Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

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We asked people in The Mighty’s mental health community to share one physical symptom they experience because of anxiety.

Read the full version of 24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety.

Read the full transcript:

Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

“Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain.”

“Full-body rage. High blood pressure followed by a sense of being completely drained.”

“My back is in tremendous pain, and every time I have attacks, I suddenly feel my back harden and new knots appear.”

“In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold.”

“When I get really anxious and hot my whole body breaks out in a red and incredibly itchy or painful rash.”

“Heart palpitations. Every night for over a year my heart wouldn’t let me sleep.”

“My voice goes very raspy and strained.”

“When I’m in full blown panic mode my gums bleed.”

“Horrible and very vivid nightmares.”

“I shut down. I can’t think. I forget where I’m going or what I’m doing. I just fall asleep.”

Anxiety isn’t just ‘in your head.’ It affects your body too.

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Why I Feel My Mental Illness Makes Friendship Difficult

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For most people, making friends comes second nature. Most of us don’t even have to try — it just happens. We start new jobs, meet people through others or bump into someone we instantly connect with and a friendship is born.

I used to be like that.

Now, I just don’t seem to know how. It’s not that people don’t try and be my friend because they do … I just don’t know how to accept their friendship these days.

I get confused, and worried, and overthink the entire thing to the point where it’s just easier not to get close to anyone. I have a few close family and friends whom I adore. My husband is my rock and knows me inside and out. I am not lonely, but having friends is not my “normal” anymore.

It’s not that I don’t want more people in my life; I just struggle with forming meaningful relationships — ones built on trust, respect and honesty.

So, why do I think this is?

Well, what if they get to know me and realize how “ridiculous” I am?

What if I’m too needy?

What if they are too needy, and I can’t cope with it?

What if they invite me out somewhere, and I have to meet more people? I might embarrass them, I might get anxious and have to leave early, then they will all be talking about me, won’t they?

Yeah, I don’t need any more friends. I’m OK as I am, aren’t I … but wouldn’t it be nice to go out on girly nights, and see people and make memories? But that all sounds a bit scary to me … fuck it, I’m fine as I am  I don’t need anyone. People suck anyway.

That’s my anxiety talking. That’s my borderline personality disorder (BPD) talking. That’s my depression talking. That’s my slightly broken mind talking.

I am fully aware most of that is utter bollocks, but that doesn’t make the fears and worries I have about making new friends feel any less real.

For the most part, I am an incredibly logical and rational individual, which is why even I can’t understand myself sometimes. Being this irrational confuses me terribly.

So, if I can’t understand myself, how can I expect anyone else to?

I struggle with fear of abandonment. My mind works in a way that if someone hasn’t contacted me, or replied to a message, or answered their phone, I automatically jump to the worst possible conclusion. This can range from me thinking they are pissed off with me to thinking they have died in a horrible accident.

For example, my husband has to text me every morning when he gets to work.  If he doesn’t, my brain goes into overdrive and starts asking the dreaded “what if” questions. What if he’s been involved in an accident and can’t get to his phone? What if he’s had an accident and he’s just lying at the side of a road somewhere? What if he’s dead?

The rational side of my brain knows he’s probably just got caught in traffic, or someone’s collared him getting out of the car and he’s just got caught up talking, but the next thing I know I’m checking Facebook and news sites for accidents on the motorway. I know how irrational that might sound to most of you — it sounds irrational to myself — but it’s the way I am.

My only defense is I care deeply, and the thought of losing someone I care about that much terrifies me.

I can also be a very cynical person. I often assume people are only being nice to me because they want something from me. It takes so much for me to completely trust people. I have, like most people, been hurt and let down by others in the past. Most people understand this is just part of life, and not everyone we meet will be out to get us. My brain doesn’t believe that sometimes.

If I meet someone and they invite me out somewhere, my first thought is usually, “Why would they want to invite me out?” I sometimes fail to see the positives in myself, so assume no one else can either.

I have the appearance of someone who doesn’t care what others think. I’m heavily tattooed, have my own style, wear clothes I love regardless of fashion, model part-time and have always walked my own path. People assume I’m cool and confident, and that couldn’t be further from the truth at times. I am constantly seeking approval in my own way. I find it difficult to accept that someone would want to spend time with me for no other reason than they enjoy my company. I always assume there’s an ulterior motive.

My “normal” is probably different to yours. I get that most people don’t think the same way I do, so this is one of the main things that causes me to withdraw when someone is attempting to start a friendship with me. It’s all fine and dandy when you first meet. I don’t have to tell then what goes on in my head. I don’t have to let them see my “ridiculousness.” I can hide it all exceptionally well, but what happens further down the line? I can’t pretend to be a different person for the rest of my life. Surely it also invalidates the friendship, if I’m not the person they think I am?

I am incredibly honest about my mental health struggles. I refuse to be embarrassed by it or ashamed of it — it is part of me — but, that doesn’t mean I reveal all of my secrets to everyone I meet.

Most people I know in real life know I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, but there are very few people who really know what goes on in my head.

Which is why I wanted to write this article. I want people to know me, warts and all. I want to share it all with you. Why? There are a few reasons. Let me explain.

Firstly, sometimes feeling the way I do can suck, but I know I am not the only person in the world who feels like this. I’m hoping, by me putting all this out there, it will help others realize they aren’t alone. I do not have any answers on how to change this, but I’m hoping maybe we can just figure it all out together along the way.

The other reason I am writing this is because I hope it will help the people who know me already to understand me a little bit better. I know you may be sat there thinking I must be hard work to know, or maybe you think having a friend like me must be exhausting, ut I can assure you it isn’t. I am one of the most caring, kind, empathic people you will meet. I love deeply and openly. I try my utmost not to judge. I will listen to your problems, and help you in any way I can.

Knowing me can be confusing — I get that — but please, if you have read this far and still want to be my friend, I love you. Please don’t stop trying with me. Please keep inviting me out, even if I decline the offer. Please tell me it is OK to be how I am. Please just understand this is hard for me. And please — above all else — let me be me with all my flaws, and I promise you: you will have a friend for life.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Thinkstock photo via lolostock

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How My Dentist Became My Anxiety Ally

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Few professions are as bizarrely intimate as dentistry. If you think about it, who else are you going to let use power tools against you, better yet pay them to do it? Dentists get close — really close. Closer than most of us would really like if we could avoid it. But in the end, there really is no avoiding it, because you know it will just lead to even more problems. So you suck it up and go. Unless you have anxiety — then the whole thing becomes a terrifying tornado of nauseating apprehension. Few people really love their dentist. I’m sorry to say I’m one of the few who does. I know, it just seems wrong somehow. How does anyone love their dentist, especially if you are drowning in anxiety most hours of most days? You have to make your dentist an ally in the fight — and that takes a lot of strength to even think about trying to do.

My dentist, bless his heart, is very very familiar with me. Not only because half a lifetime of horrific experiences caused me to avoid dentists as much as possible, thereby destroying my teeth — but maybe more so because he knows those secrets I hide so well. You know, the ones that involve words like “panic.” He knows all about it. He knows I am a tightly wound ball of hyper-awareness and stress. He knows all the bad experiences and embarrassing breakdowns over the years. Basically, he knows more than a priest but slightly less than God. Slightly less. He has seen me go on and off medications with varying degrees of success, and sometimes the soul-sucking depression and death grip of panic it results in only serve to make his life harder. Of course, he wouldn’t know any of it if not for a long, rambling email I finally sent him one day. I sent it because I realized I was doing myself no favors by not telling him. And I sent it because he is a really good guy who wanted to avoid terrifying me with his instruments of torture but didn’t really know how to go about that.

I am, at the best of times, one of the worst dental patients you could have. I don’t want to be there, I can’t breathe, I can’t think and I don’t care how nice you are — I don’t like you. Everything about it is a trigger for everything about me. It’s a relentless bombardment of sensory overload and terror. The first time my dentist met me, I was shaking so badly he actually stopped mid-sentence, put his hand on my arm and asked if I was OK. I’m pretty sure I said no.

For some unknown reason, he was extremely patient with me. Maybe he thought I would bite his fingers off if he wasn’t. I might have. But he was in no hurry, and that was oddly reassuring. He was mercifully discreet when he read the (extensive) list of medication I was on the first time he met me. But I decided, discretion aside, I was never going to be anything resembling “OK” about going to the dentist, if he didn’t understand where I was coming from. So I sat down at my computer and started writing the longest email he probably ever got from a patient. Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety, depression, anxiety, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, trauma, anxiety, panic, anxiety. I hate dentists. I hate dentistry. I am paralyzed with terror and won’t dare complain no matter what you do because I am more scared to complain than to let you torture me! Oh, and I eat sugar all day, every day, so we are going to get to know each other very well. Lucky him — the patient from hell had arrived.

The next time I saw him I was certain I had made a huge mistake by confessing my all-consuming fear of him. You don’t tell the enemy they terrify you. But then, suddenly, he wasn’t my enemy anymore. He looked right at me and smiled. That gentle, knowing smile of someone who just “gets” it, maybe more than you really wish they did. A smile that said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.” I was still shaking just as badly as ever, but this time he knew why. He watched carefully for the slightest flinch because he knew it was the only sign I was going to give if something hurt; my anxiety was definitely not going to let me say anything. Instead of worrying about my verge of panic shaking, he laughed about it. Which made me laugh about it. Which made me stop shaking so much. He didn’t pass judgment about my teeth being in terrible shape, my soda habit, or candy addiction. He didn’t make me feel bad about my condition. He didn’t make a big deal about the fact I kept my eyes closed the whole time and never answer questions so I can disappear into my own world. And when I finally did have to tell him to stop and give me a second one time, he just paused and told me a story about the first girl he went on a date with in high school, while I stopped hyperventilating.

I never have to apologize for anything. Once he knew this was more than just your average dental anxiety, he became my ally. In a sense, we are both fighting on the same side now. He helps me battle my terror because he knows the tough as nails act is nothing more than a brilliant facade to hide my fears and insecurities. He can stop a panic attack in its tracks. He can spot a flashback when I don’t even see what is happening. He knows every moment is agonizingly long, but the worst thing he can do is hurry. He cares. He’s on my side. And it means more than he knows.

If you live with anxiety as a part of your everyday life, then what is a rather simple biannual event for most people can turn in to a nervous meltdown. You don’t have to love the dentist. You don’t even have to like the dentist. But if the thought of the letters “DDS” sends you into a tailspin, just know you are not alone. If you are brave enough, consider asking them for an extra 10 minutes before your next appointment to talk. If you’re more like me, write a letter. You can even wait until after your appointment is over, so that, if you’re lucky, it will be six months before you have to face them again. But no matter what your feelings are about dentistry, it is unavoidable. And even the best dentist can’t help if they don’t know what is wrong.

It will always be a struggle for me. I’m still terrified every time I walk in his office. I still can’t breathe. I still want to run. But he knows it, and it is much easier to battle with him on my side. Sure, I’m embarrassed he knows everything wrong with me — of course I am. But I’m grateful to have him as my ally because anxiety is an enemy you just can’t fight alone.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via SolisImages

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15 Things People With Anxiety Wish They Knew After College Graduation

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We talk a lot about how hard the transition from high school to college can be. We have resources set in place for students who need mental health support, although they are often lacking. We have clubs and organizations that support students who specifically live with mental illnesses, making sure they have a community and something to fall back on when things get tough.

And although can college can certainly be challenging for a student struggling with anxiety, we don’t often talk about what happens after you graduate — as if graduating college wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough. So, we asked people living with anxiety in our community to tell us one thing they wish they knew after they graduated from college. We hope this helps you feel a little more ready to take on the “real world,” anxiety and all.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “[Make sure you have] better coping mechanisms. It’s so damn hard to survive day to day when all you want to do is hide in bed from all your stressors. It’s even harder when you have to go to work or stay at work despite being in the throws of a panic attack because mental health isn’t treated the same way physical health is.” — Melina A.

2. “There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for life afterwards, and that’s fine.” — Nihal N.

3. “Alcohol and drugs are only a Band-Aid for a problem that needs stitches… it really doesn’t help with the anxiety. If drinking and using gets out of control, get help. A sober mind is much more compliant with medicines and coping strategies.” — Nora A.

4. “I wish I was able to make myself proud. I spent my whole life trying to make everyone proud, to make them say, ‘Oh, we are so proud of you.’ ‘You are good.’ ‘We love you.’ But what have I done for me? Am I really proud of myself? I pushed myself away for the safety of the family, friendship, love. I decided I was not worth the attention and that the only way to deal with my anxiety was to forget about me. Stop trying to please other people, love yourself. If you won’t do it, nobody else will.” — Gianluca P.

5. “It’s OK, things work out. You can settle and not feel like you have to jump from pointless job to pointless job because you are too scared about how your anxiety will work when you are in an ‘adult’ job. Settling down is actually nice; anxiety will always be there, but you still got this.” — Cait L.

6. “Change is inevitable. You’re most likely not going to have the same freedom and independence like you did in college. You will be OK and you are not a failure if you don’t get a job doing exactly what you went to school for. There are new challenges daily, but it is not the end of the world. Make sure to take care of yourself.” — Robin D.

7. “Don’t push yourself too much.” — Jom C.

8. “It’s important to talk. This is something I think we should be taught from a young school age. I have probably talked more in the last six months since being diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety than I have my whole life. I now love talking and am trying to help others through talking about and sharing my experiences.” — Kathryn B.

9. “Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t work right away. It sucks and it makes life difficult, but remember you’re not doing it on purpose and you didn’t choose this. My anxiety is one of the big reasons why I haven’t worked in the two years since graduating from college. I had to go on disability (mental health and physical health reasons) and it was very defeating, but I’m taking this time to try and get a handle on things so I can come out stronger and able to accomplish my goals. Grad school is still on my list of things to do, but I’m not putting time restraints on myself anymore because that is something that won’t help. Too much pressure = more anxiety.” — Gina G.

10. “It’s OK if it takes some time to figure life out. A college degree isn’t a magic train into a fully realized career and a picket fence life. But that is all part of the journey. And as someone with anxiety, sometimes that journey might have some stumbles. But that’s OK! The important thing is to keep going!” — Mandie L.

11. “Anxiety doesn’t magically go away. Keep going to therapy appointments, talk to your doc about med switches and remember to take care of yourself when you’re working full-time. No matter what, know you’re not alone.” — Chelle H.

12. “Honestly, anxiety really ruins your life if you let it. I wish people told me I couldn’t let it control me or hold me back from socializing or having friends. Having anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed of, and it’s normal.” — Emally B.

13. “I wish I would have known I can do what I want. My anxiety told me I couldn’t do nursing school so I settled with becoming a medical secretary/assistant. I work with nurses everyday and I’m reminded what I could have been but my anxiety told me. and still does, that I can’t handle it.” — Aci G.

14. “It’s OK to ask for help! And that it takes a long, painful while to find a way to control anxiety. Weather it be medication, meditation or a therapist or anything.” — Celeste Q.

15. “Leaving your comfort zone will be incredibly hard; take advantage of every opportunity you can. If your to anxious to try or go alone ask someone to join you.” — Mandy L.

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How I Manage Panic Attacks During Exam Season

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I’m trapped. The room is closing in and the walls are pressing against me. My desk is pushed against my knees and my exam paper pushes against my chest. I can’t breathe.

Today I faced my first exam for the year. And, after that, I don’t think I can do the rest. The actual exam, the knowledge and the questions: all fine. But in that room; behind that desk – I’m trapped. All I wanted to do was stand up and scream as I made my way out of those four walls closing in so quickly.

But that’s not what I did. I’ve lived through panic attacks in worse situations, and one exam wasn’t going to be the end of me facing them head on. When the sea is churning and it feels like I’m being lost under the waves, being pushed further and further down into the darkness. When I can no longer breathe and it gets to be just a little bit too much; I’ve learnt to take a step back, take a deep breath, and rise out of the sea and back to shore.

Exams can easily make me and many others living with anxiety feel like we’re trapped beneath the waves, unable to surface. But that is simply not the case. Our normal coping techniques may well fly out the window, but that doesn’t mean there are none for us to use. So take a deep breath, and read these pointers about how to cope in your exams now, and in years to come.

1. Focus on the present.

Grounding is something I have always found effective when reducing a panic attack, and although you are stuck at a single desk in the exam hall, grounding can still be effective. Move your feet slowly under your desk, feel the ground beneath you. Look around (only in front of you, this is an exam after all) and find something to focus on, to remind you that you are not drowning, but safe.

2. Take a moment to regulate your breathing.

A few minutes taken to calm yourself down are better spent than 25 taken to pretend that you are fine. Take deep breathes, use breathing exercises you may normally use to help a panic attack and take the time to return to a fit state to take your exam.

3. Remember that you are not in danger.

A panic attack, although unpleasant (like exams), are not dangerous, and you will be OK. You can breathe, you are not trapped, and you will be OK. Remind yourself of when you have gone through and emerged from a panic attack before, and remember what you did then to help you now, if you can do it in the exam.

But it’s not just about what you can do during an exam if you feel a panic attack starting — you can prepare. Wearing comfortable clothing (if your school or college allows this) can help you feel relaxed and more comfortable both before and during the exam. Wearing jewelry that can be moved, spun or simply fiddled with can also be a great help to give you something to channel through. I personally have a fidget ring that I always wear and take into exams with me, and one of my friends has the most adorable dragon necklace that has a ball inside that can be spun. Sometimes just having this on hand can help you to regain control and focus, not just in exams but in everyday life.

So remember, exams may make you feel like you are trapped, but the reality is they are just an hour or two we can all make it through. I believe in you. And if I can make it through my first exam for the year, you can too.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via shironosov

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How BuzzFeed's Podcast 'Another Round' Led to My Anxiety Diagnosis

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Two months ago, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

It was a diagnosis that was a long time coming. I’ve struggled my entire life with overwhelming and irrational thoughts, embarrassing nervous habits, and missing out on things due to debilitating nervousness. I was always written off as “quiet” or “shy,” and I accepted those characterizations.

But as I got older, my worries became all-consuming. I worried something terrible would happen to one of my children. I was afraid I was destroying all of my relationships. And I was so exhausted that I often wondered if life was worth living.

Mental illness is not something that has ever been talked about in my family. When you’re burnt out, you’re told to take a vitamin. When you’re overwhelmed, you’re told, “It’ll pass.” When you’re depressed, you’re told to pray and read your Bible.

Not saying those are bad ideas, but they just didn’t work for me.

About a year ago, I started listening to BuzzFeed’s “Another Round podcast. As I wrote in a previous blog post, hosts Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu have helped me through many slow work commutes, and have become part of my self-care routine.

But one thing in particular that strikes me about “Another Round” is how openly they talk about mental illness — especially anxiety and depression. Tracy talks openly about her experience with an anxiety disorder, her good and bad days. She’s written about her struggle, and she has advocated for the use of medication, if you need it.

For so long, I felt like needing help would make me seem “weak.” I’m someone who always appears to “have it together.” I have a good job. A great husband. Two beautiful, healthy daughters. So why, sometimes, does it seem like my world is crumbling around me? Why does it often feel like there’s someone sitting on my chest? And why have I always been too embarrassed to admit my problem to anyone — even to myself?

But hearing from people who face similar struggles —  especially strong, successful, “together” black women — counteracts years of shame I’ve carried because of the stigma of mental illness. When I listen to “Another Round,” I don’t just hear interesting stories about killer squirrels. I also hear that taking care of yourself is vital. I hear there is no shame in needing a little bit of help to get through life. I hear that I’m not “crazy.”

Admitting I needed help for my anxiety was not easy. I cried at my appointment as soon as my doctor asked if I had any concerns. I was tempted to fake a smile, nod and say I was OK, like I always did. But I had reached rock bottom and knew I couldn’t continue on like I had been.

And once my appointment was over and I left with a prescription for medication, I felt like the world had been lifted off my back.

It’s been two months since that appointment, and my life has changed drastically. My medication is working great and it’s like a fog has lifted from around my brain. I’m calmer. I’m happier. And although I still have bad days, I can manage and cope more effectively.

You never know where the encouragement you need is going to come from. It could come from someone you love. Or a stranger on the street. Or hosts of a BuzzFeed podcast.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via “Another Round” Facebook page.

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