Understanding the Reality of Anxiety
Anxiety is something all humans feel at some point in their lives, and for some, that can develop into something more. It is hard for me to articulate exactly what having an anxiety disorder feels like. In a simple analogy, it can feel like an extension of the terrifying dream where you find yourself naked in front of a room full of people.
Anxiety itself isn’t difficult to explain, but what is hard to explain to others is how it affects your life. For me, it’s not that i’m a complete nervous wreck all the time or for even months at a time. More often than not, it’s a lingering feeling in the background following my day-to-day thoughts just enough to remind me it’s there, but at a manageable level. It can push me to feel uncomfortable in normal situations, or creates unnecessary urgency to move through projects quickly.
Other days it feels more like the naked dream.
When a situation elicits a full-blown anxiety attack, the anxiety tightens in your throat and chest as if there isn't enough air to fill your lungs, and it will be impossible to get enough. Now the thought of not getting enough air in your body causes a new wave of panic. Thoughts are swirling around your head and the weight of them is unbearable, as if you will be swallowed up by them.
How is it possible that your mind can feel so full and so blank at the same time? You want to cry but know it won’t help or that you might just fall apart into a thousand pieces. You fear you wouldn’t be able to handle just one more bump in the road.
The fear is real.
Your heart is pounding and your head is dizzy. You repeat to yourself that you are safe because you have been here before and things have always gotten better. But that doesn't mean you really believe it will work out this time. These thoughts are intense and irrational. It feels like all you want to do is run away, just hide, and not be seen. You also know by now that hiding just exacerbates the issue. You feel drained and fatigued. Everything you do takes such focus and is like walking through thick mud.
For most, family and close friends are the hardest. It is hard to see your loved one suffering and not understand. For you, it can make you feel more alone, worthless, or crazy.
What I would want someone without anxiety to know
You can’t turn it off- No one chooses to want to feel this way. Just as you don’t choose to have an eating disorder or cancer. It can be a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors that are out of your control.
You can’t ignore it- Brushing your anxiety under a rug will only allow it to fester and become worse. It is always best to try and identify the source of anxiety and cope with it.
You can’t “fix” or change it- In moments of an anxiety attack advice to try and fix you isn’t well received. Instead, this just feels like your fear is being undermined or dismissed. You just want to feel safe, cared for and not judged.
It can be managed- Create a support system. It can be helpful to work with a therapist who can help you process emotions and work through underlying causes of anxiety, a registered dietitian who specializes in disordered eating if your relationship with food is chaotic and a doctor who can prescribe a medication regimen if necessary.
Have a close friend or family member who is a great listener available to reach out to when you need someone to talk to. Remind your loved ones that they don’t need to understand or try and fix anything you are going through, they just need to be there for you.
My tips for coping with anxiety
Feel the feels- When you choose to ignore or hide a problem, often this is how feelings of guilt and shame manifest. Allowing yourself to fully feel what you are feeling is one of the first steps in the healing process.
Allow - Once you have recognized the emotions you are feeling, it is important to allow them without judgement. Understand that it is ok to feel this way.
Self compassion- Every human struggles and it is important to embrace the imperfections that make us who we are. Anxiety is not your fault and you did not do anything wrong.
Cope- Journaling can be one of the best coping mechanisms. It is helpful to be able to get all the thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Another coping mechanism is to do something that brings you joy such as getting coffee with a friend, baking, taking a walk outside, getting your nails done, or reading.
Talk with someone who can be a good listener. Now is not the time to reach out to the friend who always has suggestions to help you. Yoga and meditation were one of the biggest practices that have helped me on my journey with anxiety. Both take practice, so approach trying them from a place of curiosity, knowing that neither are meant to be done perfectly.
When life is chaotic, connecting your mind to your body is grounding.