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When You're Known as the 'Calm' One, but You Struggle With Anxiety

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I have often been told I have an uncanny ability to stay calm in extremely tough situations. That is why most people are surprised and often shocked to learn I have generalized anxiety disorder and depression – not to mention an autoimmune disorder. I usually take this observation as a compliment because for me, it is. However, I often wonder if people realize what is going on inside my head while I’m appearing unusually calm on the outside. There are different stress levels in every situation, and the times I stay calm are usually the times when that temperament is most needed. For example, if a family member is sick and I have to call 911, I am generally the calmest person in the room.

Here is what happens to me when I am in a high-stress situation:

  1. I turn my emotions off. I clearly don’t have time to deal with them now, so they will have to wait until later.
  2. I assess the situation to see what needs to be done, and if help is needed, I determine whether I can help or not.
  3. If I can help, I ask myself, “What can I do? How fast can I accomplish this goal?”
  4. I keep everyone else calm (though this is usually more for my own benefit).
  5. I get out of the situation as fast as possible.

The scary part is those five things usually happen in a matter of five minutes. My brain practically goes into overdrive during high-stress situations, and it is just as scary for me as it is for others. I follow those same strategic steps during every stressful situation I encounter. Having a process and a routine helps me get through them a bit easier.

After the stressful situation is over, however, I have a different process that no one ever sees: my release or de-stressing process. After I finally decide it’s safe to flip the emotional switch back on, the eerie calmness suddenly disappears and the anxiety-ridden woman comes back full force. Sometimes I cry and sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I have a bunch of energy and just need to keep my hands busy, so I will work out or bake. There are times I go shopping just to treat myself because it is therapeutic. Treating myself is something I can control (unlike stressful situations), so as someone with anxiety, this feeling of control can be very therapeutic.

I hope this helps dispel the idea that just because someone has anxiety doesn’t mean they can’t appear to be calm. Everyone has a different way of coping. Day to day, I can cope with anxiety without changing my regular routine, but during stressful times I follow a different routine to cope. I hope this can help some of my fellow peers with anxiety who may not know how to cope in these situations. The best advice I can give you is to establish a routine – it will be your best friend.

Originally published: July 13, 2016
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