21 Things That I Have Learned About Anxiety Since Being Diagnosed
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during the darkest time of my life when I was in rehab for alcohol addiction. It was a difficult and painful realization, but also one that has saved me many times since then. Before being diagnosed with anxiety, I often felt as if there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t figure quite out. Fear of judgment over my situation kept me from opening up to friends. I was scared that if I revealed the racing thoughts going through my head they’d abandoned me. I learned later that my racing thoughts and fears of abandonment were mostly symptoms of my anxiety. But eventually, with the help of my family, I sought help. And I am so glad I did.
Ever since I was diagnosed with anxiety, I have learned so much about myself and my mental health disorder. I can’t remember a day since my diagnosis and that anxiety hasn’t been a part of my life in some way but, thanks to therapy and a variety of other things, I have learned to cope with it in a healthy way that no longer involves relying on alcohol for stress relief.
My anxiety turned out to be a mean biotch but I’ve also found strength in dealing with it. For anyone who suffers with the monster I want to say this: You are not alone. And for anyone who isn’t sure if you are anxious or not, here are 21 things that I have learned about anxiety since being diagnosed.
1. There are different types and levels of anxiety.bohoexoticstudio/Instagram
Anxiety is actually much more complicated than I ever realized before. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety disorder. Those include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder). Beyond that, many people with anxiety disorder have a combination of two or more of the above.
2. The reason why some of us don’t seem like we have it is because of high-functioning anxiety.tonic_cbd/Instagram
High-functioning anxiety hasn’t been dubbed an official status as a mental disorder, but many psychologists assert that it is very real. According to Women’s Health, someone with high-functioning anxiety (like me) is a perfectionist with controlling patterns. I’m constantly keeping myself busy and have a crippling fear of letting others down. And, worst of all, I never, ever say “no” to anyone. It’s kind of like being a high-functioning alcoholic (another thing I know something about), but with anxiety.
3. Therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is the best.hailey.nicole.fit/Instagram
Therapy has been absolutely crucial for me in learning how to deal with my anxiety, and in particular, I love my therapist because she focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT focuses on developing skills that help you cope and there are several things I’ve learned that have helped, such as recognizing rumination (when you’re repeatedly bothered by a worrying thought) and using mindfulness techniques.
4. It’s not shameful to go on medication.bezanaturals/Instagram
Medication is something that is seen as very shameful in the Latino community. I know many Latinxs who discount medication as something just for “la loca” in the family. But the thing about anxiety — or any other mental health condition, honestly — is that you need to do what is best for you in order to deal with it. If medication is right for you, and that’s something you should talk about with your doctor, then do what is best. Don’t worry about what others say because going on medication is NOT shameful.
5. Anxiety isn’t just mental, it can be physical too.littlemissjonikruz/Instagram
Anxiety, like depression, seems like it is a mental-only ailment but it can actually have a lot of physical attributes as well. For one, people with anxiety often have bad nights of sleep. I mean, how can I fall asleep when there’s a million and one thoughts running through my head? Then there’s things like back pain, a faster heart rate, and even sometimes shaky fingers (for me, anyway).
6. And it can actually make you sick.zo_kris_rose/Instagram
Anxiety can cause a lot of stress for your mental health and your physical body, too. What often happens with me and my anxiety is that I am working on some big project and I power through till the end, but then get sick immediately after, Like, come down with the giant flu/cold/etc type of sick. It’s likely because the anxiety and stress have caused my immune system to lower and be susceptible, but it also makes me power through before giving in to the “being sick” thing.
7. Trusting your feelings is tricky.emcpetrola10/Instagram
I am the kind of person who is very in touch with her feelings, but having anxiety also makes that pretty complicated. The reason is that, with anxiety, I sometimes can’t tell if my feelings are my own or what anxiety is telling me. For instance, I recently had a freak out about the house my husband and I just bought… and I honestly couldn’t tell if it was all my anxiety talking or whether I had actual concerns. This actually happens pretty often, and one of the reasons that anxiety can be a bitch.
8. And sometimes I just explode with ranting.steadfast.athletics/instagram
I don’t know how anyone else’s anxiety works for them, but mine often results in ranting when I am having an anxiety episode. I don’t really like to call them attacks because I don’t feel attacked and I don’t always have physical symptoms like a racing heart, but what DOES happen is ranting. Often, I find myself starting to talk (usually to my unsuspecting husband) and just end up sprinting around in circles over whatever it is that is on my mind and that I am worried about. I call this “thinking out out” but it’s often more like “being anxious out loud.”
9. Anxiety can affect anyone.organicallyemma/Instagram
Anxiety doesn’t know if you are white, black, Latinx, whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered, whether you have a good job or a terrible job, whether you graduated college, or pretty much anything about you. It’s a mental health disorder that can affect anyone at any time. You might think you’re better or smarter or stronger than it, but you’re not. That’s a difficult lesson I had to learn, but I am glad I did because it allowed me to seek help eventually.
10. And sometimes happens for no reason at all.erinpatten.fit/Instagram
Certain types of anxiety, like PTSD, can be triggered by something very obvious. You had some sort of crisis or trauma and, now, anxiety is your BFF. But that’s just not how it works for most people, and anxiety can appear for no reason at all. For instance, I don’t have any particularly bad trauma in my past that would explain why, today, I am riddled with high-functioning anxiety. But I am, and that’s that.
11. Telling me to “just breathe” never works.daniielleax/Instagram
A lot of well-meaning people will see someone having a panic or anxiety attack and tell us to “just breathe.” Look, if I could “just breathe” my anxiety away, then I would. The problem with this advice, although I do believe most people mean well by it, is that it actually makes the anxious person more frustrated. This has nothing to do with my breath. Instead of dolling out this advice, I remind people that the best course of action might be to ask the person suffering what they need. Me? Personally, I can usually calm down after a really nice hug. Some people need other things, though. And I doubt it’s to “just breathe.”
12. Figuring out how to deal with it is tricky.sylvia.hall/Instagram
I already mentioned therapy and medication, which are two of the ways that some people (myself included) deal with their anxiety disorders, but there are many other ways. The one I would definitely not recommend is treating your anxiety with alcohol because it can lead to serious consequences (trust me, I know). Still, you have to deal with it somehow, right? Sometimes, I deal with my anxiety by having way too much candy…. another not great idea. Instead, I would recommend trying meditation, taking a lengthy walk outside, coloring books, and more. The key for me has been to try different things and seeing what works for me, because it won’t be the same for everyone.
13. Finding a support system is really, really important.msirinagonzalez/Instagram
I can say without a doubt that one of the top reasons why my anxiety is in a much better place today than it has ever been in the past is because of my husband. He has been my rock in more ways than one, has listened to many an anxiety-fueled rant, and has always stood by me no matter what. But you don’t need a special someone in your life, you really just need to have a solid support system. A good support system includes your family, friends, and possibly a therapist. It can be anyone so long as you feel comfortable opening up to them during times of heightened anxiety.
14. Depression is kind of anxiety’s BFF.imastresscase/Instagram
It doesn’t happen always, but depression and anxiety sometimes go together. I know several people who suffer from both anxiety and depression, and I’ve had my bouts of depression that has coincided with my anxiety before. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, but definitely something that should be considered and talked about with a mental health professional. The stigma is even worse for depression than anxiety, but this isn’t something that you can overcome alone.
15. It makes sex and dating much more difficult.thezinniapractice/Instagram
One of the things that was difficult for me, as a woman, was dating. Dating can be a big pain for anyone, to be honest, but dating and sex while being an anxious person can be a particular kind of hell. After any date, my mind would swirl in that very special anxious way with all of the things that I could have done wrong and all of the reasons that the guy or gal in question might not give me a call back. This would get particularly bad after I was first intimate with someone, second guessing my decision to share my body with them and wondering if I had made a mistake.
16. Some people might never fully understand what you’re going through.jackie_jayde/Instagram
This has been a constant in my life ever since I was diagnosed with anxiety by my therapist in rehab from alcohol addiction: My well-meaning parents, who helped me through rehab and still support me unconditionally, just don’t get mental health. They try but they don’t. It’s not something that either of them grew up talking about, so it’s difficult for them to understand it now. I try to be open and honest with them, but there’s only so much I can say before it clearly becomes a futile effort. I’ve come to accept that, no matter how hard I try, some people simply won’t “get it” and it’s best to just move on. I have plenty of support and understanding from others.
17. Perfectionism and feelings of failure are not uncommon.mooshusa/Instagram
One of the main symptoms of my anxiety is perfectionism and a deep fear of failure. This isn’t uncommon, and I have found that it is particularly prevalent in those of us with high-functioning anxiety. I am very ambitious, which has led to a lot of hard work but also perfectionism which is sometimes difficult to handle. The fear of failure and perfectionism, in particular, have meant a combination that often keeps me from not only doing my best work but from finishing bigger projects. It’s scary to fail, and so my anxiety keeps telling me that I shouldn’t even start. It sucks, to be honest, but I’m trying to deal with it.
18. Taking a mental health day is super important.leanamariegallegos/Instagram
You know how you take a sick day whenever you aren’t feeling good? (Well, hopefully, assuming your company policy allows for this and you don’t feel obligated to go into work even when feeling like sh*t.) The same should be done for when you are having a huge bout of anxiety. I like to call this a “mental health day.” It’s like a sick day except for your mental health.
19. Anxiety is something you HAVE, not something you ARE.candeelawrence/Instagram
This is possibly one of the biggest lessons that all of us facing mental health issues can and should learn: We have mental health issues, like anxiety, but they do not make us who we are. It’s really difficult to transition from saying things like “I have anxiety” instead of “I am anxious”, but it’s an important distinction. Anxiety is not a part of my personality and it’s not something that weighs me down. It is something I have, sorta like freckles, and need to deal with in some way. For instance, I need to put sunscreen on my freckles so that I don’t develop skin cancer. And I need to treat my anxiety with self-care (see below), therapy, and more.
20. Self-care is crucial.desertmoonbathbombs/Instagram
My mental health days, as I mentioned, are all about self-care. But you shouldn’t just wait to take care of yourself on that one elusive day of the year when you take time off to do just that. Instead, self-care should be something that you incorporate into your life. For instance, my favorite form of self-care is getting a pedicure. So I make sure to make time for them and also save up money for them because I enjoy them so much. Another example is the fact that I love taking a bath so, when it came to moving houses, I insisted to my husband that we find one with a really, really nice bathtub so that I can do just that. It’s little things like this which make my days and weeks easier.
21. It’s okay to be just like Frida Kahlo.msirinagonzalez/Instagram
If you’ve ever seen any of Frida Kahlo’s pieces, then you are probably pretty well aware that she had mental illness. Her life and art are filled with an incredible amount of pain, suffering, and loss represented in gorgeous self portraits. One of the most moving, for me, has always been “Henry Ford Hospital, 1932” in which she beautifully painted her miscarriage. It is such a sad yet powerful painting. Like Frida, I have come to recognize that my mental illness (in my case, anxiety) is something that I can put into my art. Although I am not a painter, I am a writer and I use mediums such as this to talk about my mental illness as a way to relate to others. What I want someone else to know is that they are not alone, just as Frida was never alone in her suffering. It is through sharing our stories, in whatever medium we see fit, that we find strength to go on. (P.S. Yes, that’s me, wearing a Frida-Kahlo-as-Rosie-the-Riveter shirt even though it’s a little hard to see.)
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