Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental illness in the United States, affecting approximately 18 percent of the population. In addition to being a mental illness in its own right, anxiety is also a huge symptom of and closely related to other illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Basically, anxiety is everywhere and it sucks. A lot. While it can affect everyone differently, there are a number of struggles most anxiety suffers can relate to - here are just a few.
Receiving Stupid Advice
"Just take a few deep breaths."
"Have you tried mediating/exercise/jogging/yoga? It really helps me calm down."
"Oh, I know how you feel - I get stressed out all the time."
First of all, if it were that simple, no one would have a panic attack or an anxious moment, ever. Secondly, while these statements seem helpful, they're basically comparing apples to oranges while trivializing the severity of the anxiety. Obviously, there are benefits to deep breathing, meditating, and commiserating, but they're not miracle cures. Also, asking someone who just ruminated themselves into a panic attack to sit quietly with their thoughts is not going to be productive. Trust me.
There is nothing that I personally excel at more than overthinking. Anxiety sufferers often complain of the way their minds are constantly racing, and it's usually either because we're replaying every conversation we've ever had in an attempt to find fault in what we've said or we're freaking out about what might go wrong in the future. Fun!
Not everyone who suffers from anxiety will have a panic attack, and not all panic attacks look the same, but most anxiety sufferers will have had at least one panic attack at some point, and all panic attacks are horrible. Truly and completely terrible. Anxiety attacks can come complete with rapid heartbeat, visual disturbances, dizziness, a feeling of disassociation, vomiting or other digestive issues, the very real fear that something is physically wrong, and the feeling of overwhelming and intense fear. And if that wasn't bad enough, there is the ongoing fear that another attack will strike at any moment.
Anxiety Causes Physical Pain
Anxiety can cause very real physical pain. Some people get migraines, some people experience severe digestive issues, others develop chronic respiratory conditions. Anxiety has also been linked to heart disease, and has been shown to increase the risk of a heart attack in anxiety sufferers who also have pre-existing heart conditions.
Anxiety Makes It Impossible To Sleep...
Some people who have anxiety find that they have a very difficult time falling asleep and/or staying asleep. The constant worrying makes it difficult to shut your brain off long enough to get a good night's sleep (or any sleep), and the pressure to "just get some rest" in and of itself can create more anxiety, making it harder to get to sleep at all.
...But Being Anxious All The Time Is Exhausting
Living with anxiety can be completely exhausting. The insomnia that many people with anxiety suffer from can lead to long-term exhaustion. In addition, your body uses an incredible amount of energy when you're panicking. Dealing with anxiety on a daily basis can also drain your mental energy, leaving your mind more susceptible to nighttime rumination while you're trying to get some sleep.
Completely and Utterly Indecisive
Every decision, no matter how minor, can be impossible to make. Whether we're worried about making the wrong one, disappointing someone, letting someone down, wondering if the decision we're about to make is irreversible, or feeling honestly impartial, anxiety can freeze our minds, paralyzing us and delaying even the smallest decision. And of course, once the decision is made, we go back to overthinking whether or not it was the right call.
Too Many Emotions To Handle
It isn't that we become emotional easily, it's that we are already worrying about seven million different things. Sometimes it's hard to keep a handle on your emotions when you're terrified that you left the house unlocked, or the car running, or forgot to feed the cat, or if that thing that you said earlier on in the week was the right thing to say.
Leaving The House Sucks
Leaving the house can be such a huge ordeal that sometimes it isn't even worth the trouble. It can help alleviate anxiety to have a plan, but just coming up with the plan can be exhausting. It isn't that we don't want to see our friends; it's just that staying home can be significantly less stressful.
Waiting For Responses is Excruciating
Waiting for a phone call, text, email, Facebook message, etc., is exceptionally painful. Minutes feel like hours, and of course, we're convinced that the worst possible thing has happened and that's why we haven't gotten a reply. Of course it's possible that Jack was just busy at work, but it's also possible that Jack hates me for not laughing enough at his joke last week.
The Worst Possible Scenario Is Always The Obvious Answer
Anxiety can make the worst possible scenario also seem like the most likely scenario. I've literally spent weeks worried that a friend will stop calling because I didn't answer a text in time, or that I'd get fired for forgetting to wash my boss' mug eight weeks ago. Stupid brain, indeed.
Anxiety Isn't Logical
It doesn't matter that we know how illogical some of our anxieties are, they are not going away on their own. And sometimes, it doesn't matter how much sense your friends may make because the anxiety will find a way.
Anxiety Feels Like It Will Always Be There
Anxiety disorders and symptoms can be managed effectively with the use of medication and/or therapy. Cognitive behaviour therapy, in particular, is really effective in the management of anxiety disorders. Still, when you're in the middle of it, it feels like it will never, ever go away. The important thing to remember is that it can be managed, and that the symptoms won't last forever. There are many resources that may be available to help. Together We Are Strong have put together a very handy list of mental health helplines worldwide - if you find yourself relating a little to strongly to these points and want to seek treatment, those numbers are a great place to start.