Is It Anxiety, Or Is It Just You?

Is It Anxiety, Or Is It Just You?

A response to "Millennials: Anxiety Might Not Be The Problem"

Your anxiety might be less real than you think it is.

There, I said it. Now let’s have this conversation. I’ve found that’s the best function of platforms like Odyssey and opinion sections in newspapers: they start conversations.

Sometimes I’ll have an idea that I really want to write about, but can’t find the words to. The opinion that my generation is letting the term “anxiety” cripple ourselves is one of them. But sometimes, I’m lucky enough to find an article someone else wrote that does put my idea into words. Then I can add to it to keep the conversation going, and that’s really why I’m a writer in the first place.

I had been trying and failing to write an article warning Millennials not to let “anxiety” get in their way. Then last week, basically by chance, I stumbled across Monica Galarza’s great article, “Millennials: Anxiety Might Not Be The Problem.”

Galarza makes so many great points in her article, and I agree with all of them. She also starts out the article by acknowledging mental illness, anxiety disorders in particular, as very real problems that people deal with.

That is what’s made this article difficult for me to write in the past. I am a student of Psychology, and have also grown up with a family history of mental illness. From first hand experience I know how these illnesses can affect someone, and how much they, and the people they care about, can suffer because of it.

I know that there are many studies that show the existence of mental illnesses. However, there are also a fair number of studies that show the mere act of smiling can boost your mood. Don’t believe me? Here’s an article from Psychology Today: Smile: A Powerful Tool, and another one from How Stuff Works: Does Smiling Make You Happy?

While we don’t have total control over our emotions, we have more power to decide how we feel than we realize. That’s why I agree with Galarza’s argument that a certain extent of our anxiety might just be in our heads, so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying anxiety is made up. I know I have felt my fair share of anxiety. And when I do, I name it. Because for me, being able to put a label on how I’m feeling gives me power over it. I then know what it is, so I know it’s going to go away, I just have to ride it out. I know what has helped me feel calmer in the past, and I know what has helped others ride out anxiety as well. All of this helps me master the emotion so that I’m still in control and can still be productive.

I’m going to reiterate: I know this doesn’t work for everyone. People with actual anxiety disorders may need the help of medication or therapy to be able to do this. However, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, only 18.1% of the U.S. adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder.

Given, anxiety disorders do tend to show up during adolescence and young adulthood, and, because of the nature of college, college students may be slightly more prone to episodes of anxiety, but that’s still far from the entire generation of Millennials. And yet the entire generation of Millennials seems to have claimed anxiety as their own.

Like Galarza says, our generation isn’t “any more entitled to anxiety than previous generations.” I’ll admit the world is a scary place right now. I have my concerns about the Trump presidency. But the world was a scary place during the Cold War, and the Holocaust, and the Great Depression too. We don’t have it worse. In a lot of ways, thanks to the rapid advancement of technology in recent years, we have it better. We’ve solved many of the problems of the past, most notably disease and epidemics. And with the rate at which technology is moving, there’s not reason to think we won’t be able to solve the problems of the future.

“We have all the reason to feel positive towards the future, yet we don’t.” Like Galarza, I too have made this point in the past. Negativity seems to be in vogue. Galarza identifies anxiety as a “generational style” going so far as to refer to it as “such a thing.” And she’s not wrong.

Galarza states, “It might sound like a contradiction, but the fact that we have been able to diagnose anxiety as quickly, and treat it with medication/therapy is probably also what has enabled it to exist as powerfully as it does today.” Anxiety exists today, in part, because we have a name for it. But humans have always had anxiety.

Anxiety is a side effect of having the powerful brain that we do and living in the kind of society that we do. And anxiety is more prevalent today because we finally have a name for it and way of diagnosing it. But this advancement should have given us power over anxiety.

Instead, it has restored power to anxiety itself. But that’s our fault. Our generation has learned helplessness down to a tee. We always have an excuse, and we latch on to anything we can use as one.

That’s how too many people use anxiety. Meeting new people is always going to be nerve-wracking. So is pursuing your dream job, and doing anything you never have before. Experiencing anxiety in these kinds of situations is normal for everybody. So anxiety isn’t a valid excuse not to do these things.

Anxiety is a problem for some people, but it’s not a problem for everyone. So next time you want to blame something on anxiety, try making the scary change or taking the scary leap instead. It probably won’t be as scary as you thought. Excitement and nervousness are the same feeling, so next time choose excitement. It really is up to you. Give the power back to yourself.

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The Truth Behind High Functioning Anxiety

How I plan to develop a new relationship with my anxiety.

I am just a girl. A girl with dreams. A girl with worries. A girl with so much love in her heart sometimes it hurts.

I am a girl that gets frustrated but not sad. A girl who complains a lot but is so grateful. A girl who loves creating inside jokes with complete strangers almost as much as the pursuit of making eye contact with every soul that passes by.

So it surprises people when I am physically unable to dial a simple seven-digit number and make a phone call. When I am physically unable to concentrate on anything important until I hear my teacher make it to my name at the bottom of the attendance list, as I rehearse in my mind whether or not I will say "here" or simply raise my hand. When I am physically unable to ask a store employee where to find an item I'm looking for because I'd rather waste 20 minutes trying to find it myself.

There are times where I feel totally alone. Don't get me wrong, I am surrounded by so many communities that play a role in my overall happiness as they support me in every area of my life. I have my home family, my home-friends family, my school-friends family, my education department family, and my diabetes family. As grateful as I am to have so many families that draw on my strengths and help me overcome my weaknesses, none of them specialize in anxiety. They find a way to help me through every other struggle in the whole wide universe except for this one. And that is what makes this so incredibly lonely. So incredibly lonely.

I feel like there's something wrong with me. I feel like I'm always overreacting when I find a task to be daunting because others don't even bat an eyelash. I feel like I'm making excuses and justifications and my reasons are almost never good enough, or at least not understood. It is exhausting to pretend you're okay with something that gives you anxiety, which you have to do often because you're afraid of the judgement you may receive as a consequence.

It is my biggest insecurity.

It's confusing, you know? I have worked so hard to build an empire of self-confidence. It started as a little box that looked like this [ ] and over the last couple of years I have filled it with leadership skills, perseverance, dedication, and courage. If you read one of my latest articles, you know I am an ambivert. Being an ambivert with anxiety is like a double whammy- my heart faces a lot of inner conflict as these aspects of my personality overlap, contradict and reinforce one another. I am just beginning to put the complicated pieces together.

But here's the thing. When I looked up "high functioning anxiety" online, I found so many things that do not apply to me. I am not a workaholic. I am a perfectionist but not in a Type A kind of way. I do not struggle with depression or have a hard time getting through each day. I don’t have any abnormal nervous habits. I do not avoid eye contact (remember, it's one of my favorite things), I do not hate making small talk, and I do not isolate myself (unless I'm introverting;).

But I worry. A lot. More than I should. About the future, things I can’t change, the unknown. I can’t fall asleep at night because my brain doesn't know how to shut off (apparently). I put too much pressure on myself to exceed expectations. I overthink I overthink I overthink. I don’t let little things go. I analyze conversations. I have trouble concentrating so I procrastinate. I have a crippling fear of letting people down. I am always thinking three steps ahead. I hate calling for take-out, going to the pharmacy, and navigating huge crowds. I hate driving on the highway, driving to anywhere I've never been, driving in the snow, and driving in the dark. I hate public speaking, I hate taking tests, and I hate when there is too much waiting time because I will think and worry and think some more.

This is what I tell people: if I don't have enough time to let myself think or worry about something and I just have to do it, then I'll do it. Sometimes I'm able to flip the switch and pretend I can do it until BABAM, see it wasn't that hard. But it was hard. I just have to pretend it's not.

I know that to get through life, there are times where that is my only option. Just pretend, persevere, and get it over with. And everybody gets nervous about things they've never done before, but then it gets better for them with time. Since I have high functioning anxiety, though, just because I prove I can do something once doesn't mean I'm suddenly cured of all my fears and next time will be an anxiety-free experience. It doesn't work like that. I don't work like that. I just have to keep pretending. It's not about the final product for me; it's all about the process.

I will have you know that I am quite the badass and I am very aware of how capable I am of accomplishing anything I want to- that part of my confident box is at an all-time high. But it's how I get there that matters to me. I know I am capable of reading a paragraph out loud in class. I know that I am very capable of putting gas in a car. I know that I am capable of driving to a nearby place that I've never been to before. But once I begin to overthink it- and I really can't help it when this happens- it's over. The anxiety may lessen in certain situations over time, but I'm beginning to accept that it's not something I will "outgrow" or that will just stop happening to me.

My anxiety is simultaneously the most inconsistent, confusing, constant, and pressing aspect of my life. It has made a nest at the top of my brain and contains wispy vines that laugh as they tie around my ankles. Every single day.

If I matched the descriptions and characteristics online, I suppose I could try medication or therapy. But the reality of accepting that as my fate is absolutely terrifying. Because that's not me. Textual evidence guys, it's not. But then where does that leave me? I'm like in between everything, always, for the rest of my life.

Then I came across the words, "develop a new relationship with your high functioning anxiety". Anyone that knows me knows how much I love developing relationships. I love to invest in, upkeep, and maintain healthy relationships with other people. And all those families I mentioned earlier? They allow me to maintain a healthy relationship with myself. But as you know, anxiety is the exception. This one I have to do on my own.

It's time for me to develop a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that is accepting. One that is kind.

I'm done pretending it doesn't exist when it does. I'm done treating it as a lighthearted joke because I'm embarrassed when people don't understand. I'm done feeling bad about myself when I feel like I can't do something as simple as asking the waiter to give separate checks. I'm done telling myself I won't succeed at something as important as my MTEL tests because I'm letting my anxiety take over. I'm done. I'm done. I'm done.

It's time for me to develop a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that is understanding. One that is productive.

I'm going to start accepting that sometimes things are harder for me overcome. I'm going to recognize the things that trigger my anxiety and focus on how to set myself up for success in every situation I'm faced with. I'm going to focus on my breathing and not on my thoughts. And everyday when I wake I'm going to tell myself: You are a badass warrior and you can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

I've tried to write this article countless times over the past two years, and we all know I've shared some deep and personal stories with the Odyssey Online. But I can literally write about my diagnosis, my guardian angel, my heartbreaks, and my inner core all day every day. This insecurity of having anxiety has suffocated me in ways that nothing else ever has.

But now I am developing a new relationship with my high functioning anxiety. One that will allow me to breathe. One that will allow me to thrive. Into the confidence box it goes [ ]. The first step for me is being able to write about it.

In case nobody has told today that you that you are a badass warrior, know that I think that you are. And I always will.

P.S. You can do this. <3

Cover Image Credit: Hannah Withee

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7 Things That Happen In The Mid-Semester Slumps

This is definitely something we all face in the middle of the semester.

It's that time of the semester where you just came back from break and all that stress is back. There's so much that needs to be done and you have no idea where to start.

1. Your workload somehow becomes endless.

I just came back from break and before I knew it, I was writing an essay, studying for a midterm, and studying for multiple quizzes when I got back. And everyone else I knew was on the same boat as me—there were some serious study parties at the library.

2. You are tired of food.

No, you’re not tired of eating but you’re tired of the food that you’re surrounded by (AKA dining hall food). You crave specific things from back home even though there is no way you’re going to get it right now.

3. You cope with your troubles with sleep.

It becomes a real problem when you schedule your naps, but you also nap when you aren’t supposed to.

4. Your room looks like a tornado hit it.

It’s funny how my room is so messy when I haven’t even been in it. And there is absolutely no time to clean it so I just sleep in the mess.

5. You give into retail therapy.

You feel the need to buy everything and don’t think about the fact that the money in your bank account is not unlimited.

6. You are stressing all the time.

There are so many things to do and so little time. In fact, there isn’t even time to stress because you can’t afford to waste a minute.

7. You want to go home and forget all your worries.

I wish I could click my heels 3 times and be back home where I can forget all my worries.

We're going to get through this. Right?

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