Whether you’re struggling with anxiety or know someone who is, here are some things I know.
Let me start by saying that this is a topic I plan to explore more. I didn’t experience what I would call full blown anxiety until I was seven months pregnant in 2009 and I didn’t think of myself as “mostly recovered” until about 2012. I know many of you struggle with anxiety yourself and I share in order to facilitate a conversation as well as to hopefully encourage people. I welcome your feedback and I’m happy to share more with you or try to help you on your journey if I can. Feel free to contact me personally if you want to talk privately. Away we go.
1. You can’t just snap out of it.
Believe me, no one would choose to feel anxious. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Feeling the need to crawl out of your own skin or jump out of the nearest window isn’t pleasant.
One of my loved ones had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t just turn it off. Before I experienced it, I would have thought the same thing.
“Just don’t think about it. Don’t let it get to you. Lighten up.”
Aaaaah, if it were only that easy.
That same loved one eventually experienced “white coat syndrome” where your blood pressure sky rockets at the doctor’s office. You feel OK and your blood pressure is fine at home but being at the doctor has this uncontrollable effect on your body. “THAT’S what it’s like, ” she said to me. Yes, only you feel that way at any time or the day or night and often for no reason. And as much as you wish you could will it away, it’s more like a virus you can’t get rid of.
2. Even spiritual people can have anxiety.
Anxiety does not discriminate. I know doctors, pastoral staff members and community leaders who struggle with it. No one is exempt. I was surrounded by people I would call “giants of the faith” when I was struggling and they all said they’d been there. Some of the strongest people I know struggled or still struggle with anxiety.
3. Not everyone needs medication for anxiety…but some people do.
I believe anxiety is a mind-body-spirit issue and needs to be addressed holistically. For many people, it’s a problem with brain chemistry and even if they’re trying other approaches, they might need a prescription to get through the day.
It took me years to recover and I had to look at everything from my deep-seeded spiritual beliefs to the foods I was eating before I felt well again. I would never tell someone, “Cut stress, drink more tea, use lavender oil, read this book and you’ll be fine.” Anxiety is complicated and everyone’s journey is different.
4. Anxiety is lonely.
You feel weird, especially if anxiety is new for you, which is made worse by thinking everyone around you has it together and wondering “Why am I freaking out about this and everyone else seems so calm??” (that, by the way, is a recurring theme to my dreams interestingly enough)
It’s made worse by constantly assessing how you’re feeling. “Am I anxious? Am I about to feel anxious? Will I feel anxious tonight? Phew, I didn’t feel anxious today. I wonder if I’ll feel anxious tomorrow. Is that anxiety I’m feeling or a stomach ache? I thought I was over this! Maybe it’s not anxiety. But what if it is? How long is this going to last?” and on and on it goes.
Then you berate yourself for being so self-focused, which only makes you feel worse. And you don’t really want to talk about it and burden people or have all that attention, so you just battle through it in silence.
5. Anxiety comes in many forms.
There is anxiety that comes from driving–I hear this one all the time.
Some people have social anxiety, and only experience anxiety when they meet new people or have to speak in public. There are others who have low-grade anxiety all the time and yet others who have good days and bad days on the anxiety scale. Again, no two look alike.
6. It never goes away completely.
Mine didn’t show up officially until I was seven months pregnant with our second son and has never gone away entirely.
Where I was once an 8 on the scale, on most days I’m still at a 0.5 at least, and on certain days closer to a 2.
Certain situations exacerbate mine and put me at a 3 again (the doctor’s office, speaking gigs). Since getting my health in order two years ago, it’s rare that I get past a 2 on an average day. My last mild episode was on a women’s retreat–traveling away from home holds many anxiety trigger points for me. Which brings me to…
7. Everyone has different anxiety triggers.
You might have no problem standing up and introducing yourself to a group of people whereas it leaves another woman shaking in her heels.
Some people are set off by conflict, confrontation, certain situations or people or being in a medical environment. Lack of sleep, travel and chronic stress can trigger anxiety in many people.
Most of us won’t ask you to cater to us but we would appreciate a little compassion.
I’ll be talking more about anxiety, and my journey of recovery, in future posts.
What would you add to this list? Comment, tweet to @tabithadumas or visit my Facebook page.
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