Considering that pretty much all of us at some point in our lives experience a form of anxiety, it’s truly shocking how misunderstood and belittled this illness is.
As stated above, almost everyone in the world has had an experience with anxiety at some point or another and I truly believe that it is because most have been able to get through and move on from that experience that those who suffer with it chronically are made to feel less than, or that their illness is easily manageable so they should be able to just move on like the rest.
I’ve written this article to finally reveal the truth about anxiety disorder and put the assumptions and misunderstandings to bed once and for all.
What is Anxiety
Firstly, Anxiety is a completely normal part of life that affects all of us at different times and in different ways. We are hardwired to experience anxiety whether we like it or not, unfortunately, it’s a not so loving gift from our caveman ancestors.
Anxiety and Fear are different…
Anxiety and Fear are often mistaken for each other but they’re actually very different. Fear is an appropriate response to a perceived threat, whereas anxiety is related to our ‘fight or flight’ responses, we experience anxiety in situations that we believe are uncontrollable or unavoidable when they are not actually so, our interpretation of the situation is unrealistic.
Symptoms most of us have experienced
Symptoms of anxiety disorder vary but the most common are:
- Panic attacks, palpitations, chest pain and shortness of breath – often mistaken for a heart attack by those going through the experience
- An uncontrollable fear, panic and worry over what may be
- Sleep problems
These are the most common symptoms that most have experienced. Some may be lucky and only experience one anxiety attack in their whole lives but unfortunately for others, anxiety can be a chronic condition which has an effect on everything that they do.
Types of Anxiety
Most tend to assume that all Anxiety is the same but actually, there are many different types of Anxiety disorders, each of them triggered by different things.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – You feel an overwhelming worry about everyday situations. You are usually riddled with self-consciousness and tend to fixate on others ridiculing or judging you.
- Panic Disorder – During a panic attack you may experience the symptoms listed above, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath and excessive perspiration. This attack can often easily be mistaken for a heart attack. You feel terror that tends to strike at random which can be tense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable.
- Specific Phobias – You feel an intense worry or fear over a specific object or situation. Many go to great lengths to avoid it, this can be anything from spiders, injections, heights and so much more.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – You feel excessive and unrealistic worry with little or no reason. This particular type of anxiety disorder can make you feel anxious for most days for a period of six months or more and takes an awful lot to manage.
There are more conditions related to anxiety disorder including, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder along with others but for the purpose of this article, I’ve only gone into detail about the above as other conditions have a host of different symptoms, anxiety being only one of many.
Can you relate?
Here is the opening to a short story I wrote about living with anxiety, can you relate?
It’s happening again. The ground beneath me is shaking and I can feel it crack and split with every terrified step. The walls around me are slowing closing in, more so with each passing second and I fear that they will never stop; crushing me and trapping me until my limbs are so enclosed and weighed down that I’ll have no room to push or fight my way out.
My eyes dart from each moving wall to the other and through the fear induced haze, I can see people. They don’t seem to notice. Like it’s just another day they carry on walking, talking amongst themselves, laughing even… how can they laugh at a time like this?
The amount of people seems to have multiplied or does it just seem like that because the space is becoming smaller? I don’t know. I can’t think. My head is spinning too much from panic.
One deep breath in and one shaky long breath out…
This story goes on to describe in graphic detail what I experience when anxiety gets it grip on me. As someone who suffers from chronic anxiety, this experience is a regular occurrence, one I go through daily and honestly, it’s mortifying. People who lack the understanding of anxiety don’t seem to understand how embarrassing it is for me to break down in front of everyone because I can’t cope with whats going on in that moment. It’s not something I asked for, it’s not something I forced upon myself… it just happened.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, anxiety is incredibly misunderstood as a mental illness, I truly believe this is because this particular illness is so widely experienced in some form or another.
Every anxiety attack is the same – FALSE
Just because you have experienced an anxiety attack at some point in your life which you were able to get through and move on from does not make you qualified to play down someone else’s. Everyone’s experience of Anxiety is different as is their ability to manage it. We each experience different symptoms, at different times and there is no cap on how many anxiety attacks you can have in one lifetime.
A few deep breaths and you’ll be fine – FALSE
Though breathing exercises are a highly recommended management technique when it comes to anxiety, a few deep breaths aren’t the solution for everyone. For some, in fact, most, anxiety attacks are completely debilitating and for me personally; the ability to simply breath in some sort of rhythm becomes impossible. Chronic anxiety takes an awful lot of management there are a number of different management techniques out there. Just keep in mind, when someone is experiencing overwhelming, uncontrollable worry and panic, practising these techniques aren’t necessarily at the forefront of their brains…
Just face your fear and it will be fine/ shake it off – FALSE
I am a strong believer in facing your fears, it’s an incredible feeling knowing that you have conquered something that you never thought that you could but remember at the beginning of this article when I explained how anxiety and fear were different?
Fear is a natural and healthy experience but anxiety loses all rational thought. Though the cause of our anxiety may be unrealistic or ‘silly’ to you, it’s not to us. We can’t just shake it off, face it and conquer it and expect that to be the end of it. I personally experience extreme anxiety attacks in public places and situations where I am the ‘centre of attention’, I face these situations daily, ride through the anxiety attack as hard as it is yet I still experience them over and over again. This is not saying that Anxiety is incurable, it just takes a lot more than shaking it off.
How to Manage Anxiety
Though difficult, anxiety is not impossible to manage. There are many techniques to help manage your anxiety, they just take time, patience and practice to master.
Consciously attempt to control your breathing. Take a deep breath in through your nose and a long, slow and controlled breath out through your mouth. Doing this will regulate your heartbeat and stop it from feeling like it is going to explode through your chest. Focusing on your breathing also helps to take your mind off of whatever it is that is triggering your anxiety.
- Stop. Think. Relax.
If your having an anxiety attack, focusing on anything other than what your feeling in that moment can seem impossible but the key word in that sentence is seem impossible.
No matter where you are, what you are doing or who you are with, when you’re having an anxiety attack – check out from it all. Stop what you’re doing and focus on controlling your breathing. Think up an image that relaxes you, for example, a tropical seaside: listen to the gentle lap of the waves in your mind and focus on the how the tide gently rolls in over the sand and recedes back out. Relax your muscles and feel the tension release from your body.
- Prepare yourself
If your triggers are known to you, try preparing yourself for those situations. Before you put yourself in these situations, think up all of the things that you may encounter during them, bad and good. Think of the worse things that could happen and how realistic it is that they would happen, think of coping mechanisms and how to react if those things happen. Doing this means that anything that you encounter you are going to be prepared for and therefore you will likely be able to manage your anxiety a lot better.
To round it all up…
As stated a number of times within this article, anxiety is riddled with misunderstandings, misconceptions and is often downplayed to the point that people are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed that they experience it when actually it is something that can happen to anyone at any point in their lives.
Anxiety has a huge effect not only the people who experience it but also the people around them, especially if those people do not have a general understanding of the disorder.
There are countless techniques to help you control your anxiety disorder, above are just the ones I use that work for me, your doctor can refer you to a management programme where you can find what works for you.
Medication is an option for anxiety and if you suffer to the point that it has a serious affect on your life, it may be worth considering. Again, speak to your doctor about the options available.
If you enjoyed this article, remember to give it a share so that others can be made aware of what anxiety order actually is.
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