young woman at desk with back pain

How to Cope With the Physical Effects of Anxiety

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I just got back from my second remedial massage in as many weeks, and apparently, I’ll be going back for more over the next few as well.

Why?

The amount of tension that has built up in my muscles because of my anxiety has become so bad that there are layers upon layers that need to be broken up. During my massages, the masseuse uses infrared light to try and break up some of the tension, in addition to a heat pack and physio cream. In between these professional massages, I need to use a heat pack on my back, neck and shoulders every day and Physio cream three times a day.

Let me tell you; it hurts.

If you also struggle with social anxiety, or any kind of anxiety, this kind of physical effect of your mental illness won’t sound particularly unusual.

I’ve known for some time now that my anxiety was causing physical results, but haven’t done much to actively manage it. I’ve been getting stress migraines for years, and while I’m sleeping, I have a habit of clenching my jaws together and grinding my teeth. The teeth grinding has become so bad I now have to wear a mouth guard when I sleep to stop me causing further damage to my teeth — the bottoms are all jagged from the grinding.

And that’s not even including the day-to-day effects I experience, which include dry mouth, excessive sweating and fatigue.

I’ve been on my anxiety medication for some time now, and I think because it has masked how much I feel the severity of my anxiety, I haven’t actively been doing much to address the issue. As a result, it has built up in other, more physical ways.

I think I’ve learned my lesson now though, and have started to do some research into ways to help reduce the physical effects of my anxiety and put a plan in place to make sure it doesn’t get this bad again.

These are some of the best strategies I’ve discovered for managing the effects of my physical anxiety:

1. Physical exercise

We all know the endorphins you get from exercising make you feel better, but if you’re not up for a full-on cardio session, even low-impact exercises will help you minimize the physical effects of anxiety (Saeed, Sy Atezaz, Diana J. Antonacci, and Richard M. Bloch. “Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders.” American family physician 81.8 2010). You could try yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, going for a walk around the block, aqua aerobics or even a bounce class (it’s hard not to feel some joy when bouncing on a trampoline, and the laughter will help relax your muscles).

My masseuse also gave me some exercises to do regularly in order to stretch the muscles and release the tension from my neck, back and shoulders. The ones I’ve found help me most are: turning my head from side to side; trying to touch my shoulder with my ear; stretching both hands (held together) above my head and looking up; and standing with both arms outstretched to the side and moving both hands in small, backward circles.

2. Relaxation techniques

I’ve never really believed that relaxation techniques have a huge effect on you physically, but according to WebMD, “Practiced regularly, relaxation techniques can counteract the debilitating effects of stress.”

Some of the most popular and recommended relaxation techniques for people living with anxiety include:

– mindfulness exercises (e.g. coloring in) and meditation
– writing lists
– bubble baths, or baths using magnesium flakes
– using physio cream (good for relaxing your muscles)
– listening to classical music
– massages
– scents and essential oils such as lavender
– deep breathing
– using heat packs or physio cream on sore muscles.

These are all strategies you can work into your daily schedule and, if you do them often enough, will have a positive effect on your physical health.

3. Experiment with alternative therapies

Before my next massage, my masseuse wants me to do a 30-minute session with an infrared blanket on my back. Apparently, this will help to loosen my muscles so when I get to her, she will actually be able to give me a massage without “pummeling” me (her words).

I haven’t tried anything like this before, but I’m willing to give it a shot. If it works, I might even think about buying one myself or doing this regularly, as apparently infrared blankets are also good for sweating out toxins, improved circulation, skin purification and helping you lose weight (Dr Amy Myers, MindBodyGreen).

Another alternative relaxation therapy I’ve wanted to try since I saw “Stranger Things” and found out it was an actual thing, is floatation therapy. Floatation therapy, also known as “sensory deprivation,” is where you lie in water so saturated with Epsom salt that you float. This activity has been proven as an effective way of easing anxiety, and although I’m a little nervous to try it, all the reviews I’ve read have said it has helped ease physical pain as well as mental health conditions like anxiety.

4. Talk to a professional

While I know regularly exercising and relaxing will help reduce the physical symptoms of my anxiety, I also need to acknowledge that for me, it’s important to touch base with a mental health care professional. In the past, my therapist has helped me with practical strategies that have helped me learn to recognize my triggers and better manage both the mental and physical effects of my anxiety.

I think I’m at the stage where going back to therapy will be a way of keeping myself accountable and ensuring I keep up with the habits and strategies I know will help me long-term.

I think the most critical lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that my anxiety isn’t going to go away — it’s here for life — and even though I might feel fine for a while, it’s important to keep doing the things that help manage it, so it doesn’t build up until the point of such physical pain. Staying healthy is a daily commitment. Ignoring the problem is only going to make it worse.

As with any problem, the longer you wait to do something about the physical effects of your anxiety, the harder it will be to rectify, and the longer your road to recovery.

To learn more about the physical effects of anxiety on your body, you might find reading “Anxiety and Exhaustion: Wired and Tired” and “Anxiety in the Body: Physical Side Effects of Anxiety,” two blogs written by Tanya J. Peterson (MS, NCC).

Follow this journey on emmaclairebell.com

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Thinkstock photo via fizkes

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This Is Why I Don't Date

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I am going to make a disclaimer from the very beginning of this post so I can get it out of the way and not have to worry about it later. I am 36 years old and I don’t date. Ever. Everyone I know is getting married or pregnant, meanwhile all I am doing is buying extra iCloud storage so I can take more photos of my dog.

Relationships for me have never been smooth sailing. At 20 years old, I moved to another country to live with my first love and ultimately my first heartbreak. He was my best friend for a year before we got together, so I thought if anything was going to work, then this would be it because it was based on friendship. There wasn’t any anxiety with us as we had been friends for so long before a relationship happened.

Living overseas was incredible for a while, but very quickly descended into a nightmare. It was during this time when mental illness began to completely consume my life and my brain, putting enormous strain on not only me but my boyfriend at the time, because the sudden changes in my personality and mood were so out of character we both had no idea what was happening. I was also knee deep in my battle with anorexia again and this time bulimia had decided to join the party, so that was one part of it. It was also when my major depression first manifested and because I had no idea I even had depression, I thought I was going “batshit crazy.”

When I was growing up, I was bullied as a child by dancing teachers, school teachers, parents of kids at my school and by my peers. All of the negative comments and harsh words spoken to me became my inner dialogue, which was already pretty negative because of my eating disorder. When all of these things came together, I ended up so socially anxious that life became impossible. I couldn’t even go to the local supermarket without thinking that everyone was judging me badly and laughing at me.

This destructive negative inner dialogue became my norm. It was naturally how I thought and I couldn’t escape it. I think this is why it led me throughout my 20s to be involved in relationships with people who cheated on me, physically, verbally and emotionally abused me and destroyed every single ounce of self-worth and confidence I had left inside of me.

After I hit 30, I decided I should get back out there. I was prepared to try and push through my anxiety and just do it. So I went on two different dates with two different people. We had been conversing over emails and messages for a few weeks before I met them in person. When the time came for me to meet them on a first date, all the prep work I thought I had done for my anxiety was useless. I was a mess.

I get nerve rashes on my neck and face when I am worried or anxious, so was sitting there knowing I looked like a beetroot because I could feel my face burning (this is how I know the redness is there without me having to look in a mirror). I couldn’t eat dinner on both of these dates as I thought they would be judging me about how I eat (another of the joys of having an eating disorder). I couldn’t make eye contact and could barely speak. I knew I had no chance of seeing these people again and this was confirmed when they both said to me afterwards, individually and this is verbatim: “You’re amazing over the phone and on messages, but rubbish in person.”

I don’t introduce myself to people by saying “Hi, I’m Erin and I struggle with debilitating anxiety, depression and anorexia,” so they didn’t know I had a mental illness. But what they said isn’t right anyway — it’s rude, judgmental and unwarranted. These experiences have put me off dating for life.

It’s hard to reach a certain age when you’re at a point when you should be seen to be conforming to what society says — either in a relationship, married or with kids. But for me, I think: screw what society thinks. Don’t worry about anyone else but yourself. I now know I need to love myself before I can even think about loving someone else, and I am so happy at where I am in my life right now, I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. If it happens it happens, but I am not rushing around looking to settle because I don’t think conforming to how other people think you should be living your life is very fair. I am single, happy and loving life. And who needs marriage and babies anyway when you can have a dog instead?

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19 Signs You Grew Up With Social Anxiety

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It’s not always easy being the quiet kid, especially when behind the shyness lies a scary, “adult-sized” foe — social anxiety. And while some kids show more classic symptoms of social anxiety, like being quiet or nervous in social situations, not every child with social anxiety is the same. And without a name for what they’re feeling, it’s easy for a child to just feel “different” or “weird,” which certainly doesn’t help them gain the confidence they need to face their anxiety, and face the world.

To find out some of the different ways social anxiety manifests in children, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they did as a child because they had social anxiety.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I dropped out of high school. I was physically sick from stress every morning before school since the fifth grade. Now that I’m on anti-anxiety meds I wish I could start over again. I most likely would have finished school and gone on to college.” — Hannah E.

2. “I would always try to find someone I knew well… and stuck by their side every second I could, following them around. It was embarrassing.” — Denise O.

3. “I couldn’t sit in a restaurant with family. I was 13, I was shaking badly and drinking water that made me want to vomit. But I still said I was fine, because I didn’t want to ruin the day. As our food came in, the first few bites are good, after a little bit more, I get this huge wave of anxiety and fear, and think that everyone is watching me eat. I excuse myself to the bathroom and vomit everything. It was intense, but I’m a lot better.” — Dominic D.

4. “I would twirl my hair between my fingers continuously and every other twirl I’d pull out a strand of hair. I was so used to doing it that I wouldn’t notice anymore.” — Yadira H.

5.I would spend hours in a store looking for something, rather than ask someone where it was, because I was too scared. If I couldn’t find it, I would just go without and look another time.” — Dylan K.

6. “I had to stay with a teacher on school field trips. I always had to wear a hoodie or carry a backpack as a ‘security blanket.’ I chewed on my hair and bit my nails. I picked scabs or anything on my skin that looked like it shouldn’t be there. I was known as the girl who picked her scabs and ate her hair until I got into high school.” — Meghan M.

7. “I talked to the teachers at recess instead of classmates. I just always felt closer to teachers. And as a high school junior I still do.” — Jess H.

8. “I wouldn’t even go to recess. I would sit in the library and read because I didn’t want the kids to not like me.” — Audrey B.

9. “I always struggle when searching for jobs. My freshman year of high school I was determined to find a job, so I had my mom drive me to a pizza shop near us and I was supposed to go inside and ask for an application. When we pulled into the parking lot, I looked at the building and I froze. My mom was trying to push me to go in but I couldn’t and I ended up having an anxiety attack.” — Kiara S.

10. “All my relationships were extremes. I either completely ignored people, keeping them at a distance, or I was so attached to them. I never had any middle ground.” — Matthew Z.

11. “[I never talked] about any skills I had. For example, only some members of my family and a handful of friends know I practiced martial arts for 10 years, that I have been playing and writing music for several years or that (I am bit ashamed of that cause it’s kinda weird) I have extensive knowledge of military history. And when someone has heard about some of it, I try to avoid the subject and/or diminish the importance it has in my life. All of that being done with a self-undervaluing tone.” — Bastien E.

12. “I couldn’t order my own food at restaurants.” — Zoe L.

13. “I missed so much school. I didn’t even know why at the time, I just couldn’t make myself leave.” — Kirsty-May U.

14. “I put my garbage in my bag so I didn’t have to stand up in front of everyone, and avoided the cafeteria.” — Hannah M.

15. “I was clingy to my friends and family members, and was always asking when it was time to leave whatever public place we were at.” — Katherine C.

16. “I rarely spoke until I was 16. I was in constant panic and it was always made worse because adults thought I was being ‘rude’ and I felt guilty for letting my parents down because I couldn’t speak.” — Julie V.

17. “I would always ask someone to buy or order something for me. I wouldn’t be able to say it or do it myself without shaking and breaking down into tears.” — Cherokee N.

18. “Selective mutism is one thing. I would only talk to people I was very comfortable around. When I was 4 or 5 my Sunday school teacher told my parents at the end of the year that until I told her ‘thank you’ that day, she thought I was completely non-verbal, as I would just come in every week and sit with her or in her lap the whole time without saying a word to her or the other kids. I try to talk more now, but I’m still really uncomfortable talking much around people I don’t know well and I tend to avoid eye contact. I’m too used to being quiet and out of the way now.” — Erin H.

19. “I couldn’t play sports because I was afraid I would mess up and ruin it for everyone and be embarrassed and they would all hate me. I would hide, in bathrooms, empty offices, in the parking lot, in a closet, anywhere.” — Jill A.

What would you add?


19 Signs You Grew Up With Social Anxiety
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3 Ways Dating Apps Have Helped Me Date as a Guy With Social Anxiety

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If you’re romantic life is nonexistent due to social anxiety, welcome to the club. If you’re not using dating apps to find your potential partner, I recommend checking them out. It’s 2017, and I believe the days of online dating being socially unacceptable are over. Dating apps like OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and others are a dream come true for people like me with social anxiety, and I’m about to explain to you why that is.

But why should you listen to me?

Each partner I’ve had in my 32 years has come from using the internet in some form. From using AOL to meet and ask out my first girlfriend when I was 14 to the amazing woman I’m currently with — they’ve all had online origins. I used to be embarrassed about this, but like I said, it’s 2017 now. I believe dating apps are the “new normal,” and it just so happens to benefit my social anxiety.

Here are the areas where dating apps help my social anxiety:

1. The “ice breaker”

My social anxiety was the type that made it so I didn’t even like meeting new people unless someone did the introduction for me. Even still, I was having a panic attack inside my mind. With my brain going a million miles per minute, there was about a 90 percent chance I was going to say something silly and incoherent the first time I met someone new. Now, put me in front of an attractive female, and it’s game over. I’m screwed.

Within one second, my brain has already thought:

What do I say? Do I compliment her? Girls like compliments, right? What if I come off as creepy? What if she doesn’t think I’m interested when I am? Crap. How does my hair look? Do I have anything in my teeth? Does she know how nervous I am? Well, if she didn’t, she does now because she just shook my sweaty hand.

And then before you knew it, I was saying something my brain told me was “dumb” and it’d keep me awake for the next three nights.

With dating apps, I believe that problem is eliminated. I can take my sweet time, and that’s the ideal. Anxiety for me is a lack of control. I have no control of a conversation when it’s happening in real time because my brain is moving way too fast and has irrational fears coming at me left and right. When I have the time to structure my first impression message through a dating app, I can edit that thing like it’s my college thesis.

2. Phone anxiety

Phone anxiety and social anxiety often go hand in hand. For those of you who don’t know what phone anxiety is, it’s brutal. Again, it’s the issue of talking to someone in real time and having a mind that doesn’t stop. One of the worst parts about phone anxiety is the silence.

My worst nightmare was talking to a female on the phone and there being any type of awkward silence because again, a million thoughts would go through my head.

Should I say something? I don’t even have anything to say. Why isn’t she saying anything? What if we say something at the same time? Should I let her talk first? Maybe she’s bored of talking to me already. I probably screwed this up.

All of this while I’m crawling in my skin. No thank you.

With the instant messaging features built into online dating apps, I don’t have to worry nearly as much about the awkward silence or saying anything silly. Much like the ice breaker, I can carefully craft whatever I want to say. If I think it comes off too strong or “dumb” or silly, I can send it over to my friend to see how it sounds before sending it over.

Now, I will say this, something I had to work through was when she would take forever to reply. That’s something I would obsess over, but it was a lot easier to deal with. (Also, am I the only one who thinks read receipts were purposely made to trigger people with social anxiety?)

3. Having a “first date” before the first date

From what I understand, I’m in the minority of men who actually read profiles. But as someone with social anxiety, I have to. It’s also a good thing because I don’t want to come off as some shallow guy who just looked at her pics and decided to send a message. Being able to see what her interests are gives me plenty to talk about and get to know the person.

A huge part of my social anxiety on the first date is wondering what to talk about, if we have anything in common and where the other person stands on certain issues. (I’ve learned some apps even let you use keyword searches! Isn’t technology amazing!?) The last thing I want to do on a first date is touch on a topic that’s going to ignite some kind of conflict on the first date.

With dating apps, I can talk to a person for days or even weeks before I step into the same room as them. (I believe you’ll have to decide for yourself how long you want to wait to meet them though because waiting too long might put you in a bad spot.) I believe getting to know each other online first can make getting to know them in person better because you can connect on a deeper level than most people would ever connect on a first date.

Some people might say, “Then you’ll have nothing to talk about on the first date!” and I think this is completely false. By the time you go out on the first date, it’s almost like you’ve known this person for ages because you’ve had such long, in-depth conversations already. You can ask them if their co-worker did that annoying thing they were telling you about. You can follow up to see how their friend is doing with that breakup they just went through. You can ask them about if they caught up on the TV show you both have in common. The opportunities are endless, and it makes the first date far easier to deal with because you already know a bit about the person.

Best of all, through our previous talks, I can get a pretty good idea of whether or not I should make the move for a kiss at the end of the night, if it goes well. For me, Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers” perfectly depicted what it’s like to end a first date when you deal with social anxiety.

Dating apps give me the confidence I was lacking when it came to talking to potential partners, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. Today, my social anxiety is virtually nonexistent in all other aspects of my life, which is why I work with others who are still struggling with it and also wrote a book about overcoming my anxiety. But even with my minimal symptoms of social anxiety, dating is still an obstacle I deal with. Luckily, I’m currently in an incredible relationship, so I don’t have to worry about that at this time. My relationship began through the beautiful world of dating apps!

So get out there, make the perfect profile, structure the best possible opening message you can and find the person you deserve!

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What I Wish New Employers Knew About My Social Anxiety

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It was in the middle of a job interview where I was confronted with the tough decision of letting my prospective employer know about my anxiety issues, in order to possibly make arrangements to accommodate my therapy appointments. Cautiously, I asked if they would be discriminatory on any potential employee who might need alternative arrangements. It was sufficiently difficult for me to be direct about my anxiety issues, so I pointed my interviewer to this article, which I had submitted as part of my application portfolio.

He read it slowly and paused.

“You have depression – is that it?”

“No. Actually, that was episodic. While I have mental health struggles, primarily I have social anxiety,” I explained.

He seemed intrigued and proceeded to ask me what that meant, admitting he was less familiar with the condition compared to that of depression. I was pleasantly surprised by his seeming willingness to clarify things he didn’t fully understand. Yet, I was also trembling in my own head, for having put myself in such a spot. Hence, I mumbled the most instinctive thing I could think of: “Um, basically, I’m scared of people. Uh, yup, in short, I’m scared of people.”

His response to my statement left me momentarily stunned, for he said, “But you look so… put-together!”

Shocked for a couple of seconds, I quickly recovered myself and replied with, “It’s just a look, but I am indeed quite trembly inside!” I hoped I had managed to play this off casually enough.

I share this anecdote to illustrate a significant struggle of being someone with high-functioning social anxiety — I often find myself in a dilemma whether to disclose my mental health issues or not.

Disclosing my mental health issues potentially leads to either of two undesirable outcomes — the first would be the encounter outlined above, where I might be seen as so functional that the existence of my anxiety struggles might be doubted. Most often, however, I have no choice but to carry myself as such, because to portray myself at such interviews as per how I genuinely felt would mean all semblance of professionalism flying out the window — I would, quite likely, be immediately written off as unsuitable for employment.

On the other hand, I also fear I might be discriminated against on the assumption I may not be able to cope with the demands of the job. In truth, being a perfectionist, I demand of myself an uncompromising ability to cope with any job I apply for, perhaps more than anyone else. From the moment I decided to apply for the job, right through to after submitting my application, I would have thought countless times over about the requirements of the job and potential anxiety triggers I might face, only applying after I am sure the job requirements may coexist peaceably with my socially anxious self.

With these in mind, here’s what I would like to tell my potential employers: please validate the authenticity of my struggles, no matter how functional or put-together I appear to you. I am trying my best to be financially independent in a field I am competent in and enjoy doing – like everyone else. That’s why I seek employment, but as I am doing so I may face genuine struggles, though they may be invisible to the untrained eye.

Yet, to go the other extreme in assuming my condition renders me incapable of work is not desirable either. In fact, I have come to realize a manageable amount of work I can do independently has been helpful in keeping my anxiety away. Rather, I am someone who possesses the requisite skills, qualifications and a strong interest in the field – which have cumulatively led me to apply for the post – as anyone else would. However, I might require some adjustments to designated work hours for therapy appointments, in order to do my work most efficiently. By granting them to me with an open mind, you help me help you. Therapy helps me manage my anxiety, which in turn allows me to work more productively.

Above all, if you look beyond these labels and take a chance on me, you will find a meticulous, enthusiastic individual who takes pride in her work and works well independently. With that in mind – will you?

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Thinkstock photo via Digital Vision.

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Nervous Habits of People With Social Anxiety

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The Mighty’s mental health community shares nervous habits they do because of their social anxiety.

Read the full version of 21 Nervous Habits of People With Social Anxiety.

Read the full transcript:

Nervous Habits of People With Social Anxiety

“I constantly ask for reassurance.”

“I talk. Nervous chatter isn’t something you expect from someone with social anxiety.”

“I yawn. Like a lot. I will start yawning to avoid conversations.”

“I smile and laugh at inappropriate times. In my mind I’m trying to put everyone at ease.”

“Constantly leaving unnecessarily early to get to places or events.”

“I don’t make eye contact because I worry people will think I’m creepily staring at them.”

“I use my husband as a shield.”

“My phone is my social crutch. Any time I talk to someone I have to scroll through the nothingness on my phone.”

“I constantly fidget. Anything to take my mind off being anxious.”

“Confessing everything, even things that don’t need sharing. If I don’t say it I can’t relax.”

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