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Frequently Asked Questions About My Anxiety

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My anxiety is complicated, and even more complicated to talk about. Everyone’s personal anxiety is different. I’m sure we all deal with varying levels of it every day. In some cases, like mine, it can get very extreme and even lead to panic attacks and days where it affects my ability to function. It’s hard. It’s weird. It’s embarrassing and confusing and uncomfortable.

It is all the things they say it is and also none of them at all. For this first little introduction to my anxiety, I thought I’d answer some questions that people frequently ask me about it. Keep in mind I am no expert, I’m just sharing from my experience in hopes it helps me, and maybe in turn someone else who might be struggling.

What is anxiety?

This question is perhaps the hardest for me to answer, but the most important to understand. This answer varies from person to person. No anxiety is just like another, but I believe it can have common threads. My anxiety is difficult to define, but in the simplest terms I can manage, my anxiety is my subconscious fears, worries, discomfort and sadness, manifested in a form that affects my mental health and physical body.

What does your anxiety feel like?

You know, it’s really funny because I haven’t been anxious in a long time, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there was that uncomfortable feeling again. This is how it regularly comes on for me.

My anxiety is pretty much always followed by a panic attack, so I can’t really explain one without the other. I actually had one of those panic attacks today. I consider it a miracle if I, or someone else, is able to get me calm enough to avoid a panic attack.

Since I left college (which of course was panic attack city) I have had a total of three panic attacks. That’s three in a year. Better than what it used to be. In high school, I used to get them a lot more often. It was a lot harder, a lot scarier and I had a lot less information about it then.

I noticed anxiety rising in my chest as I drove toward my meeting this morning. That’s where it usually manifests. In the center of my chest, deep, where my heart is. The closest thing I can try to compare it to is what I imagine a compressed nuclear reaction feels like. In the depths of my chest there is a tightness, this mix of subconscious feelings I didn’t know was building, swirls furiously trying to escape my body. But it can’t. It’s trapped, so it begins to infect my body and mind instead. Its presence is persistent. It feels like a 30-pound weight hanging in my chest, with nothing to support it but my breath. My lungs labor trying to hold it up. The feeling builds, the weight becomes heavier, the panic rises. Suddenly, I can’t get enough air, my breath becomes shorter and shallower as the weight expands. The explosion finally happens as my mind registers what’s happening and the panic sets in. At this point, even though I’ve been through this loads of times, the fear of the situation drives my breath into overdrive and the panic attack sets in.

What does your panic attack look like?

Easy answer: a mess.

Hard answer: A lot of short jagged breaths. A lot of tears. It probably looks a lot like a scared or hurt child. Oddly enough, it’s really hard to try to recall the feelings of it when you’re not in it. Mine usually last anywhere from five to 15 minutes, and while the whole time it takes everything I have to try to bring myself back and get control of my breath and body, I usually feel much better afterwards.

What helps when you are having an anxiety attack?

I am still figuring out answers to this. Every time it happens, I get a little clearer, but it’s very hard to say what exactly someone needs when they are going through a panic attack. The most important thing I ask people to keep in mind is that a person who is having a panic attack usually is not thinking logically, or really at all, and in the moment will not know what they need. And sometimes asking in the moment can just make it scarier. For me, it adds another level of pressure on top of calming down, as now I also have to figure out how to make it easier for the person helping me as well. I’ve found the biggest help for me is to be held and guided through taking a deep breath in, holding it and then letting it out. I know not everyone has that, and at times when I didn’t, I tried to get on the phone with someone just in case, even if I felt like it didn’t help or even if they didn’t say the right things. I think having someone there is the biggest help for me so far. I know it’s really hard to be the support of someone with anxiety and panic attacks, but those of us with anxiety have to remember that the people in our lives who offer to support us don’t do so because they’re being nice or feel like they have to. They want to help. I have to keep this in mind all the time and try to find ways to help myself and my support understand and work through the anxiety and panic together. 

Are there really days where you can’t function?

Yes. I wish this wasn’t the case, but yes. This is perhaps the part I struggle with most because I know how a lot of people perceive this. It seems like an excuse. But that’s just not the case. Some days my anxiety is just debilitating. I can feel the weight settling in. There are days I’ve had to call off work, cancel plans and miss events because the anxiety is just too great. It’s so hard to try to explain and I can tell you that it’s not a very respected reason. It just comes down to our understanding of the full scope of anxiety and how it can manifest. Some people just have days where it overtakes them.

What are you doing to help your anxiety?

I’m finding a lot of solace in writing about it. Writing about my panic attacks and feelings and thoughts has helped me understand my process more and made it a little more familiar. It may not make it any easier, but it helps.

I have been scared for the longest time of reaching out to a therapist. Partially because I’d like to think I can handle this on my own, but partially because it seems like finding the right person to talk to can be challenging. But the more I think about it, the more I think it can’t hurt to explore therapy. I’ve settled on this as my next step and plan to start making moves toward figuring this out.

In the meantime, yoga has helped immensely, both in body and spirit. It wrings out a lot of tension and makes you focus on the harmony of your body, mind and breath, which I feel sort of chips away at the block that anxiety can create between those things. There are so many amazing videos on YouTube that you can do right in your living room. If it weren’t for 30 Days of Yoga With Adriene, I don’t know where I would be with my anxiety right now. You live and you learn every day.

For all those who have anxiety, I want you to know that I am here for you, I am a support for you, you are whole and perfect. Reach out. You are loved. We will figure this out together.

Follow this journey on Mixed and Anxious as Hell.

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Thinkstock photo via Natalia-flurno

Originally published: June 27, 2017
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