Anxiety is an extremely common emotion, and most likely has been felt by every person at some point in their lives, and usually this feeling is nothing to be overly concerned about. However, it is when this feeling of anxiety lingers and grows that it becomes a concern and issue in our lives. Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD) and more severe anxiety disorders can cause those who are affected a lot of turmoil and can be an extremely difficult thing to live with. In this post I’m going to lay out the basics of what anxiety is, how it feels, and how to address it the best you can.
Anxiety in simple terms is being worried, uneasy and apprehensive. This can lead to being unable to relax, being unable to focus on everyday tasks and can also cause your self-esteem to plummet. In severe instances, anxiety can lead to panic attacks which can be an extremely scary experience where you feel like your grip or control on life has slipped and everything is spinning.
Anxiety is something I have lived with for most of my life, but it took me several years to realise that it was even there. Before then I thought I was just a worrier and overthinker, but it wasn’t until I heard about anxiety disorders that I realised there was more to it. I figured I may have had a mild anxiety order, which was the cause of me panicking and running away from opportunities and laying in bed at night staring at the ceiling for hours on end.
Even back then when I learnt about anxiety disorders for the first time, and acknowledged that I might have had one, I did so in the most distanced way possible. It had to be the mildest case, as anything other than that meant I was broken and crazy and everybody would stare at me if they found out. Years later, my therapist mentioned that he thought I had a severe anxiety disorder, and my reaction was not at all what I expected. I felt happy. I felt like a small weight had been lifted. It’s not that I needed a diagnosis so that I would feel better, it was hearing this from a qualified professional and with no judgment or prejudice that made me realise just how normalised it should be to talk about your mental health experience.
I’ve been working on describing my anxiety for some time, trying to explain to those who don’t understand or experience the feelings I do, and it wasn’t until I started working on this in my sessions that I was able to make any sense of it. Most days it’s a normal level of stress and worry, overthinking everything I’ve said and done and their multiple possible consequences. Other days things are much worse. These are the days where I spiral into a panic attack, or several panic attacks.
Picture a snowstorm. Not the nice soft Christmas film kind of snow, but thick, heavy, freezing snow, blowing so quickly in the wind that you can’t see two steps in front of you. Now imagine being in the centre of that storm, shivering cold, heart racing, looking for any sign of shelter or light to head towards so you can get out of the storm and warm up again. Then imagine that whilst you’re walking around in this storm, looking for shelter, you start hearing loud noises and growls coming from all directions. You know you’re in danger, but you don’t know the exact moment that danger will strike. That’s how a panic attack feels. It may last for 2 minutes one time and 50 minutes the next, but each time it’s just as terrifying.
Thankfully though, there are ways you can prevent these panic attacks and methods to help with your anxiety in general. Like with depression, it’s very difficult to put a clear-cut label on the best way to help keep your anxiety under control, as it differs from person to person. Though I can explain what helps me. The first thing is therapy, which I am a huge advocate for. I know it isn’t for everyone, but personally therapy has helped me a great deal with my day to day anxiety. Even if you use this to help identify your triggers to better understand where the anxiety comes from, then you are getting somewhere you previously may not have been able to.
A big issue with my anxiety is the constant cycle of overthinking. Most days at work I have the same tasks to complete over the same amount of time and I tend to follow a specific routine. However, I list all these over and over, again and again, even after they are done, like if I forgot something on that list everything would blow up in my face. When I get home, I do the same thing until I go to bed and struggle to sleep, retracing every detail to make sure I didn’t forget anything and did everything just right. This was one of the most persistent forms my anxiety took the shape of, and it took me ages to find something that helps me keep it under control.
Whilst it may sound like such a small task to fix such a lingering problem, making lists is the one thing that really allows me to keep a lid on my overthinking. Just being able to write down everything I need to do helps keep them organised and stops me from running them in a loop in my head. It also means that once I scratch something off the list, I don’t need to overthink whether or not it is done. Writing in general is something that helps me a great deal with my anxiety. Something about getting my thoughts onto a page just helps me clear my head and lets me really relax, which is something I previously struggled to do. It’s part of the reason I started this blog, to have a creative outlet to for my thoughts, whilst exploring my interest in mental health, and destigmatizing the conversation about self-care and opening a dialogue.
Some other options for helping with anxiety come in the form of physical activities. Going for a walk or using meditation as a way of clearing your headspace is extremely useful. Doing this whenever you feel one of your triggers coming on, or something stressful is happening at work or at home, is a great way to stop the negative, anxious feelings before they take shape. It not only works as a brief distraction, but also with walking it allows you to positively impact your dopamine and serotonin levels, which improves your mood greatly.
If these above suggestions or any other you find don’t seem to be working out in helping you manage your anxiety, you should consider contacting your GP if you haven’t already. There are many alternative professional suggestions such as medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which differs from the traditional counselling format and is much more goal orientated and allows you to focus directly on the triggers of your anxiety and how you can work on them.
The one last note worth stating on the topic of anxiety, arguably the most important thing worth acknowledging: Living with anxiety isn’t easy. It’s messy and confusing and upsetting to feel anxious, and there is no easy solution or quick fix. That being said, things can get better, and with proper time and care put into the process, it’s definitely possible to get a hold on your anxiety. It’s not easy, and some days it’ll feel like you’re going nowhere fast, but nothing changes unless you take that first step and give it a chance. If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.
Photo by Arina Krasnikova (arina_krasnikova)