Out of all the people you know, chances are at least one of them suffers from an anxiety disorder. Or perhaps you have one yourself. They are the most common mental illnesses, affecting about 18 percent of the US population—but they are very complex and often difficult to understand, even for the people who actually have them.
If you are one of those people, like me, you have probably experienced feelings of loneliness because it seems like none of your friends and peers really understand what goes on inside your head. Trying to explain it can be difficult because there’s always a risk of pushing people even further away and feeling even more alienated. When my anxiety level is high, more often than not, I want to get out of my head and reach out to others, but fear stops me from doing so.
What I wish people would understand is that there’s more to anxiety than just worrying a lot. My anxiety causes me to get stuck in destructive thinking patterns that also affect my moods and behaviors. My troublesome thoughts—whether they’re about a situation I am currently in, or events from my past that I fear will happen again—start to take over and feel inescapable, and it can feel like the world is closing in around me. I start to panic and feel on edge even when there is no real danger present.
Sometimes my anxiety makes it hard for me to trust myself. It alters my perception of reality; I tend to see things as far worse than they actually are and develop irrational worries and fears. Sometimes the tiniest things—small inconveniences or problems that seem insignificant, or the mention of something unpleasant—can trigger an anxiety attack. It feels as if there’s a battle raging in my head because as the anxiety is progressing, I am also trying to convince my to calm down, that everything is fine.
When I’m feeling anxious, it’s difficult for me to concentrate on anything but that battle. Just like any other mental illness, anxiety greatly affects one’s ability to function, and it can feel nearly impossible to get any work done or interact with anyone until the feelings start to pass. As easy as it may sound to just let it go or just snap out of our thoughts, the fear and dread anxious people experience can be very powerful—usually too powerful to simply shake off.
Despite this, though, I carry on. I work hard to fight my negative thoughts and feelings so that I can be as productive as I need to be. The truth is that this is not an easy thing for people with anxiety disorders to do. We want to live normal, happy lives and be productive members of society, and we also want the people around us to understand that there will be days when our condition makes that hard. If someone confides in you that they are struggling with anxiety, bear with them and be patient. Chances are it took a lot of courage for that person to open up to you about it, and acknowledgement of their strength and bravery will mean the world to them.