Life with anxiety has taught me so much about my mind, spirit, and body. I just had another panic attack, and I’m trying to use it for good: To talk openly and honestly about my mental illness. Maybe someone who will read this will find it helpful. I’m not going to talk with self-pity or sadness. I’m not going to lick my wounds. I’m going to share how anxiety has shaped me, my relationship with myself, and my self-care positively.
Having an anxiety disorder has opened my mind to and made me more aware of society’s whispered conversation on mental health. Anyone who follows celebrities like Demi Lovato has heard these conversations; but in the breadth of conversations occurring today, mental health is not the loudest. I’m a millenial, I’m aware of Demi Lovato’s advocacy for the awareness of mental health. I’m aware of Halsey’s bipolar depressive disorder. I’m aware of Chrissy Teigan’s anxiety disorder. I hear these conversations regularly. But what about my mother? When my mother received my note from an ER doctor with the words “anxiety disorder” and “psychiatrist” and “hydroxyzine” written on it, her first reaction was starkly different from my classmate’s who works in a psychiatric unit. “Stop saying mental disorder. There’s nothing wrong with you, you just need to take better care of yourself. Eat more, sleep better, stop letting every little thing worry you or stress you out.” These conversations on mental health I’ve been tuned into had not yet reached her, and if it hadn’t been through my disorder, they probably never would have. Her second reaction was fear, and finally, the same hopelessness that I’d been feeling for so long. The journey from that hopelessness to my own acceptance of my disorder has been long and difficult, but I’ve made it. I live with anxiety, I am challenged by it, yes; but I do not suffer from anxiety. So I’m bringing the conversation to this blog, because anywhere we can talk about the medical field, we can talk about an aspect of it like mental health.
What is Anxiety?
Accoring to the Mayo Clinic, “Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time.”
Some people do not consider anxiety disorders to be a mental illness, but I’ve read more article that state it is than those that say it isn’t. It can be considered an illness because of the potential to interfere with daily life.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains anxiety as, “the most common mental health concern in the United States.” In fact, an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (18%) have an anxiety disorder.
Pyschology Today points out that, “generally, anxiety arises first, often during childhood. Evidence suggests that both biology and environment can contribute to the disorder. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety; however, this does not make development of the condition inevitable. Early traumatic experiences can also reset the body’s normal fear-processing system so that it is hyper-reactive to stress.”
The ADAA clarifies that depression and anxiety disorders are not the same, “but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral symptoms. Many people who develop depression have a history of an anxiety disorder earlier in life. There is no evidence one disorder causes the other, but there is clear evidence that many people suffer from both disorders.”
Anxiety.org gives a list of common factors that can put someone at a higher risk of developing an Anxiety Disorder:
- Chemical imbalances
- Long-lasting stress
- Family history of anxiety or other mental health issues
- Abuse of biological agents such as alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication
- Incidence of other mental health disorders
- Side effects of certain medications
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
Psychology today, Mayo Clinic, and the NAMI all agree on the different psychiatric disorders that constitute ‘anxiety’. I quoted Anxiety.org on all the following definitions of each kind.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), aka “all-over” anxiety is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant sense of worry and fear that interferes with daily life. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder may experience feelings of dread, distress, or agitation for no discernible reason – psychiatrists refer to this unexplained, trigger-less anxiety as “free floating anxiety.”
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) also known as Social Phobia, is characterized by a strong and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which humiliation or embarrassment may occur. SAD often prevents people from having normal friendships, interactions, or romantic relationships, and can keep sufferers from functioning in daily life, at work, or at school.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder describes an individual’s feelings of persistent and excessive anxiety related to current or oncoming separation from an attachment figure (someone or something that provides the individual with comfort). Separation Disorder frequently occurs in children, and can induce long-lasting, continuous anxiety for periods up to six weeks. Individuals afflicted by separation anxiety disorder experience overwhelming distress and anxiety when separated from their attachment figure.
- Panic Disorder (panic attacks) are short (typically less than 15 minute) episodes of intense fear that are often accompanied by serious physical symptoms and uncontrollable feelings of dread and doom. A panic attack differs from a normal fear response in that it strikes without the presence of a threat or an oncoming attack. A person who experiences several panic attacks may develop a Panic Disorder, where the individual begins to spend a significant amount of their time worrying about having another attack, worrying that they are losing their mind, or changing their daily routine because of the panic attacks.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an Anxiety Disorder that may develop after witnessing a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, or after experiencing a serious injury. While most people experience anxious reactions after a serious traumatic effect, PTSD develops when these symptoms and negative reactions remain for long periods of time and begin to disrupt daily life and functioning.
- Selective Mutism occurs when an individual has difficulty speaking or communicating in certain environments. Selective mutism usually occurs in children – children with the disorder speak at home, with friends, or with family, but not in other situations like at school or in public. The disorder usually presents itself very early, in children under five. In selective mutism, the failure to speak and communicate interferes with daily life and lasts at least a month.
- A Phobia is a type of Anxiety Disorder that describes an excessive and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation. Phobias are different from common fears in that the anxiety associated with the object or situation is so strong that it interferes with daily life and the ability to function normally. People with phobias may go to great lengths to avoid encountering their feared object or situation.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive obsessive thoughts that result in compulsive ritualistic behaviors and routines. While it’s possible to have only obsessive symptoms, or only compulsive symptoms, they usually occur in conjunction. People suffering from OCD experience uncontrollable, distressing thoughts or fears about certain things (such as dirt, germs, or order) which then lead to compulsive behaviors performed as an attempt to alleviate worry or anxiety. Just being a “neat freak” or afraid of germs doesn’t necessarily constitute OCD – OCD is diagnosed by obsessions and compulsions which significantly interfere with daily life.
Symptoms of Anxiety
There are different categories of symptoms associated with the stress of an anxiety disorder: mental, physical, behavioral, and emotional.
Mayo Clinic’s List of Symptoms:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
See your doctor if:
- You feel like you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
- Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control
- You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
- You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — if this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately
“The physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be easily confused with other medical conditions like heart disease or hyperthyroidism. Therefore, a doctor will likely perform an evaluation involving a physical examination, an interview and lab tests. After ruling out a medical illness, the doctor may recommend a person see a mental health professional to make a diagnosis.
Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) a mental health professional is able to identify the specific type of anxiety disorder causing the symptoms as well as any other possible disorders including depression, ADHD or substance abuse which may be involved. Tackling all disorders through comprehensive treatment is the best recovery strategy.” – NAMI
Living with Anxiety
Now that you’ve got all the information on what anxiety is, how it affects you from the inside out, and how it’s handled clinically; it’s time for me to share my tips for handling it on a daily basis! I’m not going to get into medications/pharmacological treatment (because I have no authority to do so), but I will say one thing: taking a medication for this disorder, or any other disorder, doesn’t make you weak or any less of a person!
Personally, the coping methods I’ve adopted include the following
- Yoga and Meditation
- Breathing Exercises coupled with Guided Relaxation techniques
- Ensuring I get adequate rest and purposeful nutrition
- Regular exercise and conditioning
- Keeping a Journal and a schedule
- Spiritual practice
- Study techniques that prevent me from being overwhelmed by nursing school (but that only goes so far)
Anxiety has not only opened my mind and made me more aware of my mental health, it has also taught me to challenge my body. This body, with all its issues and worries that send it into overdrive and panic attacks, is the home of my being. It is not only my mind that feels the chaos of anxiety, my body does too. So naturally, I’ve developed some ways to take care of my physiological responses to anxiety. One of my ALL TIME FAVORITE yoga sequences to do DURING a PANIC ATTACK:
It’s considerably easy so it doesn’t add stress on my body, and it forces me to really focus on my breath per movement. I’ll flow through this sequence and deviate as my body tells me it needs some variation of poses. Controlling the breath helps slow down the autonomic nervous system, which is like hitting the switch on a panic attack.
Here are a few more yoga ideas simple enough for beginners from the Huffington Post
Need a yoga mat? Check out this one on Amazon, it’s only $12.99
When I journal, I either write freely about anything and everything or I pick one thing to write about and write as much as I can. I found this simple template online for a Five Minute Gratitude Journal that I also like to use. Sometimes, taking a few minutes to focus on what you’re thankful for greatly decreases your sense of angst. It doesn’t cure the problem, but it helps. I’ll talk about my effective study techniques in another post sometime in the future.
Aroma therapy is a whole other topic that I don’t know enough about to speak well on. However, I’ll just say that I keep a collection of essential oils and I like to use them in a diffuser. BUT the thing I find even more helpful is my MONQ Therapeutic Air, personal diffuser.
“Wherever you are, exhale therapeutic air to immediately access the ancient wellness art of aromatherapy. Unlike topical oils or household diffusers, MONQ is enhanced for convenience in the modern age. Experience the most direct form of aromatherapy with MONQ Personal Diffuser.”
MONQ uses 100% naturally extracted and organic essential oils, harvested from eco-friendly farms across the world. The essential oils are the highest quality, so that every breath is effective. Safety is their top priority. Follow this link to read more about how it all works.
I like to use the Zen personal essential oil diffuser the most to help with my anxiety. A lot of people ask me whether this really works for me and it honestly does. You won’t believe me until you try it yourself though. So when you decide to buy one, use my discount code BREANNA21 at checkout for a 10% discount. You’ll thank me later 😉
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, please give it a like and/or a share. Also, feel free to check out a recent post all about (free) APPS that can help you manage your anxiety by clicking here
Do you live with anxiety or another mental disorder/illness? Tell me about your coping methods in the comments below!
Last, but not least, I’ll leave the post off with this chart from an article on imgur