It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.’ – Matt Haig
Anxiety is the name I give to the cruel, restricting grasp over me. From a young age, it’s been there; haunting me. The symptoms of anxiety have followed me through life – the ‘butterflies’, heart palpitations, recurrent thoughts, panic attacks and more.
From primary school, the signs were there. I was very reluctant to make friends and often unwilling to attempt communication. I would much rather spend time alone, either reading or studying, than face my anxiety head on. Fast forward to my teen years where there was a sudden shift. At sixteen, the symptoms began: Sweaty palms, heart palpitations, never-ending negative thought processes, constant over-thinking and my first panic attack. Simple conversations would initiate the fight or flight response; a big adrenaline rush.
Anxiety made me skip school, replace learning with crying and spend far too long hiding in the girls’ bathroom. Even simple everyday tasks caused me so much worry. For example: eating. Lunchtime was the part of the school day I absolutely dreaded. Not because of the awful tasting school dinners (!), but for the continuous negative thoughts and repetitive ‘What if?…’ experiences. What if I don’t have enough money? What if they’re out of food? What if I drop everything on my walk to my table? I’d convince myself while standing in the lunch queue that I’m stood incorrectly and shouldn’t be there, while meticulously counting my money. Once I sat down, I’d convince myself that I ‘looked wrong’, that I’m eating too loud, or embarrassing myself. I believed that I was being judged, that people were judging my body posture, my food or the way that I ate, that I was holding something wrong, doing everything wrong. Making everything I said or did impossible. My brain: my biggest critique.
Anxiety as a mental illness is so much more than ‘a feeling of unease or worry’, it can stop you from what would and should be perfectly happy memories. It prevented me from accepting opportunities, asking for help and challenging myself. It really does impact your life. I’m glad to say that I no longer experience anxiety as severe as I did during my school days. But it’s still there, lurking, ready to pounce.
There’s a few different methods that I have used over the years to try and manage my anxiety. This includes deep breathing and mindfulness to manage the anxiety and panic attacks, and also many attempts to change my thought processes. For example, if I experienced a negative anxious thought such as ‘What if it goes wrong?’ I would correct myself with the reply: ‘What if it goes right?’. Another method that I used was to plan. Excessively. Although this did take quite a while. I’d write down every single little thing that I was feeling anxious about for a particular situation, and plan out a response to each of my anxious thoughts. For example, if I was worried about missing the bus, I’d make sure I had plenty of money left over for a taxi… and also the phone number for the taxi, the conversation plan written down, and maybe another back up plan… just in case (Yeah, my anxiety really was awful!).
Thank you for reading my post on anxiety. If you’re experiencing this also, then please consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
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