Knock Knock– Who’s There? Anxiety
May is Mental Health Awareness Month & ironically my anxiety has been in full force.
I began experiencing anxiety when I was in middle school, around age 11. At least that is as far back as I can remember to pinpoint those feelings.
Let’s cover some quick facts about anxiety:
“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”
The 5 most widespread anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Complsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, & Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder.
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.”
“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.”
“Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.”
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.”
“Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.”
I was diagnosed with GAD when I was younger. My anxiety definitely manifested in physical tendencies at that age. For example, I used to pick all the skin off around my fingernails and toes until they were bloody or raw. It would be so painful, but I just had to keep picking because there was so much inside my chest that I didn’t know how to express. The only thing I knew to do was to pick, pick, pick.
When I was a bit older I started having panic attacks. I ended up in the hospital on several occasions due to having really bad attacks & unable to calm down. It’s very scary, especially when you don’t realize that what you are having is an anxiety attack.
After being diagnosed I was prescribed various treatments… I have been on a variety of medications. I have read lots of books about it. I have been in one-on-one therapy. I have been in group therapy. I have done yoga. Etc. Etc. & so on…
I am no longer on medication. About 6 years ago I lost my health insurance for a period of time and all of my medications, therapists, doctors, etc. vanished over night. At the time I was completely & utterly devastated. I could not image a life without that support. But, I had to cope & that’s just what I did.
Once I got back on insurance I didn’t really seek out more doctors & medication. At that point I had found other ways to get through my day & address my anxiety so I kind of let that piece of my past behind. I felt very in control of my thoughts, feelings, actions & believed I had learned what I needed to do to be okay. I knew a lot of my triggers, I knew coping mechanisms, I knew the science behind it, etc. I felt like I had it under control & didn’t need anyone else.
Well… let us fast-forward 5 years to this past month– things are not okay.
Now, I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly is going on in my life, but it is fair to say that YES I am a lot more stressed out lately & have a lot of insecurity happening in my life that I am not in control of. So I get that naturally I am going to be a little bit more prone to anxiety than if this wasn’t going on. But here is the thing– this is still my day-to-day & I have to live with this, & currently things are not going well. It seems like somedays are okay, but then others days I’m completely & totally consumed by anxiety. I feel so insecure, lost, & scared.
The fingernail picking has come back in full force. The feelings in my chest won’t go away. I have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, & waking up. I feel everything in me all at once, while also simultaneously feeling completely numb to what is happening. All I can do is keeping running all these options through my head, I try to make lists, to do right, to be better, but then ultimately fall short. I get obsessive, stressed out– thinking why can’t this be right? I’m too consumed by everything to think or be. There is no peace only constant worry.
I think for me the worst part is feeling like I should be in more control. Knowing that everything is okay, but yet not being able to feel that. It’s very frustrating. In some ways things the last few days have gotten better. I spent time in the mountains last Saturday, getting back to nature always relaxes me & helps put things into perspective. I also have been trying to get moving & have some daily exercise, because for me I hold a lot in & physically moving helps me release all that tension. I do know that if things continue down this path that simply getting exercise or spending times outdoors isn’t going to be enough & I will have to address these issues. However, for right now I am trying to focus on the little things I can do daily & hope that I am able to get some sense of relief, at least for the short term.
Here are a couple tips to help alleviate anxiety for anyone who is also struggling… Obviously if it gets to a point where you need more attention like seeing a doctor, therapist, getting on medication, etc. that is definitely important & something to consider.
Tips to Help Reduce Anxiety:
“Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.” Source– Stress
“If your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. … About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Source– ADAA
“Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. It helps you get to know yourself by revealing your innermost fears, thoughts, and feelings.” Source– URMC
“Mindfulness does more than temporarily help you relax. It works on a deep level by changing the function and structure of your brain. Meditation actually reprograms your brain to be less anxious.” Source– Be Brain Fit
“Socialization increases a hormone that decreases anxiety levels and make us feel more confident in our ability to cope with stressors.” Source– Mental Help
All of these little tips are simple things that you can do on your own to help reduce or anxiety. I know that for me a number of these really do work & I am trying to focus on them more in my daily life over the past couple of weeks. Again, like I mentioned before if my anxiety does get to a really bad point to where I do need to see someone & find a more structured plan of action, then I will do that. But, in the meantime I am going to try & work through this on my own using these techniques.
Cheers & stay chic!