange, and when I took that first sweet juicy bite, I realized that none of those scars changed how absolutely divine the orange was on the inside.

Not only did it help with that particular panic attack, because it forced my brain to be present in the moment and didn’t allow me to worry about the “what ifs” and obsess over what had triggered the attack in the first place. It also changed my opinion of myself.

I have many scars myself: I used to self-harm. I have surgical scars. My broken nose is a lasting reminder of past trauma. My fragile skin shows scars from the silliest of things, too, and the emotional scar list could go on for miles.

I always used to think that these scars made me less valuable. After eating that orange, and realizing that the sweetest, most desirable part was on the inside and was still perfect despite the scars on its skin, I realized I still have value, too. My scars do not determine my worth, and neither do yours.

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.

A version of this post appeared on The Story of Spoonies.

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