Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. When I hear the word anxiety it conjures up a lot of feelings, images and thoughts. It's something that I have always struggled with, but didn't really fully acknowledge until recently. It's something that I often have joked about, mentioned in passing, blamed but then minimized because I didn't want to sound crazy. I've started realizing more and more how many things are tied to anxiety and really seeing how it's manifested itself in my life. And I know I'm not alone.
This is a topic that I've wanted to write about for awhile now, but when I go to do it I always seem to stare at a blank page. Recently my counselor told me that she thinks when I write, when I choose to be vulnerable, when I choose to let people in on my story...I'm releasing myself from the shame that I often carry with me. Writing, being authentic and vulnerable, and trusting others to walk with me, gives me freedom, it helps me take ownership of my story so I can write my own ending.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about anxiety and I get it...anxiety can look different for everyone. Sometimes the way I explain it to someone is it's like there's a loop in my head about everything and anything that I could be uneasy about or that could be wrong and there's nothing I can do to stop it. For me, this has resulted in panic attacks, health issues and lots of lost sleep. Also, if you want to know what could go wrong in any given situation, ask an anxious person. Luckily, with a lot of good counseling and hard work, I have learned ways to handle and deal with my anxiety, but it's still an issue. When I'm taking care of myself and being healthy, it's a lot easier to stop that loop in my head than when I'm not.
I thought I would share a few insights about anxiety. I hope that if you struggle with this you'll feel a little less alone and if you don't, that it will help you understand that anxious person in your life a little better.
1. Anxiety is not the same thing as worry. I like how Megan Tietz and Laura Tremaine talk about this on their Sorta Awesome Podcast (Also, I highly recommend anyone and everyone listen to their podcast here about anxiety, if you struggle with it you will say "me too" so many times and if you don't struggle with it, it'll give you great insight), "Worry is somewhat reasonable, but there's no reasoning with anxiety. Worry can be talked down from the cliff. Anxiety is convinced that you are hurtling toward the edge of the cliff and the brakes just went out." When you worry there's usually a reasonable root at the cause of that, you can usually take a few deep breaths, wrap your head around the reality of the situation, pray, meditate or whatever you choose to do to be calm and you'll be fine. Deep breaths don't fix anxiety, trying to wrap your head around your anxious thoughts just keeps you on the hamster wheel and loop and praying, meditating or whatever you choose to do can help, but it doesn't fix it...at least it hasn't for me.
2. A lot of shame can be associated with anxiety. Megan and Laura talk about this in their podcast too and it was actually something I had never fully realized until I heard them say it...I have been so ashamed that I struggle with anxiety. Especially when it came to being a Christian. I have always felt like something was wrong with me, that I didn't believe enough or trust enough...because you know, God says do not worry about anything and how can we add an hour to our life by worrying so why can't I stop all this anxiety? I would repeat those verses over and over again and when nothing changed or every time someone just told me to quit worrying so much because I'm supposed to trust in God, the shame piled on. When I realized there was a difference between anxiety and worry and realized there's no freedom when you're buried in shame, it was like I started living a whole new story.
3. Counseling. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of counseling. I think anyone and everyone should go to counseling! Because even if you don't struggle with anxiety or you don't think anything's "wrong" with you, we can all benefit from sorting through our issues, learning how to feel our feelings, having space to take a step outside of our current lived experience and, at the bare minimum, talk things out to someone who is legally bound and paid to hear you out and help you think things through. It creates healthier and whole people and the world needs healthier and whole people. People who feel their feelings, who deal with their issues and you acknowledge they don't have it all together.
4. I started to feel freedom when people believed me. Again this was a moment of clarity when listening to Megan and Laura on the podcast, a moment where I realized, yes, that's so true! I have a friend in my life who probably has two anxious thoughts a year...she does not struggle with anxiety. But, she never ridicules me or tells me I'm wrong when I tell her I'm feeling anxious. She believes me. There's even been times where I haven't said anything, but she knows so she tells me to list everything I'm anxious about. I was amazed at how helpful it was to name my anxious thoughts and the person on the other end didn't make me feel crazy or ashamed. She didn't fix it, but she asked, she listened and she believed me. She didn't tell me to quit worrying and that it wasn't a big deal, but she valued that it was my experience.
5. The more information the better. Remember when I said if you want to hear all the worst case scenarios ask an anxious person? Texts sayings like, "We need to talk." or "I've got news for you, but I can't talk for a couple hours." No good. I know for me too this looks like having as many details as possible, I've gotten a lot better with this, but one way this happens to me is when I'm traveling. I love to travel, but the unknown and uncertainty of being somewhere new causes me a lot of anxiety. If you're going to tell me to just head down the street and the train station will be on the right and get on and get off on South Street...that doesn't do it for me. I need to know how many streets I'll cross over, what landmark is near the station, how many stops until we get to the South Street stop? Crazy? Too much? Maybe...but just know if someone is asking you a lot of questions, maybe they're not trying to be annoying, they're just trying to get a full picture of what to expect.
I know this was a long one, but I think it's important and we don't talk about it enough. Unfortunately, so many people struggle with anxiety, some realize it and some don't. It's crazy the affects it can have on your body and how it manifests its way physically too. Looking back over my life and all my health issues, a large majority of them I can now see were connected to anxiety. So...if you struggle with this, please know you're not alone. Feel free to share what it looks like in your life so people can seek to understand you better. If you don't have anxiety, I hope this gives a little insight for you and how you can understand someone who does. People like you can be grace-givers to people like me. If we truly seek to understand each other better, the world will just be a better place, right?