Since I was a child, I have always been known as a “worrier.” I would worry about my health; I was scared about a cough I had or a scrape that I got. I would worry about the people around me, and would tell them that I loved them as many times as I could in case I didn’t see them again. I would be nervous for situations that I was in or would be in in the future, like sleepless nights before the first day of school. I couldn’t get out of my head. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about the “what if?” of every situation I was in. My parents noticed my worrying, but they put it aside, assuming that I would grow out of it. But it never really went away. Now as an adult, I realized that “worry” has transformed into anxiety. Now that I have recognized this piece of my persona, I feel like a have a tighter grasp on my own personal struggle with anxiety.
Everyone in the world has had some form of anxiety in their life, whether they have recognized it or not. Some might only get anxiety in certain stress-inducing situations, like a presentation or a job interview. But for others like myself, there is a constant level of this unnerving, annoying, and itching voice inside our head saying, “what if?” - What if I’m not good enough? What if I get uncomfortable when I’m there? What if something bad happens? What am I going to do if I make a fool of myself? Where am I going to go if I start to feel claustrophobic? What if I have a panic attack?
I had my first full blown panic attack at 21 while I was in class at school. The stresses of finals week, too much caffeine, a hot and sweaty room, and an already quite panicky mindset set it off for me. I felt like I couldn’t escape; like I was thinking about my breathing too much. I was afraid that either I was going to pass out or die, and I got this out-of-body experience that I felt like I couldn't control myself. I got up and headed out the door, sat on a bench, and immediately called my mom. It was comforting to hear her voice, and she talked to me to help keep my mind distracted. She kept repeating to me that I was having a panic attack, that this was normal, that she and my dad have had them before, and I will eventually feel better. From that day on, I have had several panic attacks, and a lot of my anxiety stems from the fear of having another one again. I sometimes avoid going places, hanging out with people, or experiencing something exciting because of my fear of fear itself.
Anxiety is actually much more normal and accepting than you may think. There are many forms of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, OCD, and PTSD. Every type is different for each individual, and everyone deals with it in their own way. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in the U.S alone, the most common mental illnesses are anxiety disorders. This affects 40 million adults, and women are twice as more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men. Anxiety doesn’t just come out of thin air; many anxiety disorders can come from a mix of many different things. This includes genetics, major life events, your overall personality, and your brain chemistry. Many times, we go on with our life privately suffering with anxiety, and it may seem like there are no other options than just to suffer and deal with it yourself. But it is only when we seek the help of others that we can find the strength to help ourselves.
There are many different ways that people can help treat and control their anxiety in order to live comfortably in their everyday lives. Therapy is the most common, where you talk to a professional about your specific concerns, and they will give you the tools to understand your anxiety. They will then help you find the best form of treatment that will abide to your needs. While also seeing a professional through therapy, they may prescribe you a safe and effective form of medication that is suitable for your individual needs. Your therapist or psychiatrist may also recommend lifestyle changes that have been shown to help greatly improve your anxiety. Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and other relaxation techniques are ways that can reduce stress, and are incredibly healing ways to help. This, alongside talking to a therapist, has helped me tremendously in overcoming and dealing with my anxiety. Another way of coping with my anxiety, and one that I have felt that makes me feel more “normal” at times, is talking to my mom. No, my mom is not a professional therapist or psychiatrist, but she is a person who will listen, support, and comfort me when I am having some of these anxiety ridden times. Finding a friend, sibling, or person who you can talk to without feeling judged, is something that is truly beneficial to have. Feeling understood is one of the universal feelings that we as human beings thrive on, for it allows us to connect, share, and feel comforted in who we are. Connecting and calming the mind and body may seem silly, but it really does allow you to feel like your anxiety is just something that you carry around, not something that completely defines you.
Whatever you may be feeling, or even if you have never felt like you have had to deal with any form of anxiety, being aware and educated about it can not only help yourself, but it can help you become empathic to those around you. Feeling alone in your thoughts and feelings may seem isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Reaching out for help and learning more about how you are feeling may help you realize that you are not alone. Anxiety is much more normal than we may think, and the more that we recognize and share our own personal experiences, stories, and coping mechanisms, the more we will be able to understand each other and especially ourselves a bit more.
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman