19 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Get Help for Your Anxiety

19 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Get Help for Your Anxiety

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Acknowledging you need help for anxiety can be really difficult. Sometimes it’s a specific moment in time, marked by the realization: I need help. Other times, it may be the culmination of living with exhausting anxiety symptoms for an extended period of time. Whatever the situation may be, it’s important to know the “red flags” that signify it may be time to find support.

Although an anxiety “red flag” for one person might be different the “red flag” for another, we wanted to know when people knew it was time to seek professional help. So we asked our mental health community to let us know what “red flag” told them they needed to get support for their anxiety.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I could no longer leave my house without [having] a panic attack. I only felt safe at home. If I was out, no matter where I was, I was in a constant state of fight or flight… I’m blessed with a great doctor who saw me the day after I called, and immediately started looking for the right meds for me. I have my life back now.” — Amanda C.

2. “When suicide became an option in my thinking. When I cried every day for any reason. When life seemed like a punishment. When I felt I was no longer a value to anyone, it was time to seek counseling.” — Kierstyn A.

3.After my uncle passed, I knew it was time. I was constantly having nightmares and panic attacks at night almost on a daily basis. His death was traumatic for me, and it took over a year to get over.” — Cherish I.

4. “When my self-destructive episodes started to cause problems at work.” — Andy S.

5. “The big sign was when I stopped eating. I was so anxious I couldn’t keep anything down, and my stomach always felt like someone was squeezing my insides together… I was always dizzy and shaky, and that’s when I realized my emotional state was serious, and that I needed to get help.” — Erika K.

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6. “When panic attacks started to rule my life — everything revolved around them. That’s when I realized I couldn’t go on like this.” — Megan E.

7. “When I could no longer face work and the stress and the demands of teaching. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m., wet from sweat, night after night, thinking of the day ahead and how to make it through.” — Jamie S.

8. “I realized I needed help when I would cry over and obsess over the littlest things.” — Ashley H.

9. “I would avoid certain things (speaking up in class, learning how to drive, turning in homework, etc.) to the point where it made my life much more difficult. I also had panic attacks almost daily and would cry myself to sleep. I didn’t know I had anxiety, but I realized I needed to reach out for help.” — Nicole C.

10. “When being near more than a handful of people made my heart rate soar.” — Annie O.

11. “[When] my safe place was no longer my safe place because of my thoughts and feelings.” — Taylor S.

12. “When I, as a nurse, would imagine every ache or symptom I experienced was something fatal, and I’d spend hours thinking about it and examining myself. I’d lie awake in bed at night and be scared I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.” — Laura N.

13. “When my mom approached me and literally asked if I needed help. I hadn’t realized it was that obvious.” — Reming M.

14. “When I couldn’t take my newborn to get diapers.” — Jessica H.

15. “When I stopped seeing the point in living. When I was afraid to wake up and face my demons, and [felt like] I’d rather just disappear and not burden anyone. That’s when I realized I needed help.” — Savannah A.

16. “When I started to realize that anytime something would get difficult, I would run.” — Samantha M.

17. “When I started to realize how much my friendships were breaking down from my anxieties. It got to the point [when] I couldn’t have a conversation without my insecurities erupting and creating a conflict. I was slowly starting to isolate myself until I finally got help. Five months later, and I’ve never had a closer knit support system!” — Kira M.

18. “When I got sick of being scared of everyone and everything.” — Nathan B.

19. “When I found myself on the floor crying because I was so overwhelmed. My then-1-year-old came over and just started hugging me. I remember thinking, I have to get better for him… I called a therapist and got in that day, and have [since] been working on myself. It’s been almost two years, and I feel like a whole different person.” — Kristin B.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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What You Need to Know If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Anxiety

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Dear parents of kids with anxiety,

Anxiety is a terribly confusing concept. In spite of being an extremely common mental illness, it’s almost impossible to find one agreed-upon definition that sufficiently describes all aspects of the disorder. What you will find are a lot of B+ definitions that fall just short of that coveted “A” grade. This is partly due to the various ways in which anxiety presents in different people of all ages: panic, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) etc. It is also because people experience and explain their own anxiety in many different ways. We can only imagine how scary it must be for a child to face it when adults are confused by the mere notion of anxiety.

To be clear, I am not an expert in the field and I’m not a medical professional. I’m a 52-year-old survivor of lifetime anxiety accompanied by depressive episodes over the years. I am also a father of five kids, most of whom have shown some anxious tendencies at one time or another. My middle daughter has struggled more than the others, diagnosed with anxiety disorder after her first panic attack at the age of about five, which kind of blew my mind when it happened because she was so young. But it was real. It happened. I was there. And it took me a minute, but I quickly realized what it was.

I thought being a lifetime student of the disorder might have prepared me for what was to come, but I could not have been more wrong. Thankfully, my wife was a rock and we weathered the storm as a family — we still do — so I’m hoping that by sharing a small part of our story, the journey for some parents might be a little less painful and frightening. In turn, it might be a little less painful and scary for our kids.

For those with no understanding of the disorder, here is my attempt at a simple definition — more like a description — of anxiety. Imagine being faced with a real and immediate crisis. You’ve just lost your small child in a crowded shopping mall. You are afraid to fly and your flight is being rocked by heavy turbulence. You hear a downstairs window smash in the middle of the night and you are home alone. It can be anything like this. Think about your emotional and physical reactions. Your pulse quickens and you begin to sweat. Blood vessels dilate and you experience tunnel vision. Your mind races uncontrollably. Adrenaline rushes through your bloodstream as your body prepares to meet a perceived threat. This is known as the fight or flight response. It is how the body has helped humankind survive different dangers since the beginning of time.

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Now, imagine every one of those reactions happening simultaneously while you are simply seated at your desk, or in the car, or at church. There is no real threat. There is no perceived threat. There is only the unwarranted reaction. And now imagine being a fourth-grade elementary kid with all of these scary things happening in your mind and your body while you sit in a classroom, or on the bus or in the cafeteria.

My kids and I simply call it “scary thoughts,” and in the simplest of reality, that’s really all it is. But anxiety doesn’t exist in only its simplest form. For my daughter, it began in a Chinese food restaurant. One minute, we sat as a family eating dinner together. The next minute, my typically shy and reserved little girl was pounding her fist on the table, demanding we immediately leave. When fight or flight kicked in, she ran for the door. She realized we weren’t following and she came back toward us, only to turn and run again. And I know exactly what her brain was screaming at her: “Get out. Get out of here, now.” Nothing else mattered. I know this because I’ve experienced the same terrifying thought process a thousand times over. “Here” can be anywhere: work, school, church, a restaurant or a mall. You just have to get out.

A few minutes later we were driving home and the adrenaline dump in my little girl stopped. She began to yawn and sink into her seat. She became tired and limp. My daughter was worn out. But a seed had been planted and the anxiety switch in her brain had been flipped. You can’t unplant the seed and you can’t just unswitch the switch. A truly traumatic event had occurred and it scared my little girl to the core. Fear is a powerful motivator at any age. She became fearful it would happen again and ironically, it was that very fear that pretty much guaranteed a repeat performance.

Anxiety did return and unfortunately, it grew roots. Over the next few years, my daughter’s world became smaller and smaller. She became uncomfortable anytime we left the house. She wouldn’t go to parties or visit friends. No shopping malls, or movie theaters and certainly no restaurants. She began to withdraw and she only felt safe at home. Throughout all this, we worked with her pediatrician and a counselor. But it was getting to the point where it was really having a negative effect on her schoolwork and her social life.

By sixth grade, we were faced with a child who was just short of refusing to go to school. Every morning was a battle trying to get her out the door and onto the bus. Not an unruly child-type battle — she’s never been a behavioral problem — but a battle of convincing her through all the tears and fears that she had to go to school and everything was OK. It was truly awful. It happened every single day for a good part of the school year.

Eventually, we agreed to try an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant medication. It works on the neurotransmitters in the brain. In short, it is supposed to smooth out the pathways that brain signals travel along to make brain activity more efficient. I compare it to snowplows in a snowstorm. We were afraid (even though I’d been on an SSRI for over 10 years). She was afraid. But we were willing to try anything at this point. After a few weeks, we began to see a positive change that steadily progressed with time.

Sure, there have been periods of turbulent waters but considering where we were before the medication, the improvement has been nothing short of amazing. At 13, my beautiful daughter is now a social and happy teenager. She is a good student. She eats in restaurants and travels with friends. She is no longer consumed by self-doubt and worry. Anxiety still creeps up on her from time to time, but the medication allows her the brain space to exercise her coping skills. She makes it work.

So, here is my list of what seems like some of the more important bullet points. It is just one father’s personal collection of thoughts. Most importantly, always work with a professional.

1. Remember anxiety really is just an overactive worrying brain.

It can look frightening. It will likely scare you, too. Remain calm and supportive. It will pass. It always does.

2. Work with a professional to learn coping techniques for your child.

Slow, counting breaths can reset the thinking brain. Distraction techniques help. Even something as simple as a mantra.  My daughter and I would slowly breathe together and repeat, “All is well. All is well.” A huge part of coping is stopping the fear reaction. Do not be afraid of it. Do not fight it. Accept it for what it is and let it pass on by. Fighting and fear go hand-in-hand.

3. Aggressively do your homework.

There are tons of books and articles on both adult and childhood anxiety. Do your research and you’ll gain a better understanding of what is happening and you’ll know what to expect. But be very careful with what information you share with your kids. Worry can be contagious for any anxious person, especially children. Be careful not to give your child new things to fear.

4. Don’t forget your other kids.

It will be trying on them and be confusing as well. Make them part of the learning and healing process.

5. Seek professional help sooner rather than later.

Anxiety is treatable and there is no need for extended struggling. And there is nothing to be ashamed of. It is as real as physical illnesses, even though we can’t see any of them on the surface.

6. Be strong.

It’s hard to do, I promise you, but don’t let your child withdraw too much. Don’t let them always retreat to their “safe place,” which is typically at home or in their bedroom, because before long that will be the only place they’ll want to be. Try to teach them that their safe place is wherever they want it to be. It is within them. They have to go to school (we told our daughter it was the law). They need to get out of the house. Staying active and involved with other kids are important parts of the healing process.

7. Work with your child’s school.

They will likely be aware of the problem as soon as you are, if not before. There will be frequent visits to the nurse and requests to come home. Tell the school that calls home by your child should only be allowed in emergency situations. Trust me on this one. Otherwise, you will be getting frequent, heart-wrenching calls from a crying child, begging to come home. School nurses and guidance departments should be able to handle these situations without providing an escape route for the child. If the escape route is established, they will seek it every time.

8. If your doctor or therapist suggests medication, resist the urge to immediately say, “No.”

Again, think snowplow in a snowstorm. It clears the path for brain activity. It will not change their personality. It won’t make them a zombie. It’s not a miracle, overnight solution either. It often takes a few weeks to show improvement but it just might be very beneficial.

9. Try to remain positive and calm.

It is frustrating. You may begin to experience your own anxieties. Seek help if it feels like it’s getting to be too much. Allow yourself the room to be human, too. The more knowledge you acquire on the subject, the better equipped you’ll be to help your child (and yourself).

10. And almost lastly this: People with anxiety are thinkers.

We’re over-thinkers, actually. It makes us creative and compassionate, sensitive and caring. As odd as it is to say, it makes us good people.

11. And lastly:

Even amid all the chaos, all is well. All is well. If you say it enough, you’ll believe it. And if you believe it, it will be so.

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

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Thinkstock photo via shironosov

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How Incorporating Mindfulness into My Morning, Changed My Day

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I live with the presence of depression and anxiety in my life. Not to mention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a possible personality disorder. Life can get overwhelming at times. I’ve spent my fair share of time laying in my bed just wishing for the motivation to get up and do something with my life. Yet, I never find the motivation.

Saturday came, and it brought me a great present. My boyfriend suggested that I maybe start my days with a shower, because it might make me feel better the rest of the day. And, he was right. 

Having depression, I get those days when self-care is often forgotten about. Even on my “not depressed” days, it’s never been a priority. I never had a morning routine that included just the basics of self-care. If I remembered it, awesome. If not, oh well.

But these past three days have taught me something. Self-care can be as simple as brushing my teeth in the morning. 

I was not feeling up to doing anything this morning. I was anxious, my car wouldn’t start and I was just not having a good morning. After walking through my apartment complex and getting inside, I immediately laid down on the bed, ready to give up already. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet. 

Something inside me said to do it. Get in the shower. It’ll make you feel better. So, against my thoughts and feelings, I grabbed a clean towel and headed to the bathroom. I turned the shower on, and got in. I went through the motions of washing my body and my face. Then, I just stood there and let the water fall on me, washing away the stress of this morning. I got out, put on a clean pair of yoga pants and my new favorite top. I went and brushed my teeth and then I pet my new kitten. 

It’s like all the anxiety that had built up, washed away. Now, I’m sitting outside, able to write for the first time in weeks.

Although what helped me most wasn’t just cleaning myself up a bit, it was being mindful of it. I always thought “mindfulness crap” was bullshit. Until I tried it this morning, and was open to it.

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Sitting outside drinking coffee with my boyfriend in the morning had lost its “specialness.” My body was tense and anxious. So, I stopped and focused on the clouds, the birds, my fur baby in my lap, the bigger fur baby on the ground and my boyfriend sitting next to me. Everything suddenly seemed beautiful to me. I felt calm and grateful for my life and the moment I was in. And I’ve carried that thinking with me through my morning so far. Trying to notice the trees as I walked through the complex, noticing the heat of the water falling on me in the shower, noticing the taste of the toothpaste as I brushed my teeth.

I believe living in the moment and mindfulness might actually save me from depression and anxiety. Sure, it’s only been one morning, and who knows how long I can keep this up. But, the feeling is great. It’s freeing. And I love it.

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

Thinkstock photo via Design Pics.

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How I Discovered the Importance of Taking Action With Anxiety

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“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” – Walter Anderson

Talk about something that is easier said than done. Sometimes, it takes years just to take the first step. I’ve struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life. In third grade, I began to develop hives from stress for no apparent reason. The anxiety gradually grew, started inducing panic attacks and brought some depression along for the ride. From third grade through age 21, I didn’t do anything about my anxiety because I was — wait for it — scared. I overanalyzed everything. I thought my family would love me less, and people would generally think less of me for having severe anxiety. I already felt broken, so then others would see it and think the same. Keeping up the act of having it all together is both physically and mentally exhausting. Maybe if I would have reached out for help earlier, my panic attacks never would have come. Or they would have. Who knows?

But I’m overfocusing on the past. In the four years I’ve been getting help for my anxiety, depression and panic disorder, I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought imaginable. I went from being scared of talking on the phone, many aspects of being around people, responsibility, working, expressing my emotions, and so many other crucial aspects of life, to someone who — while still working on herself — embraces (some) new changes. Change is hard, and I’m not perfect … but that’s OK.

I started working the week of my 21st birthday. I never even tried to get a job before then due to my debilitating anxiety, and this was an easy summer job. I had panic attacks the first two days and my boss and my mom thought I’d quit. That summer is when I was officially diagnosed by a psychiatrist. That summer is when my family saw just how bad things had become with my illness. That summer was when they not only accepted my getting help but embraced it and encouraged it in every aspect. I’m grateful for the family I have and remember how blessed I am every day. I know not all in my shoes have the same support. But, because of the support of my family and finally beginning to get the help I needed, my life changed forever that summer.

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Fast-forward four years and I’ve worked retail on Black Friday and Saturday, and on Christmas Eve, which was actually far worse than the others. I obtained both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. I’ve taught college students as the primary instructor of the class while obtaining my Master’s. I have a full-time job. I’m writing posts about my mental health using my real name and picture, which is probably the biggest feat of them all. While I still have work to do, it’s amazing to see what taking action does for anxiety. If I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would take action so much sooner. If you’re reading this and debating on getting help for yourself, please know you are not alone. Although it is scary, taking that first step changes everything.

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Unsplash photo via Brian Mann

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When You Spend Every Day Hiding Your Anxiety

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Hiding.

That is what you spend your life doing.
You hide your fear.
You hide your sadness.
You hide all of those repeating thoughts about literally everything. The thoughts that make you question everything.

No one can possibly question everything that much.

You hide your social anxiety. You hide the fact you actually hate meeting new people, even though you like people. You think maybe you actually hate them. You better hide that thought away too. When someone might start to suspect, joke about your antisocial behavior. If you laugh about it, they don’t know the issue is so real and so deep. You feel like you’re drowning.

Just keep your head above water.

You don’t show people the days you can’t get out of bed or the days you cry in front of your children or the days you don’t have the energy to shower. You are shrouded by this cover of a smiling, happy, outgoing, driven mask. It hides all of your brokenness.

This mask keeps you safe.

If you hide all of these things, the worst parts about you — if people don’t know the true you — they can’t reject you. Everyone leaves or rejects you, right? Better hide that thought quickly, before someone catches on.

Being alone is better than being left.

You’re tired of hiding, of merely surviving, yet constantly needing to project success. Tired of needing to act fuller than the empty shell you are. But you have to keep it up. It is your security blanket, your safety net. No matter how tired you are, you have to hide it.

You will show no weakness in the face of fire because you are not weak.

Hide the fact you get overwhelmed by things like paying a bill; Lord help you if it’s late at all. If it’s late, that’s even more stressful, and you just want to stick your head in the sand and … just shove that away too, hide it all. Keep this fragile existence.

Your show of unwavering strength will inspire others.

Keep smiling. Keep laughing. Keep joking. Keep moving. Keep doing. Keep it up. Always. Never stop. Hide away all the bad. All the bad is what will make them leave, hate, make fun of, throw back in your face in anger, use as a weapon against you. Don’t stop. Don’t breathe. Don’t trust.

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You are your only and best friend and absolute worst enemy.

No matter how hard they press. No matter how hard they seek to understand you. Don’t ever let them find you. That is how worlds end and lives are blown apart. You know this. You live this.

Just keep hiding.

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Unsplash photo via Hemera Technologies

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The Misconceptions People Have About Me Because of My Mental Illness

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In my experience, having anxiety is harder for me than my being a single, African American woman. Racism, sexism and “singleism” all come with problems and misunderstandings, but I believe those struggling with mental disorders experience greater stereotypes and discrimination. Regardless of my success, loyalty or lifestyle, the shame and stigma still exists when it comes to how I dress, respond, react, think or how I make choices and decisions. I’ve found that it’s sometimes OK to express I have a disorder, but not OK for me to struggle with the associated symptoms. Let’s take a trip in my world…

If I am bubbly and full of energy, I’m “manic” or “all over the place.” If I am quiet, I am surely “going through something.” If I am tired, I must not be taking care of myself when I get home each day or on the weekends. If I have bright and innovative ideas, I am getting “carried away” or “losing focus” of the goal. If I defend or advocate for myself, I am “hostile,” “angry,” “aggressive” or “want sympathy.” If I cannot concentrate, I must not be able to follow through. If I feel overwhelmed, I am not cut out for the position or situation. If I am perfecting a presentation, I must be obsessing. If I overanalyze, I am not good at managing situations. If I display any sensitivity or strong empathic responses, I must be a “wuss.” If I just complete the task myself and deny any assistance, I am “inflexible.” If play devil’s advocate, I’m being a “Negative Nancy,” obviously.

Let me reframe my anxiety.

If I am scanning the room or area or checking appliances, I am protecting us from potential danger. See, when mysterious people sit in parking lots or keep driving around specific areas, I notice that. Let’s just call it a sixth sense.

If I have this great idea, it cannot wait. I will immediately call or text you. I am cognizant that I may lose the specific and intricate details about the idea. My brain cannot hold it. If respond quickly to emails or text messages, I am either showing you’re important or I want you to leave me alone. Or maybe I am setting myself up to say, “Hey, I responded right back.” So what’s the issue here?

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If I want to sit in silence, I am not going through anything. I just cannot concentrate when you’re asking me pointless questions or giving me useless facts.

If I cry with you, I have already placed my size 8.5 shoe in your size 6 shoe and walked in your shoes. It’s what empaths do!

So perhaps the next time, when encountering a person with anxiety, we should strive to see the bigger picture, and not deflect to the negative. Let’s ask ourselves, who’s really being a “Negative Nancy” here?

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Thinkstock photo via TashaDrik.

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