Anxiety can be a ball and chain dragging many individuals behind. In our growing society full of dead lines and appointments, everyone growing ever more concerned about categorization, criticism, and perfectionism, it can be difficult for those struggling with anxiety disorders to catch up to the daily grind. And the worst part is, this sometimes debilitating condition is too often overlooked, ridiculed, or brushed aside. What many people do not realize is the serious detrimental effects Anxiety and Stress has on the human body. Everyone, to some degree, will experience anxiety and stress as a normal response to challenges around you, whether it be an upcoming test or the shortening line of a roller coaster. However, those suffering from Anxiety Disorders may easily become overwhelmed by what may be considered ‘simple’ tasks to other members of the population, opening sufferers up to even more ridicule and preventing them from speaking up. And while there is a wide range of treatments being made available, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that two-thirds of the population suffering will not receive treatment.
Having struggled with Anxiety for many years now, I felt the best way I could contribute positively to the community of those suffering would be to give you readers an idea of how I deal with anxiety. I hope through doing this I may be able to help someone else reach out for help or even take control of their anxiety on their own terms. (Just remember, you never have to do it alone.)
- Stress or Anxiety?
One of the biggest contributors to the low treatment rate is the fact that many are nervous to come forward. Anxiety has been recorded to effect women at higher rates than it does men, however many speculate that this may be due to men’s apprehensiveness towards admitting mental illness. It is normal to experience stress. As a part of our bodies natural fight or flight response we are programmed to experience a spike of adrenaline and other changes when presented with stressful or dangerous situations. However, those suffering from severe Anxiety Disorders feel this ‘fight or flight’ more often than normal, and often towards things that would not normally be perceived as a threat such as going into public, facing choices, making purchases, etc. Simple tasks can prove near impossible as suffers can often be plagued by feelings of dread, rapid pulse, sweating, trembling, trouble breathing, nausea and a variety of other symptoms and can be triggered by varying things/thoughts.
When experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks, I have found that one of the most important things you can do for yourself as soon as possible is to focus on the Internal rather than the external. Let me explain. For example, a technique known as square breathing is one I have made use of often. It is relatively simple. Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to four as you do. Hold the breath in for another count of four. Next slowly breath out of your mouth, counting slowly to four again. Lastly, rest (no breaths in or out) for a count of four before repeating. This not only helps to control your breathing to prevent fainting but is also an excellent way to help clear the mind. Easier said than done of course. Honestly, I doubted the idea mid panic, but after a few rounds of steady focus, it becomes hard to think about anything except, ‘1, 2, 3, 4’.
It is important, in the midst of severe anxiety, to attempt to distance yourself from the issue. And by this I do not mean to ignore your problems or just stay curled up warm and safe at home (as nice as that would be). Rather I mean, try to focus on things that you know. Things you can control. Your hands and feet, wiggling your fingers and toes, planting feet firmly, holding onto a solid structure may allow you to feel a sense of comfort and control.
The most important external influence in your recovery is those close to you. If you believe that someone you know may be suffering from anxiety, it never hurts to ask. A question as simple as “You seem stressed lately, is everything alright?” can mean the difference in whether that individual continues to suffer in silence or steps onto the path of recovery. The best thing one can do for oneself when suffering from anxiety, as difficult as it sometimes can be, is to reach out. To parents, siblings, someone you trust. If you’re worried they won’t understand, fear ridicule, or feel they will not help, there are always more options. Anyone can be a starting point in building your safety net and building trust. From a guidance counselor or teacher you trust, online counselors, hotlines, phone counselling, even a local walk in clinic can help you on your way. You never have to struggle alone. This was and can still be one of the hardest parts for me but I do not state lightly that a faithful support group is a huge advantage.