Help Me To Give You My Anxieties
3 ways that tech helps me handle my anxiety and depression
I’m sorry to tell you, there’s no app for instant inner peace. If you have depression or anxiety, you know it requires hard work to face down your most painful thoughts and find self-compassion.
Some people worry that hiding behind technology is a way to avoid that work. I get that. But for me, I’ve found that tech, in both practical and profound ways, can help me come to terms with dark days, and cultivate a commitment to patience with my thoughts.
Here are three specific things I do that help boost me up when depression drags me down, keep me grounded when panic creeps in, calm my mind when it becomes enraged, and keep me connected when loneliness seems the best option.
1. Log your terror so you can search for it later.
One of the most insidious features of anxiety and depression is their ability to make us completely reboot our mind and start it back up in a mode where it seems everything is fixed, solid and bad.
No matter if it’s your first panic attack or you are on year 40 of relentless, blindsiding panic, you know that the feelings come from nowhere and they always seem brand-new.
The feelings lie to you and tell you that this time is different, that this time they won’t go away, that you’re going to go crazy, die or lose everything.Usually, technology’s main utility during times of sheer terror is to enable you to endlessly search for symptoms of heart attacks and strokes or information on depression, anxiety or suicide. Once, however, when I was in the middle of a panic attack, I came across an old journal entry I’d written while in the grip of a world-class attack.
Reading it, I remembered writing it, and slowly my panic decreased. Within a few minutes, I felt better. From then on, I decided to record all my episodes of depression, panic and rage — the physical symptoms, the feelings, the thoughts.
I called this my “Wikipedia of Fear,” and I’ve found that I can break the hold that panic has on me when I reread my own words describing a past experience.
In terms of creating your own fear Wikipedia, it’s best to do it when you are not in the middle of an attack. When you’re feeling calm, simply recall a time when you had a panic attack or depressive episode and start listing your symptoms. Break them down into physical symptoms, mental symptoms, thoughts and behaviors. Keep them in notes on your phone or print out the list.
Then, the next time you start to feel any of these dark feelings, grab your phone and pull up the notes. Review the symptoms and compare them to how you are feeling. Your checklist in your Wikipedia of Fear can be the first sign to yourself that you’re going to be OK. You’ve been here before and you lived!
As you become more adept with this coping skill, you can try adding to your symptom checklists in the middle of an attack. You become an observer of your own episode, which gives you some distance, and doing this also helps create a good distraction for yourself.
Below are excerpts from notes I wrote in my phone about an attack I had in 2015.
January 5, 2015, 5–11pm
• Cold hands
• Cold feet
• Stomach gets sick
• Can’t sit still
• Dry mouth
• Keep getting up and walking around
• Can’t stop looking up things on my phone
• Go to drink water, then spit it out
• Racing thoughts
• Can’t focus
• Worried about the future
• Can’t keep a sentence together
• Can’t focus
• Thoughts of doom
• Thoughts of shame
• I’m thinking about my boyfriend
• I’m worried I’ll look foolish in front of friends
• I’m worried I will lose everything
• I’m worried about the project at work
• I’m worried about my ex
• I’m worried I’ll be back in my 20s and get so anxious and sad that I end up in a hospital
As you can see, this anxiety attack was terrifying for me. However, becoming the historian of it somehow served as an important way for me to look at this event — and others — more objectively. Now every time I have an attack, I have a clear map of what is happening and what I can expect.
Sometimes, even with these notes, your mind will still tell you, “Hey, this is a neat trick, but dude, you’re going to die this time” — our minds are such assholes.To that end, I’ve also made it a point to list every panic attack or episode of depression I’ve had, and I keep this list handy.
This timeline of my life’s major anxiety and depressive moments serves as another reminder that I’ve come through this before.
Below is part of my “List of Places” that I use when I need to be brought back to the present moment.
• Remember going to the hospital when you were 16 in the middle of the night? May 1985
• Remember crossing the bridge on the way to New Jersey? 1989
• Remember leaving Central Station? February 1991
• Remember Rob Ward’s mother giving me a book after an attack? 1992
• Remember going to the freezer at Highs? March 1993
• Remember going to Julie’s having a panic attack? 1996
The list goes all the way up to the present day. Don’t limit yourself to just anxiety and depression — you can keep lists for anger, loneliness, rage, envy and greed. Really, there is no feeling you can’t map, document, relive and survive.
2. Binge-watch hurt to feel you’re not alone.
During a particularly vicious depressive episode, I was googling “suicide”. I stumbled on someone who posted a video about depression, I watched it, and then I got lost in the maze of .
I looked at the suggested videos and one caught my eye — the title was something along the lines of “I want to die, I’m so depressed.
” Reluctantly, I clicked on the video and started watching this person talk about their symptoms and how hopeless they felt.
I realized: I wasn’t alone in the world. There were other people me. For a moment, though, I was caught off guard. How could watching someone fall apart cancel out my own despondent feelings? What was going on?
A week later, I had a panic episode, so I tried it again. I searched for and watched videos of people having anxiety attacks, and within a few moments, sure enough, the videos helped cancel out my own anxiety.
Finding a way to feel less alone when those episodes hit me was world-changing. I doubled down on this activity, creating playlists on of all the different emotions I tended to get weighed down by: depression, panic, rage and so on. To this day, I still use the videos when my own symptom logs aren’t doing the trick.
These playlists have also created a new routine that enabled me to overcome one of my darkest emotions, one that always leads to panic and depression: anger.
For me, anger is the gateway drug to shame, and shame takes me straight to depression and anxiety. Because I needed a way to inoculate myself against anger, I started watching public freak-out videos on Reddit.These videos helped me see how ridiculous anger is and helped me spot it in myself.
Our devices don’t have to be our hiding place, where we avoid other people or even ourselves. Instead, we can use them as bridges to create deep meaningful connections, with ourselves and with people around us.
3. Know this: You are what drains your phone battery.
I believe a person’s understanding of happiness can be found in the battery consumption section of their phone. Within every smartphone is a function — frequently in settings — that will show you which apps on your device are using the most battery power. It’s usually sorted by the last 24 hours or the last seven days.
This list can serve as a powerful map for your emotions. For instance, if you notice you’ve been feeling better than normal, chances are the apps listed in the last 24 hours are radically different from the apps you’ve used in the past seven days. The opposite is also often true: if you’re feeling blue, your app usage may have changed.
The next time you’re feeling great, take a screenshot of your battery percentages and try to keep track of your happy apps — whatever you’ve been spending more time with lately that has kept you feeling good (and not feeling bad). More important, when you start feeling a bit low, pull up your list of happy apps and try to use those apps that bring you joy.
For me, I’ve seen that I’m most happy when using Evernote, Maps and Calendar, and I’m most depressed and sad when I’m spending time and battery power on , Fitbit and .
When times get tough, I avoid sad apps and focus on happy ones. Get to know who you are by examining the reflection coming back to you in the apps you use.
It’s fixing your digital hair, but with more profound implications for your overall well-being.
Excerpted with permission from the new book Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Could Save Yours by Chris Dancy. Published by St. Martin’s Press. Copyright © 2018 by Chris Dancy.
Watch Chris Dancy’s TEDxVienna talk here:
Help me with my anxiety – The Mix
Do you suffer from anxiety? Do you wish it would leave you the hell alone? We spoke to psychologist Dr Rick Norris and members of The Mix's community for tips on how to to get your life back.
You can break free from fear, but it takes work.
First things first, if you’re really struggling, we recommend you go and chat to your GP. If your anxiety is affecting your day-to-day life, all the time, and you’re constantly on edge, then it’s worth seeking professional help.
But, if you feel you can tackle this on your own terms, for now, here are some tips to help.
Talk to someone
You don’t want to go through this alone — tell someone how you feel. Ideally, choose someone you trust, someone you know isn’t going to fob you off with annoying phrases , ‘just snap it’, or ‘don’t worry about it’.
Start keeping a happy diary
We know, cheesier than a slab of Brie on a Ritz cracker, but it does help reprogram your brain.
“When you have anxiety, you’re always focusing on what went wrong; what might happen. You’re not looking at the positives in life,” says psychologist Dr Rick Norris. “But you can choose not to do this. You can challenge your thinking patterns.”
Every night, write down two or three positive things in your life, past or present. What are you proud of? Who are the best people in your life? What are you good at? What do you love doing? If you start noticing the good too, you’re starting to balance things out.
Crappy things do happen, and you’re not making them up, but the good things in life are just as real as the bad.
Push yourself your comfort zone
When you’re anxious, it’s easy to talk yourself EVERYTHING. If you’re not doing something because you’re worried, ask yourself: ‘how important is this?’ If you’re not that bothered, then don’t worry about getting yourself anxious about it. However, if you really want to do something, but your anxiety is stopping you, this may be worth tackling. Gradually, though.
“Fighting fear is about gradual repeated exposure,” says Dr Rick. “Do what scares you in baby steps and build up. If you feel massive fear or dread it’s better to go slow than jump in at the deep end and then have a negative experience.”
How does this work in practise? Well, imagine you’re scared of water, for example. Start by just going to a swimming pool and watching people – don’t even bring your swim stuff with you. Next, bring your stuff, but still promise yourself you won’t get in. Then, when you’re ready, only get in the shallow end for two minutes.
Doing scary things in tiny chunks means you’re more ly to do them and, more importantly, have a positive experience doing them. Give yourself due congratulations for every brave step you take, however tiny.
Try allocating a time of day to ‘worry time’
Again, this sounds Primary School homework, but if you’re worrying all day, every day, it can be utterly knackering.
Try setting yourself a time of day to just let rip with worry – preferably not too close to bedtime. Then, if a worry crops up, you can tell yourself: ‘I’ll worry about this in my allocated time’.
You usually find the concern has calmed down by the time you get to your worry period.
Look into self-help online courses and books
Some types of therapy for anxiety don’t require leaving your house and going to talk to a therapist. Techniques such as mindfulness or CBT can be self-taught, using online courses, or self-help books. It’s always worth asking your GP for recommendations, as not all courses/books are reputable. They may also be able to help you decide if your issues need more attention than self-help.
Anxiety help from The Mix’s community
We asked other young people who suffer from anxiety what their top tips are for dealing with it. Here’s what they said:
Idris says: “Having goals in mind helps, I want to be able to go into a crowded bar. Get support from your friends and family too. When I’m spiralling, just hearing someone’s voice can be really grounding.”
Modo says: “Ask for help, don’t be ashamed. You need to tackle this head-on. If I feel myself catotrophising, I go for a run. Exercise really helps – you can’t panic and get anxious when you’re tired and breath.”
Vikki says: “When you feel your anxiety getting control, it’s OK to go outside and get some fresh air. Just removing yourself from the situation helps. Stop, have a drink, and focus on your breathing.”
Getting to Know My Anxiety
I live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Which means that anxiety presents itself to me every day, throughout the day. As much progress as I have made in therapy, I still find myself getting sucked into what I to call “the anxiety vortex.”
Part of my recovery has involved recognizing when I start to head down into the rabbit hole, and using tools to take a step (or a lot of steps) back. I hear from more and more people that it’s a challenge to identify anxious behaviors for what they are, so here are some of my own red flags, and what I do to help myself when they come up.
1. Develop body awareness
An important place to start recognizing your anxious behavior is your own body. Many of us perceive that anxiety is all in our heads, when in reality, it is also very much physical.
When my thoughts start to race and indecision kicks in, I turn my awareness away from my mind toward what is physically happening to me. When my breathing has become faster, when I start sweating, when my palms tingle, and when I sweat, I know that my anxiety level is increasing.Our physical reactions to anxiety are highly individual. Some people experience headaches, stomachaches, or backaches, while for others, breaths become quick and shallow. Beginning to notice what happens in my body and how it feels has given me a powerful way to spot anxiety symptoms.
Even if I’m not sure what is making me become anxious, taking note of my physical changes helps me to slow down and …
2. Take deep, slow breaths
The first time I learned about deep breathing was in the psych hospital. “Yes!” I thought, “I’ll just breathe and the anxiety will stop.” It didn’t work. I was still panicking. While I doubted if it was helping me at all, I stuck with it for months and months.
Mainly because every therapist and psychiatrist told me to do it, so I figured there was something to their advice, and at that point I had nothing to lose. It took a lot of practice for breath work to make a difference.
While taking deep breaths in the midst of a panic attack will help to a certain extent, I have found that the real power of deep breathing happens every day — when I am thinking ahead about my day, or driving to work, or at my desk, or cooking dinner. I don’t wait until I am in a full-blown anxiety crisis to breathe deeply.
As soon as my thoughts start to race, or I feel any of my physical symptoms, my deep breathing kicks in. Sometimes, I leave my desk for a few minutes and stand outside and breathe. Or I pull over and inhale, exhale. It’s something I can use anywhere to help me hit the pause button and reconnect to my body.
3. Examine the everyday
For me, anxiety isn’t as focused on major catastrophic events. Rather, it’s hidden in my daily activities. From choosing what to wear, to planning an event, to buying a gift, I become obsessed with finding the perfect solution.
From small decisions to big ones, I will compare and check every and all options until I have exhausted myself. Before my episode of major depression and anxiety in 2014, I didn’t think that I had an anxiety problem.Shopping, overachieving, people pleasing, fear of failure — now I can look back and see that anxiety defined many of my personal and professional habits. Becoming educated about anxiety disorders has helped me a lot. Now, I know what to call it.
I know what the symptoms are and can connect them to my own behavior. As frustrating as it can be, at least it makes more sense. And I’m not afraid to get professional help or take medication. It sure beats trying to deal with it on my own.
4. Intervene in the moment
Anxiety is a snowball: Once it starts rolling downhill, it’s very difficult to stop it. Body awareness, breathing, and knowing my symptoms are only one side of the coin. The other is actually changing my anxious behavior, which in the moment is extremely difficult to do because the momentum is so powerful.
Whatever need is driving the anxious behavior feels urgent and dire — and, for me, that is usually an underlying fear of rejection or not being good enough. Over time, I have found that I can almost always look back and see that choosing the perfect dress wasn’t so important in the grand scheme of things.
Oftentimes, anxiety isn’t really about what we are anxious about.
These are a few tools that help me intervene with myself in the moment:
Just walking away. If I am getting sucked into indecision and keep checking, researching, or going back and forth, I gently encourage myself to drop it for now.
Setting a timer on my phone. I give myself 10 more minutes to check different options, and then I need to stop.
Keeping lavender oil in my purse. I pull the bottle out and smell it at moments when I feel the anxiety rising. It distracts me and engages my senses in a different way.
Talking to myself, sometimes out loud. I recognize that I am feeling scared and ask myself what else I can choose to do to help me feel safe.
Being active. Exercise, going for a brief walk, or even just standing up and stretching helps me to reconnect with my body and takes me the intensity of the moment. Having some backup activities handy helps: cooking, crafts, watching a movie, or cleaning can help me choose a different path.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I have come to realize that anxiety is common. In fact, it’s the most common mental illness in the United States. So very many others experience symptoms of anxiety, even if they aren’t diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
While I don’t wear a sign around my neck that says “ANXIETY PROBLEM,” I do talk to family, friends, and even some colleagues about it. I can’t underscore how much this has helped me. It has shown me that I am not alone.
I learn from how other people cope with it, and I help them by sharing my own experiences. And I feel less isolated when things get tough.
Those who are closest to me can help me recognize when my anxiety is becoming stronger, and while that isn’t always easy to hear, I do appreciate it. They wouldn’t know how to be there for me if I didn’t share.
Getting to know my own anxiety has been the key to helping me unlock it. I used to gloss over behaviors that concerned me and didn’t tune into how my body reacted to stress.
While it has been difficult to face, it’s almost a relief to understand how GAD impacts me from day to day. The more awareness I develop, the less often I find myself sucked down into the vortex.
Without that knowledge, I couldn’t get the help I needed from others and, most importantly, I couldn’t get the help I need from myself.Amy Marlow lives with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, and is a public speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, Blue Light Blue, which was named one of Healthline’s best depression blogs.
Anxiety Tips That Helped Me Stop Feeling So Overwhelmed All the Time
he first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my email. I sleep with my phone under my pillow, and every morning, I hold my breath and scroll for anything important.
It’s almost always your standard deluge of morning messages, but sometimes there are emails about exciting project opportunities writing jobs or speaking gigs — the kinds of things I should be thrilled about given they’re how I earn an income.
But in reality, they’re yet another entry on the list of things that make me anxious.
When you’re an anxious person, even something good can fill you with dread and panic: How will I deal with this important thing?
I work for myself, which means I’m in a perpetual state of semi-panic.
My mind is filled with constant nagging worries that any self-employed person will easily recognize: What if my tax bill is huge? What if I fall and break my arm on the Metro? Should I have never quit my 9 to 5? Throw my anxiety into the mix, and most of my days are spent with a low-level fear that something bad will happen and that once I go through the internal whodunit in my mind, I’ll realize that I was to blame the entire time. The call was coming from inside the house; I am ruining my own life with my own behavior.
As a full-time creative professional who writes, hosts a podcast and designs social media content, a lot of my daily work involves staying on top of the kinds of tasks that get more difficult to deal with the longer I put them off.
And they’re the kinds of tasks that feel so good to put off: answering that email, tracking down those forms, scheduling that appointment, booking that flight. I tell myself I deserve to put them off for a day, so I do. And then I do it again and again and again. Then it becomes habit.
But in my line of work, putting off an email could mean missing out on a big gig or a deadline and rent money.
I was recently offered a dream opportunity: to produce a live episode of my podcast at South by Southwest in front of a sizeable audience. It was the perfect launchpad for a budding creative myself, but it was also a perfect storm of things that make me anxious.
As soon as the opportunity landed in my inbox, a familiar chorus line of anxiety was set in motion.
Would I overthink the confirmation email reply and never send it? Would I be too nervous to cold email people? Would I stress about booking the last-minute flight and put it off until it was financially prohibitive? How would I ruin this golden opportunity? How much would I hate myself for it if I did?While I voiced all these anxieties aloud to a close friend, I realized I sounded a pessimistic broken record and that I wasn’t even giving myself the chance to imagine it would be a success; I had already decided the outcome would be a negative one. It was a moment of clarity.
Wendy Wood, a social psychologist who studies the neurology of habits and how to break them, writes that a key component of breaking habitual behavior is giving yourself space to do things differently.
“First you must derail existing habits and create a window of opportunity to act on new intentions,” she says.
The way someone who’s trying to quit soda might have to train themselves to stop wandering down the soda aisle when grocery shopping, Wood says that disrupting your old cues is one of the keys to breaking bad habits.
In other words, if anxiety has me feeling a broken record, I need to actually do something — anything! — to break the repetition. Stop sleeping with my phone under my phone under my pillow. Delete the Instagram app. Have a friend change my password. Work from anywhere other than my apartment and vow to not return until I’ve finished. (If you already have a great tactic, add it in the comments.)
Wendy Wood’s words really spoke to me. I don’t have to play this the way I always do, I thought to myself. I may have anxiety, but that doesn’t mean anxiety has me.
Bolstered by the notion that I could break the pattern, that I was in control, I took a deep breath and began. I listed out the steps I needed to take in descending order and gave myself an hour to complete them. I emailed the important people. I booked the guests. I bought the last-minute flights.
Instead of dwelling on the dread these kinds of tasks often elicit in me, I rolled up my sleeves and did them before I had the chance to procrastinate. And you know what? My last-minute flight to Austin didn’t bankrupt me or crash into the ocean. The important guests confirmed their attendance and then showed up.
People came and enjoyed themselves. The live show went mostly as planned, and I was elated. And even though there were some tiny snags ( when a guest showed up so close to showtime I could only assume I’d given her the wrong address), it was okay. Nobody got fired. Nobody died. Nobody got screamed at.Even if things don’t go 100 percent smoothly, they went, which is better than not going at all.
This whole experience showed me is that I am not my anxiety and that I can break the cycle of feeling unable to tackle things that I’ve deemed “hard.” If any of this sounds familiar to you and your creative process, here are some tactics I’ve found helpful while tackling the biggest anxious hitch in my own.
Spend Some Time Thinking About Why Things That “Should Be Exciting” Feel Stressful to You
In an interview with the Creative Independent, sociologist Eve Ewing explains how she handles that all-too familiar feeling of really, really not wanting to do something.
She says: “I’m a big believer that when you don’t want to do something, there’s a deeper reason.
When I find myself dragging or having a hard time, I step back and ask, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Is it ‘cause the project isn’t important? Why’d you do it then? Is it just for money? you agreed to do this just for money or you said yes because the person seemed important?’ And I’m , ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do that again.’”
I first read that when I was in a tailspin of writer’s-block-induced self-loathing, and it sparked another moment of clarity. If I don’t actually want to do something I agreed to do, acknowledging my reluctance can help me decide next steps.
I know it’s easy to ignore those feelings and struggle through the associated tasks instead, but next time you find yourself filled with dread and anxiety about a project, ask yourself: Is it early enough in the project that you can responsibly pull the plug? If you can’t bow out, who can you ask for help? Can you ask for a deadline extension? Even if none of that is possible, spend a little time ruminating on the why of this anxiety and remember its source; this can give you clarity when faced with a similar decision next time. It will give you a lot of insight into how you work.
Be Nike and Just Do It
According to a Lifehacker piece about procrastination, we start feeling anxious about tasks the moment they plop onto our plates (no sh*t), and that anxiety worsens the longer we put tasks off.
If you’re not actually making progress, then nothing happens during this phase other than the accumulation of bad feelings.
So, if you want to save yourself weeks of feeling an unproductive piece of crap, the only logical thing to do is just start.Easier said than done, I know. Here are some tips I use: Try setting a timer and writing nonstop for five minutes. Or break your project down into small, easier-to-manage tasks. If writing and sending a two-minute email will get the ball rolling on a project, start there and use the momentum it creates to fuel your next steps.
At Harvard Business Review, economist and executive coach Caroline Webb writes that zeroing in on the smallest step is a good way to dive into a daunting project.
You know how procrastinating feels so good? That’s because research shows your brain is pretty much always biased toward feeling good now over feeling good later.
To combat that, Webb says you should identify that easy-to-accomplish first step, “something that’s so easy that even your present-biased brain can see that the benefits outweigh the costs of effort.”
Make an Accountability Pact
I’m lucky to have friends in my life who hold me accountable; they recognize my patterns (when I go MIA, it means I’m stressing) and they help get me back on track.
Having an easier time staying on track when friends are involved isn’t unusual: A study from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Aberdeen asked a group of participants to find a new “gym buddy” while a different group worked out solo. In the end, the group who leaned on supportive workout pals worked out more.
Asking a friend or roommate to keep you on track requires vulnerability and clear communication. This can feel scary, so offer to make it a two-way street.
Maybe your friend helps you beat procrastination while you help her get to the gym more. Maybe you both text one another when you want to stray from your paths.
This way, you’re both sharing in the vulnerability while offering mutual support.
Once you’ve completed the project that caused you anxiety, reward yourself! Getting a handle on anxiety isn’t easy. Celebrate small victories. You train a puppy by giving her a treat when she exhibits behavior you want her to repeat, right? Think of yourself as a more complex version of a puppy and reward yourself for completing tasks.
When I finally tackle a handful of things I’ve been putting off, I celebrate by watching “bad TV.” And while I’m still in the middle of the work, knowing that I get to watch whatever I want (for as long as I want) once I finish keeps me going. It’s a literal light at the end of the tunnel.
Webb says treating yourself is effective because it helps take the edge off having to do things we don’t want to do. “We can make the cost of effort feel even smaller if we link that small step to something we’re actually looking forward to doing. In other words, tie the task that we’re avoiding to something that we’re not avoiding,” she writes.For me, anxiety is that mean girl from junior high who was always there to point out my flaws, only she lives inside my head. While I may never fully silence the inner monologue that drives me to obsess on the scary “what ifs” of any given situation, I’ve learned that I don’t have to let it stop me from doing the things I want to do in life — starting with my to-do list.
Bridget Todd is writer and digital strategist who lives a suitcase. She is the cohost of the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You. Her is @BridgetMarie and her IG is @BridgetMarieinDC
lllustrations by Gabrielle Lamontagne.
7 Signs That Made Me Realize I Needed Help For My Anxiety
most people who have dealt with anxiety for as long as they can remember, I’ve always known that I worry more than most people.
You can only hear the phrase “you worry too much” before you start to think there might be something different about you, and something you can do about it.
Even though I’ve exhibited signs of an anxiety disorder since childhood, I just didn’t know that much about how anxiety works, and it took me a while to realize that my anxiety wouldn't just go away without help.
While it’s true that managing anxiety is part of life no matter who you are, there is a difference between experiencing anxiety sometimes and living with an anxiety disorder. Almost everyone feels anxious before taking a big test or giving a presentation at work.
And in both children and adults, experiencing bouts of anxiety during autumn isn’t unusual. But for people with anxiety disorders, there’s almost never just one trigger to point to.
Since chronic anxiety can be caused (at least in part) by a chemical imbalance in the brain, it never really goes away either — but there are ways that it can be managed.
Having an anxiety disorder is inherently different than dealing with typical anxiety, though.
Chronic anxiety happens due to a number of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors — and people with anxiety disorders can feel anxious as hell even when they have nothing pressing to worry about.
But it can take a little while for people with chronic anxiety to realize that it's not going to go away without a little help — and it's totally okay, and encouraged, to get help. These were some of the signs that helped me to realize that my anxiety wasn't going to go away on its own.
Nothing Cured My Anxiety Entirely
For most of my life, I thought of my anxiety as this shameful personality flaw that I need to cure as quickly as possible. I've tried anything and everything that I thought might work, but nothing has eased my anxiety entirely.
Back when I was a church-going kid, I tried to pray my anxiety away, but the lack of results only made me feel more anxious. When I went to college, I tried to study my anxiety away with extra credit projects, multiple jobs, and honors coursework.
After college, I tried to work my anxiety away by juggling multiple day jobs and a budding freelance writing career — but staying that busy (and sleep-deprived) for that long eventually led to panic attacks and burnout.When I fell in love for the first time, I thought having sex with my then-partner would ease the anxiety I felt about our relationship — but it actually contributed to my anxiety.
I've also tried managing my anxiety with nightly yoga, daily exercise, long walks, anti-anxiety teas, writing, meditation, traveling, music, work, medication, therapy, dietary changes, playing with animals, spending time in nature, and cleaning.
All of these things have helped me tremendously, too. I'm super-grateful for my coping methods, and I rely heavily on them to keep functioning.
Not one of them has made my anxiety disappear completely, of course, but I'm able to manage it much better than I used to.
I Realized I'd Been Having Anxiety About My Anxiety For A Long Time
I said above, I felt concerned about my anxiety from a very young age. But back then, I worried about my anxiety for very different reasons than I do now.
When I was younger, I wanted to get a handle on my anxiety primarily because I thought it made me a bad person and a bad Christian, because of the enormous stigma I encountered daily.
The churches I grew up in thought of mental illness as demonic possession, and worrying was considered to be both sinful and ungrateful. Thankfully, I learned that this is in no way true of mental illness, but a stigma held by my particular church.
My concern didn't disappear when I abandoned religion, but it definitely changed. All throughout college I worried about my anxiety just because I hated how it felt. I didn't know then that unchecked anxiety can increase your risk of developing diabetes and a bunch of other serious health problems — I just knew that being anxious felt horrible and made my life way more difficult.
I still feel uneasy about how debilitating my anxiety can get sometimes, but now that I know having anxiety about your anxiety is actually a sign of generalized anxiety disorder, I don't feel as freaked out about it as I used to. I mean, I'm always aware of my anxiety, and I still get scared when I feel it spike. I just know enough about anxiety now that I don't take my anxious feelings quite as seriously as I used to. Which leads us to…
I Researched Anxiety & Wrote About It Extensively
Almost two years ago, I was given an assignment to write about the signs of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Everything I read about GAD made so much sense that I started covering mental health more and more after that.
Since then, I've researched my butt off, interviewed many mental health professionals, and written about anxiety from both a scientific and a personal perspective. I now know enough about how anxiety works to keep it from completely ruling my life.
I Remembered Being An Anxious Kid
I've known for many years that my anxiety issues began in childhood, but it's only been in the past couple of years that I've really thought about all the ways my anxiety manifested itself when I was a kid. Now that I can view my anxious childhood through a more informed lens, I'm realizing that the signs of my anxiety disorder have always been there—I just didn't know what to look for.
I remember being seven years old and needing at least an hour to fall asleep, simply because I couldn't shut my mind down. I remember having my first panic attack when I was seven years old. I remember developing nervous ticks, rubbing my eyebrows and chewing on the inside of my mouth until I tasted blood.
I remember going through a phase of hypochondria where I really felt sick. I remember feeling so guilty when I couldn't control my near-constant stream of weird thoughts that I would clean for hours as a kind of penance.I remember taking to the woods with my dog and a journal whenever my anxiety left me feeling stupid and hopeless. I remember holding my breath when my anxiety spiked nowhere, and I remember having all of the most comforting psalms bookmarked in my Bible.
There are so many other things I remember about being an anxious kid, but you probably get the picture.
I Realized I'd Been Collecting Coping Methods For Years
Before mental health coverage was part of my job, I didn't know that finding healthy and effective coping methods is a pretty standard move among most high-functioning anxious people. I should have realized sooner though, because I'd been collecting coping methods since I was a little girl.
I've been exercising, cleaning, spending time with animals, studying, reading, writing, working, spending time in nature, jumping in hot showers, and socializing with loved ones to combat my anxiety for as long as I can remember. Still, I was well into my twenties before I realized that so many of my oldest and healthiest habits ( exercising and walking outdoors) double as my most reliable coping methods.
I Took A Closer Look At My Family's Mental Health History
My family has always been diligent when it comes to discussing my risk of developing breast and skin cancer.
My Grandma Liz died of breast cancer before I was born and my Grandpa Bill beat skin cancer when I was a kid, so I've been slathering on sunblock and doing self breast exams since forever.
My family's mental health history was never discussed though, and I think lack of education was part of that.
It's abundantly clear to me now that my grandma dealt with severe anxiety for a long time, but I don't think the rest of my family fully understood what was going on wither her. I remember how she would smoke cigarettes to cope because she didn't her “nerve pills.
” I remember how she would blame her stomach aches and her consistently poor appetite on nervousness, and I remember that she hardly ever stopped moving. She spent hours in her garden and her house was always perfectly clean, but despite her many coping methods, my grandma's anxiety has only gotten worse over the years.
She's suffering from Alzheimers and dementia now, and I can't help but wonder if a lifetime of untreated anxiety is partially to blame.
I Talked To Open Minded People About My Anxiety
With the exception of a few friends and one Sunday school teacher, I was in my twenties before I started meeting people who spoke about mental illness in an informed and non-judgmental way.
It's not that my family shamed me for having anxiety, but they didn't really know how to help me either. Plus, I grew up in a part of the U.S.
where mental health stigma is still particularly rough.
In fact, it wasn't until I left the Midwest to spend some time in Brooklyn that I found myself surrounded by people who didn't think of anxiety as a choice or a character flaw.Everyone from my friends to my editors to my dates were open-minded about mental illness, and not one of them suggested that anxiety disorders aren't real.
That experience, plus therapy, plus all the interviews I've conducted with mental health professionals over the past year, has helped me finally see my anxiety for what it is: a very treatable illness that won't go away on its own.
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