Anxiety is something that I have dealt with for most of my life and there are many things I have realized from my experience with it. One of those things being that people without anxiety have no way of understanding the inner workings of the illness. I have had countless friends and family members try and calm me during a panic attack, but they do not know what to do or how to act. The only way for someone without anxiety to genuinely understand is for those of us with anxiety to try our best to explain.
1. Anxiety takes a physical toll as well as a mental one.
While anxiety is classified as a mental illness, the "side effects" of it are very much physical. Anxiety keeps you constantly on guard and you have no time to relax which can result in exhaustion. Anxiety attacks, which can be sudden and without cause, can often present like a heart attack. Chest pains, trouble breathing, and nausea are all common physical aspects of dealing with anxiety. So when we say we are tired, do not belittle that feeling.
2. Sometimes there is no trigger for an anxiety attack
They can come on suddenly and without a cause. Our body sometimes sees a threat where there is not one and goes into panic mode. If you ask us what caused the sudden outburst and we say "I don't know," most of the time we really do not know.
3. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in America
According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness; it affects 40 million adults, 18% of the population, every year. We are not freaks because we suffer from this mental illness. And if you suffer from it as well, you are not at all alone.
4. Each person's anxiety is unique
Sometimes anxiety manifests in a very physical way but other times a person may never experience an anxiety attack. Just as with most illnesses, each body fights this mental illness differently. Just because your cousin's bestfriend's mom tried meditation to cure her anxiety does not mean that meditation will help everyone else's anxiety be "cured."
5. Anxiety attacks are overwhelming and can feel embarrassing
Especially if they come on without warning, it can feel like someone pulling a rug out from under you. And once you are in the midst of an anxiety attack, you kind of have to just ride it out for a little bit until you are calm enough to snap out of it. Anxiety attacks are also very personal, so to have one in front of other people can make someone feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, particularly if it is in front of someone they are not close with.
6. Even if our fear seems irrational to you, to us it is very, terrifyingly real
I used to be deathly afraid of thunderstorms; to me, I thought it meant the world was ending. Even though there was a part of my brain that told me that was false, the anxiety-ridden part often overpowered the rational part. Now thunderstorms are a common occurrence and nothing to be afraid of, but they left me feeling paralyzed. It did not matter how many people told me there was nothing to be afraid of, I was terrified. So even if you think whatever we are afraid of is stupid, please do try and tell us that it is not scary.
7. Sometimes we just need to be alone...
There are times when the best thing is to just lock yourself in your room and let the anxiety run its course. In those situations, when we tell you we want to be alone or that we do not want you near us, we are not being mean, we simply just need our space.
8. ...but other times even just having someone else in the room with you can help
For some people, physical contact can reduce anxiety. Many people use weighted blankets to mimic a hug in order to calm anxiety. Just knowing that someone else is there with you makes you feel less alone.
9. We overanalyze EVERYTHING
It does not matter how long we have been friends or how close we are, there is always a part of my brain that tells me that people secretly hate me. Anxiety causes us to pick apart everything that happens. Accepting anything at surface value is difficult for us. When you compliment us and we do not accept it, keep complimenting us, eventually our brain will believe you.
10. If we cancel plans last minute, it is not because we do not want to go, it is because we CANNOT
The amount of times I have "flaked" on people because anxiety got the best of me is ridiculous. But there are times when no matter how badly you want to go out, your anxiety will not let you. When we text you 10 minutes before we are supposed to meet up telling you that we are suddenly "sick," do not take it personally, I swear there is a good reason.
11. Decisions can be difficult for us
Even deciding what kind of sandwich I want for lunch can feel like a battle some days. Anxiety can cause us to constantly feel like we are missing out on something, rendering decisions a nightmare.
12. Having anxiety is like having an alter ego
I say things when I am anxious that I do not mean. I become rude and cut off emotionally in order to cope. You have the person you truly are and then the person you are when you are anxious, and they tend to be polar opposites. So if we are mean to you when we are anxious, just know that it is usually our "alter ego" speaking.
13. We do not use our anxiety as an excuse to get out of things.
If we say we are anxious or having a panic attack, we mean it; it is not a method of avoidance.
14. We are not just our anxiety.
Yes, our anxiety is a part of us, but it does not define us. Do not treat us differently because you are scared to set us off. We are just as frustrated and annoyed by our anxiety as other people are, but we cannot help that we have an illness. We cannot just "make it stop"; do not belittle us because we worry more than the average person. Would you shame someone for having cancer?