When someone mentions ‘anxiety,’ people immediately think of a racing heart, a panic attack, and a cocktail of thoughts and emotions that are going through a person’s head. And yes, anxiety can often be all these things. However, not always.
In my experience, it took me a really long time to realize that anxiety was tremendously affecting my life. Of course, I knew that I was oftentimes stressed, and I’ve been told many times to ‘calm down’ and ‘relax.’ However, I had never had a panic attack or experienced a racing heart – the two things that were always associated with anxiety.
And it was only when I spoke with a therapist that I realized that I was struggling with anxiety and that it had an enormous hold over me. Because, even though a racing mind, a fluttery chest, and panic attacks are all signs of anxiety – anxiety, and especially high-functioning anxiety does not have to have these symptoms.
Often, anxiety can rear its ugly head in many subtler ways. It can be hidden inside traits and habits which are perceived to be a person’s weaknesses or flaws. And anxiety manifests differently in different people.
Anxiety can be staring at your screen for 20 minutes or 1 hour because there are many hypothetical situations of what-ifs followed by worst-case scenarios going through your mind.
Anxiety can be a constant worrying about day-to-day “misfortunes” such as worrying about why your partner has not replied to your text, or whether you’ll be late for work. Also, it is a constant worrying about real tragedies like world hunger, car accidents, plane crashes, or fearing the death of someone close to you.
Anxiety can be also worrying about good things even though you know in your heart that you have absolutely no need for worry. It is worrying about a possible ‘break up’ or separation from your partner even though you know he truly loves you.
Anxiety is when you second-guess yourself all the time. Anxiety is when you can’t stop going over past events repeatedly in your head and obsessing over every little thing that you said wrong that you could’ve said it differently.
Anxiety is worrying whether you turned off the oven after you left the house for a weekend.
Anxiety can be you – biting your nails and twirling your hair. It can be you – having stomachaches and shaky knees. Or you – tapping your foot or bouncing your leg quickly.
Anxiety is when you feel like you can’t breathe because there is no air in your lungs.
Anxiety can be frustration and anger. It is a mix of hot rage and grievance over the dirty dishes in the sink or the wet towels on your bathroom floor. It is you – losing your shit and screaming uncontrollably over something, only to collapse in tears the very next minute because you instantly realized that you overreacted, and you hate being out of control.
Anxiety is feeling annoyed and overwhelmed all the time both with the good and the bad in the world. The good because you have no idea how to grasp it all in, and the bad because you are unable to do anything about it.
Anxiety can be wanting something so badly but feeling powerless and uncertain about what to do and where to begin.
Anxiety is feeling exhausted all the time. Because worrying and stressing out all the time is utterly tiresome for your body and brain.
Anxiety is thinking that you are not good enough – that there is certainly something wrong with you. IT IS NOT. Anxiety is neither a weakness nor a flaw. It is a mental illness.
And if you or your loved one suffers from anxiety try to help them and help yourself by being gentle with them and with yourself. Find the grace and the peace within you. Practice patience and forgiveness constantly.
And remember, you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with having an anxiety. And there is certainly nothing wrong with you, or me, or anyone dealing with this condition.
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Image: Jessica Drossin