Thursday, July 9, 2015

What it's like to have anxiety.

Hey all. I've been wanting to write a blog post about anxiety for a long time now. What stopped me was...anxiety (hah). There's still such a stigma about mental illness out there and well, I wasn't brave enough to self-disclose this part about myself over the internet in a blog. I think right now I'm just brave enough to do so.

Why I want to write about this:
  1. A lot of people out there may be fighting their own up-hill battle with anxiety or another mental illness. 
  2. Writing helps me process things.
  3. Some people around me don't understand what anxiety is and how it affects the way I function.
  4. I wanted to reduce stigma around mental illness. It's okay to talk about.
  5. I also wanted to educate some of you out there who may not know about certain mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. Individuals feel anxiety when they feel nervous or uneasy about certain things. For example, going to the dentist is a common cause for some people to become anxious. When it becomes a disorder is when this feeling of fear/nervousness/unease becomes an every day, nearly constant and uncontrollable thing. Having  an anxiety disorder is a mental illness and should be treated the same as any physical illness. With concern, love, and compassion.

What are some of the types of anxiety disorders?

  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Phobias
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
In all cases, anxiety can be caused by many factors, thoughts, and circumstances--depending on the person. In most cases, the fear or worry is irrational or unrealistic. This statement is not meant to trivialize what anxiety-ridden-thoughts are about, whatsoever. In other words, you don't and shouldn't be worrying about something--but you worry anyway because anxiety makes you do that. Some symptoms of anxiety disorders, no matter the type, can include: feelings/thoughts of panic-uneasiness-worry, insomnia, not being able to catch your breath, heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat, numbness or tingling in extremities, muscle tension, dizziness, and so on.

Remember in health class when you learned about the fight or flight response? That response in your brain that revs you up for battle, so to speak? It happens when humans feel threatened or scared or need to protect themselves; and it can even happen in times of high stress. With individuals who have an anxiety disorder, this fight or flight response is almost never allowed to turn off. This extended fight or flight mode means your mind and body are in a constant state of stress. It can lead to other mental health issues as well as a slue of physical health issues such as: high blood pressure, increases your risk for heart disease, headaches, as well as an accelerated aging process.

Anxiety can happen to anyone, no one is immune to it. It can come out of no where or be something you struggle with from an early age on. It can happen for a reason, some type of trauma or multiple traumas in a person's life. But it can also occur, seemingly, for no reason at other words: genetics can play a role. 
 What is the difference between anxiety and depression?

Anxiety is again, feeling intense and uncontrollable uneasiness or worry or fear. Some people, especially (but not necessarily only) if they have panic disorder, can experience panic or anxiety attacks. This is truly when you are out of control, have a racing heartbeat, can't breathe, and so on. I have only had a handful of anxiety attacks and can most of the time talk myself out of one before I actually spiral into one. The few times in my life where I have experienced severe anxiety attacks, it literally feels as though you are dying. This is one reason why some people call 911 when someone is experiencing an anxiety attack. It can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.

Depression, however, is uncontrollable, often debilitating, sadness, loneliness, depressed mood,  or lack of motivation to do daily activities--even those that you enjoy. Although anxiety can cause you to feel sad or that you are alone, not everyone with depression has anxiety and not everyone with anxiety has depression. That being said, the two can go hand in hand with one another in some individuals. In fact, it's almost common for the two to co-occur.

How do I know I may have an anxiety disorder?
If you have been feeling as though you are excessively and uncontrollably worrying about things that you may not necessarily need to worry about, you may have an anxiety disorder. If you have irrational fear that is also uncontrollable and sometimes leads to panic attacks, you may have an not qualified to diagnose a mental health disorder.
anxiety disorder. If you just do not feel like you function as normally as you could be due to your thoughts or anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder. There are also other factors that can have an impact on whether or not a person has an anxiety disorder. I have a degree in social work, but I am

When in doubt, call your doctor and seek professional assistance. I know it's a difficult thing to do and it's extremely terrifying, but there are people out there, people like me, who have been through it and are there to support you! You got this!

How anxiety effects my life:

  1. Socially
  2. Mentally
  3. Physically
  4. And countless other ways
Anxiety effects my life in every way possible. It effects how I see other people and the world around me. It has an influence on whether or not I do something. For example, hanging out with a friend or acquaintance. It can change the way my day goes, depending on how severe it hits me or what else is going on in my life at that moment. It makes me not want to do anything, sometimes. Basically, anxiety is horrible. 

What my anxiety feels like: 
Again, anxiety can manifest itself in varying ways depending on the person. Personally, I experience:
 thoughts of worry-fear-panic-etc., it keeps me from being present in the moment because of worry or unease, high levels of stress even when there is nothing to be stressed out about, my heart rate increases, my breathing increases, my thoughts and worrying are usually irrational, I have had a few panic attacks, fidgeting, my anxiety or thoughts surrounding my anxiety last for an extended amount of time, when I'm experiencing anxiety my mind goes to the worst case scenario.

I also describe something I call, "spiraling." This is when my anxiety becomes so intense that my thoughts, breathing, and heart race and I can't contain it.  I can't think straight and I can't focus on one specific thing. When I "spiral," the potential to have a full-blown anxiety attack is very real. Again, most of the time I can talk myself out of having a panic attack. I'll go into what helps me and other techniques later.

Triggers are things that amp-up my anxiety or cause my anxiety to begin to spiral. My triggers include: being alone for extended time periods, being sick (especially sick and alone), car things (i.e. breaking down), bees (a phobia of mine), feeling trapped or stuck (mentally or physically), not being in control or having a perception of not being in control, certain social situations, stress or being overwhelmed will increase my anxiety intensity, sometimes excessive amounts of caffeine can cause me to have anxiety. Probably the largest trigger for me is having too much time to think about, just things. When I don't busy my mind or my body, my mind starts to wander and anxiety creeps itself into my thoughts. My thoughts then begin to turn negative and race. Boom--anxiety.

When I realized I have anxiety:
Only within the last two years...and only very recently, about the last 6-8 months, have I really been aware of when my anxiety becomes too much. I guess, if I'm being honest with myself, I always
knew I had anxiety from a very young age. Growing up with parents who fought, before they ultimately divorced, I think is how it all began for me. Even to this day, I don't like fighting or very loud arguments; especially between a man and a woman. There are a million triggers for me, I only listed a few.

Anxiety happens every single day, it just varies in severity. For example, today's anxiety has told me that I needed to change my outfit 4-5 different times.I don't know why. Other days, my anxiety will tell me that I need to worry and panic about literally every single thing that day. Some days I don't have any motivation to do anything social or fun because I know I'm going to get anxious or just the mere thought of doing something makes me anxious.

To my credit, I think I've gotten a lot better than I used to be when it comes to dealing with and processing anxiety. I think a lot of that has to do with actually acknowledging that I have an anxiety disorder.  Once you acknowledge something is wrong or off, it's easier to heal from it/deal with it in a much healthier way.
What I did about my anxiety:
I researched it. A lot. On my own, with little help; at first. I didn't want to believe that I had this thing inside of me that made me freak out, for lack of a better term. To put it in a nutshell: I was in denial. Not complete denial, but denial nonetheless.

When I couldn't research it anymore, I spoke with my doctor. At the time, I think I was about 17 or 18...when I had suffered with anxiety and bouts of depression from a much earlier age.  Again, I was in denial which is what I attribute to waiting so long to seek assistance. My doctor really didn't do much apart from asking me a few questions such as: "Are you thinking of harming yourself, how many days a week do you not feel like yourself, have you ever been on medication for this?" After the questions, she wanted to prescribe me a pill. I had to admit, it was tempting. A pill to cure it all. I'd be normal. Looking back at it now, she was prescribing me a pill for depression and not anxiety. At the time, I wasn't feeling depressed at all...just dealing with anxiety mainly.
I didn't even fill the prescription. Instead, I did other things like research some more about breathing techniques, anxiety relieving techniques, and so on. When I was finally 24 years old...again I was still partly in denial, I sought out help from a professional. This isn't to say that medication can't work, especially with depression because that's a chemical imbalance in the brain, but again I wasn't depressed at the time. I also did not and still do not have panic-disorder so I didn't want any drug meant for that either. I, personally, just didn't feel medication would help me in my case.

I was in college, studying social work, and it made me realize that I couldn't assist any clients if I didn't take care of my own mental health first. It was the hardest thing I have ever done: make a
phone call to my college's wellness center to make an appointment with a social worker. I had only briefly gone to counseling before, mainly after my parents got divorced, but nothing long-term and nothing significantly helpful. Mainly it had been guidance counselors telling me to 'snap out of' whatever was going on. Guidance counselors are NOT social workers or psychologists...just FYI if you're looking for someone to talk to.

Anyway, once the phone call was done, I almost canceled the appointment about 3 times. I didn't though, and I went. The first time was the scariest, really. I didn't know this person, if they were nice, if they were credible, if they would know what I was talking about, if they would judge me, etc. Needless to say, that day was a bad day for anxiety and me. After a few minutes, though, I realized that I had done the right thing. When my social worker asked me why I had come to her office, I told her about what was going on in my life and how I think I may have anxiety. She didn't judge me and she didn't look at me like I was a nut-job. She just listened, unbiased, and attentively. Bottom line: She got it. Finally.

After a few months of seeing her about twice a week for 45 minute sessions, she offered to refer me to the college's psychiatrist in order to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder. However, she said that he would likely prescribe me medication. It turned me off to the idea. Besides, just talking to her and processing things I had allow to build up was helping tremendously. Since she was a social worker, she could not properly diagnose me with generalized anxiety disorder. She did say it was most likely what it sounded like I had. Again, I didn't go to the psychiatrist, but I've always classified myself as having that specific type of anxiety disorder.

What helps:
Over the years, I have come up with certain things that have helped me with my anxiety. Most of the time, one or multiple of these techniques help...but there are those few times where nothing helps and I have to just allow to anxiety to run its course for the moment.

  1.  Scents/aromatherapy: The main scent that always works to calm me is lavender. I spray it on my pillow every night before bed. I inhale the bottle of lavender room spray I have when I start to feel overwhelmed. I even have lavender scented bath-bubbles and Epsom salts. Another scent that helps is that of eucalyptus, but I've run out of the essential oil. Again, I would dilute it with water and spray it in my room or take a few whiffs straight from the bottle. 
  2. Mediation:  I've been meditating for about two years now. I don't do it every single day or even every single time I feel anxious. However, in moments in life where I have high stress levels or a lot going on, I will take the time for myself to practice meditation. I know it sounds a little hippy-dippy, but don't knock it until you try it. I either use Youtube and type in, "Loving Kindness Meditation," or I use the "Calm" (free) app on my phone. You can even journal about your anxiety, draw, or write blog posts!
  3. Talking about it to another anxiety-sufferer: I think speaking to a professional helps me the most just because it is a person who is unbiased and don't know me, won't just tell me what I want to hear. However, sometimes speaking to someone, perhaps a friend. who know how you're feeling or what you're experiencing can help a lot as well.
  4. Body scan/focusing on moment: A body scan can be a type of mediation. It's basically closing your eyes and either sitting or laying in a comfortable position. You focus on your breathing, deep breathing, and then draw your attention to your body. Starting from the tips of your toes, focus on the sensations your body is experiencing. Focus on the couch or ground beneath you, the way your lungs expand, and so forth. Do this until you get to the top of your head. It really helps me to focus on the here and now, quite literally.
  5. Yoga/ any form of exercise: It's a proven fact that exercise can reduce stress or help you to better cope with stressors. When it comes to anxiety, it still rings true. I happen to love yoga because it focuses on breathing as well as the body's movements while still getting a challenging work out in.  When I don't feel like doing yoga, I'll go for a walk or do some Pilates, something more physically demanding. It allows me to get out any aggression I may have and really reduces the intensity of my anxiety. 
  6.  Simple self-care: Even though this seems like the most common-sense solution, it is difficult for most to stick to. Things such as getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, spending time with loved ones or friends, or even taking some time to relax and do nothing. These simple things can cut down on stress and, in turn, anxiety, because you're taking care of yourself in the most basic of ways. Once you have that sorted out, you can then take care of yourself in more ways. Ways such as meditating or learning a new skill, for instance. 
  7. Seeking professional assistance: If you're unsure about whether or not you have an anxiety disorder, if you think you have an anxiety disorder but don't know what to do, or if you just want to process somethings in your life: seek out professional help. If you're in school or in college, there are often wellness or counseling centers right on campus/school grounds. There's also group therapy if you don't like the idea of one-on-one counseling. If you aren't in school or college, there are infinite resources out there as well. All one needs to do is Google, really. I chose to see a social worker, but you can speak with a: behaviorist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or even your physician. 
What others can do to help:
A lot of people think that anxiety is this made-up-over-dramatic-thing some individuals 'do.' It's not. For those of us who struggle and suffer, we would give anything for it to be some kind of made-up game of make believe. Personally, I can't remember a time in my life where I was anxiety-free. This isn't to say that my life isn't full of fun, love, and happiness; it is. Anxiety is just something that goes along with the package of Dana. It's something I will most likely have the rest of my life, and I'm okay with that because, for the most part, I know how to manage my anxiety in a healthy way.

Don't treat people with anxiety any different that someone without anxiety. I can only speak for myself, but I would hate to think that others perceive me differently or think less of me just because of this "thing." Listen to me when I need to vent or cry because it helps, it really does. More that this, let me know you're available for me to talk to you. Don't tell me to "get over it." If it were that simple, anxiety disorders wouldn't even exist.  The thing that helps the most is nonjudgmental, unconditional, and understanding love and support.  There is always hope. Always.

(The main resources for this blog post: own personal/professional experiences as well as WebMD/Mayoclinic)

I hoped this helped someone out there.
Don't forget to breathe,

No comments:

Post a Comment