This seven letter word has affected my life for about twelve years now. I wasn’t able to put a label on it and begin to fully understand it until more recently though.
Anxiety presents itself differently in everyone, so I am just sharing my own personal experiences.
Anxiety to some degree is normal and even healthy. It’s our body’s natural response to stress. Maybe you get a little nervous in new stressful situations or you replay something in your head but then you are typically able to let it go and move on. The issue is when it escalates to disproportionate levels where you literally cannot let it go and feel yourself losing control.
As I mentioned before, anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. It’s not something where people fit cleanly into categories or boxes … it’s messy and ever-changing. Some people may not even realize that anxiety is the culprit of some of their behaviors. The following are some different ways anxiety could present itself:
- The desire to control people and events
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Feeling agitated or angry
- Avoiding usual activities
- Having very high expectations of yourself
- Stomachaches/headaches/racing heart/panic attacks (and many other physical symptoms)
- Struggling to pay attention and focus
- Intolerance of uncertainty
- Feeling extremely worried
- Over planning for situations and events
- Crying and difficulty managing emotions
- Replaying events and not being able to let go
I have had experience with all of those things on the list. I have literally been so physically uncomfortable that I felt like crawling out of my skin. I have experienced deep sadness and extreme emotions. I tend to become paranoid and read way into things which then creates situations that aren’t even real. Uncertainty really bothers me and is hard for me to cope with. I will get to the strategies I use to defeat anxiety later on, but I do want to share a recent example from own life.
One of my worst anxiety battles was this last year. I had some really tough medical news that started in early July, which caused my anxiety to really spiral out of control (I will write about my medical news in the near future). My usual home remedies were not cutting it. I was so stressed and anxious that my body felt like it wasn’t even mine. I wasn’t sleeping because of nightmares and constantly obsessing over this medical news, having panic attacks, my chest was tight and I was getting heart palpitations, my appetite was off and I just felt this constant racing feeling in my head and body. It got to a very low point this November after some more difficult health follow-up news. One Monday morning I was teaching and my vision completely went out. I could see bright white light and it was worse in my right eye. I thought I was going to pass out. I tried to take deep breaths and tell myself to just calm down. I thought maybe I looked directly into a light or the window and now I was just seeing some spots. But after ten minutes with no improvement, I started to panic. I had a surgery a few weeks prior and now I was worried that this had something to do with that. I called my principal for help because I had students in front of me. She called 911. As we were waiting for the paramedics to arrive my vision came back in both eyes. I recalled that in college a couple of times I had “ocular migraines” and this sort of seemed like that too. Back then they did a CT scan of my head and ended up finding nothing out of the ordinary just those ocular migraines. You basically get the visual symptoms and see auras but never get the full-blown migraine. Turns out this episode was an ocular migraine as well. I was told by the doctor that STRESS & ANXIETY are the number one causes. That hit home.
When this happened I knew I had to do something because my body was literally screaming at me to get this under control. Our bodies are powerful and mine was telling me something wasn’t right. Now, it was up to me to listen. I wanted to rid my body of stress and anxiety because I knew that those environments only let diseases thrive and I needed to get over my other health issue. If I kept this up, my other issue was sure to progress.
I have always been against medication. Like strongly against. But at this moment when everything else was failing and my principal was calling 911 for me, I decided I needed to give it a try. It was interfering with my life and job. It had been 4 months and I still wasn’t able to cope with this health news in a positive manner on my own. I was prescribed Wellbutrin and I was okay with the idea of at least trying it because life felt so out of control. The first week I had some mild side effects but my anxiety drastically decreased. I had hope that this was my cure. But fast forward into week 2 and the horrible side effects arrived. Dry mouth, massive headaches, acne, my perioral dermatitis flared up, my hair was falling out left and right, my heart rate was through the roof (like downright scary) and I had such a huge internal conflict going on because to me this drug was poisoning me … but was it helping my anxiety? What was worse? What could I tolerate more? One month into this and I woke up one day and quit cold turkey. I read mixed reviews about doing that but I needed this out of my body NOW.
I had some withdrawal symptoms for about a week or so but I am beyond happy that I got that out of my body. I researched more natural & holistic remedies that I could do for my medical issue and anxiety instead. I think the entire experience did get me over the hump that I was stuck on though. During that month I was able to ACCEPT my diagnosis and ACCEPT that I wouldn’t know anything else until next summer. All I could do was take care of my mind and body right now. What is meant to be, will be. So I don’t regret trying the medication because maybe that is what I needed to see the facts clearly. I would never know if I didn’t try it. I also want to be very clear that if medication works for you and helps you, then more power to you! I have nothing against people who use medication. It just didn’t feel right for me and that’s okay too.
So moving on to some more positive stuff. Ways to deal and cope with this monster. I think the first step in battling it is to begin to recognize your triggers. This is extremely hard though because at least for me my triggers have changed throughout my life and will most likely continue to change as I go through new things. As I am getting older though, I am able to predict things that could disrupt my norm and cause a flare up. That was huge for me. Once I was able to know situations that would bother me I could try to avoid them. But as we all know you can’t avoid things forever. I was able to pinpoint some toxic areas in my life though. If people, jobs, etc are not fulfilling to you then you need to let them go. Also, if you know how you’re going to feel about something you can work on your reaction to the situation. If you can get your reactions controlled that helps to not create more stress and anxiety. In addition, I have gone to therapy and gotten some amazing strategies to deal with my anxiety. Ultimately, I had to first figure out what the root cause was. I am still working through some of that but it’s certainly progress.
Some of the things that help me include:
- using CBD oil
- deep breathing
- hot showers
- calling or texting a close friend
- snuggling my dog
- going on a walk
- working out
It’s really hard to describe and talk about this stuff with someone who doesn’t struggle as you do. You sort of feel crazy sometimes. If the other person doesn’t know the right things to say it can make matters even worse and come off as really insensitive. One suggestion I have is if you are the friend or loved one of someone with anxiety, don’t brush it off. Don’t tell them it will be “okay” or that “it’s not that big of a deal”. I can tell you from experience that will only make them feel more anxious. The best thing you can do is to just listen and comfort them. Even though you may not personally know the exact feeling they are going through, you can be respectful, empathetic and caring towards them. I know for me I appreciate affirmations and reassurance tremendously when I am in the going through a bad anxiety period. I also think it’s important to ask the person what they need from you. I know whenever someone has asked me that in the midst of an anxiety attack, even if I don’t know the answer, it still felt really good to know they would do whatever I needed. It also gave me a moment to step back and think, what do I actually need right now?
I will leave you with some positive affirmations that may also help you get through a rough patch …
I’ve survived this before
I have the ability to cope
I’m stronger than I think
This a moment in time; it will pass
I grow stronger each time I overcome anxiety
I forgive myself for feeling anxious
I can do this and I will do this
My will to be calm is more powerful than my anxiety
I am not alone in my struggles
I am safe and loved
MY ANXIETY DOES NOT DEFINE ME OR CONTROL ME