A woman sits in her car parked outside her office building. She’s been working there for a few years, and she’s good at her job; she knows everyone in the building, and she has no enemies. Yet every morning, she fights the growing anxiety felt in her chest as she sits in her car. Logically, she knows she has nothing to worry about, but her emotions and body tell her otherwise. She begins breathing heavier. She begins to shake. She breaks out in a sweat. She closes her eyes in desperation to regain control over mind, emotions, and body, but it doesn’t happen easily, and so she sits in her car for what seems like an eternity before being able to walk into her office.
If you have anxiety, you may be able to relate to this scenario. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in America, with over 40 million people suffering from it. Unlike many other disorders, anxiety has a different effect on those who suffer from it. For some, anxiety means having physical or emotional symptoms or both. For others, they may develop phobias, while others may experience panic disorders, separation anxiety disorders, or even selective mutism.
There are many myths about anxiety, so it’s important to understand what anxiety really is and what it is not.
First, and most importantly, is that anxiety doesn’t define who you are as a person. You are more than your mental state. Anxiety is something that you deal with; it’s not who you are. It may seem like you’ve dealt with anxiety for so long that you can’t remember what it’s like to not have it. And your anxiety may not only affect your mind but your body also. You could have uncontrollable panic attacks, debilitating headaches, dizziness, full body shaking, and sweating. But no matter what symptoms you experience, always know that your anxiety and its effects are not your authentic self. They may be a part of you at that moment you experience them, but they are not what makes you the special person you are.
Although anxiety is the most common mental health issue in our country, there still seems to be a stigma associated with it. Those who don’t suffer from anxiety may say to “just get over it,” but this is such an infuriating statement to anyone who lives with anxiety. Too many refuse to see anxiety disorders as a legitimate illness, and this needs to change. With so many people suffering, it is a real illness, and they need understanding about it from those in their life.
Just because a person lives with an anxiety disorder, it doesn’t mean they feel they effects of the disorder every minute of the day. Anxiety attacks can come right out of the blue, though many sufferers have “triggers,” and there’s no set time frame for each attack. Everyone’s anxiety is different, with attacks that last from several minutes to several hours. Learning effective coping techniques can help decrease the amount of time in which an anxiety attack is felt.
With so many people living with anxiety disorders, only about one-third of them are getting treatment. Remember, you can’t just get over anxiety; it is not just a state of mind. But you don’t have to face your anxiety alone. Those who suffer from it all have a different level of care needed, but your doctor can help you determine the best course of action for you. You should not have to keep living each day with anxiety without the help and support you deserve.
Anxiety disorders are a mental illness based on fears. Of course, feeling some anxiety from time-to-time happens to everyone. It’s when excessive anxiety takes over your daily thoughts and activities that an anxiety disorder develops. And anxiety disorders don’t go away after a day, a week, a month, or a year. But there is good news – with treatment, you can go on to lead a productive life where your anxiety isn’t controlling you.
Anxiety disorders affect your body, mind, emotions, and behaviors. You may have physical and painful symptoms that affect your breathing, your muscles, your stomach, and your sleep. Your thoughts become erratic with worry over everyday life, which can result in nightmares, bouts of anger, and severely negative mood swings. You may avoid certain people or places, be easily startled or feel paranoid. All of these are very real symptoms and are not attention-getting behaviors; they are signs of mental illness.
You feel your heart beginning to beat faster. Sweat builds on your hands or forehead. Your breathing becomes shallow. That’s anxiety – a response to stress. Here are some ways that could help you take control of your mind and body:
Below, sufferers describe in their own words how anxiety feels to them.
“To me, anxiety is feeling like your head’s a scary roller coaster that won’t end, like you feel as though your heart skips a beat and your stomach just won’t calm down for a while.” – Marcellus
“Anxiety feels like you’re living in chaos even when you’re alone, and more so when around others. Anxiety has been an overwhelming experience for me that led to 3 battles with suicide and over 16 years of depression. I learned that the best way to have more control over anxiety is through planning, meditating regularly, and worst-case scenario prepping.” – Dave
“It kind of feels like everything is overwhelming and crazy and out of control. Kind of feels like my brain is going in a thousand different directions at one time. It feels like out of control worrying. I’ve gotten judged a lot in my life because of my generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve had people say, “oh you’re just overreacting,” or people say, “you just need to calm down,” and that doesn’t help. I always say that if someone has anxiety, be there to support them, and be there to help them in a way that won’t upset them. Don’t judge – be a safe space for people with anxiety, someone that people with anxiety can always come to for help.” – Lauren
“Anxiety feels like struggling. I get nauseous, my hands are very sweaty. I feel weak. I feel very shaky. I can’t focus. My mind is racing and I feel sad. Sometimes I wake up having anxiety and I don’t know why. I hate when anxiety gets the best of me. I get overwhelmed and I freak out. Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I cry and have to take a breather for a few minutes.” – Jasemine
“For me, tried to end life on Nov 2017, thought/think I’m okay now. Yet, I still lay awake some days with a “panic attack” feeling, heart racing. Anxious. Half hour later I’m fine. Don’t know what I dream of to get me this way, it isn’t daily, but it is regular.” – Paul
“Anxiety feels like I’m drowning from the inside out. My body feels heavy. My mind feels heavy. Part of me knows that I have nothing to fear, but a bigger part of me says I have everything to fear, and this is what makes me feel heavy. Any movement I try to make feels as if I’m in quicksand, and this makes me struggle to breath, makes me sweat, brings tears to my eyes.” – Jennifer
“Anxiety makes me feel like I’m not normal, that I’m not like everyone else. Everyone around me seems like they have such easy lives. I see their smiling faces, and I think why can’t I be like them? Anxiety makes me envious of those who don’t have a clue what it’s like to live with it. The really bad thing about this is that I start to get angry because I have anxiety. Even when I’m not having an actual anxiety attack, I get angry for no reason, but I know it’s because of my anxiety. That’s what really scares me.” – Andre
“For me, living with anxiety is like living with an invisible enemy who controls my mind and actions. I hate that enemy.” – Justin
Living with anxiety may feel like you’re in a prison with the walls closing in on you, but please know that living with anxiety doesn’t have to feel like a life-sentence that you must face by yourself. You are not alone. There are many others who feel like you do, and there are many others who are ready and waiting to help you. By taking a proactive role in your mental health, you’ll begin to see those prison walls disappear. Don’t be afraid to reach out!