Lets Talk About Anxiety
I haven't always had anxiety. Beginning in high school, for one reason or another, I started feeling uncomfortable in groups of more than a few people. I'd obsess and pick apart my appearance, my actions, and the words I said aloud. My thoughts became an enemy hell bent on destroying my confidence.
At parties with friends, I'd get so overwhelmed that I'd have to go outside in the cool night air to regroup. Something about all those people and my racing thoughts made the room seem smaller. A few of my friends jokingly referred to them as my "power walks." "Crys needs one of her power walks to calm down." I’d burst out through the door and into the quiet darkness, taking a lap or two around the block, and I’d begin to feel better. Although I made jokes about it myself, I'd feel so angry inside. Why couldn't I just calm down? Why did I feel so overwhelmed? I didn't realize it until much later, but this monster I battled constantly had a name: Social Anxiety.
Once I became a mom, Generalized Anxiety Disorder decided to rear its ugly head. I couldn't leave my newborn alone with anyone. I don't even know WHAT I was afraid of, exactly. I'd imagine him crying and wondering where his mom was. I would drive myself crazy at the thought of someone hurting him when he was away from me. My parents were the only people I could leave him with, and at that time, they lived 1,000 miles away.
On a trip to see them, I decided to go with my mom and sister to get my nails done. Parker was around 2 months old at the time. My dad said he would stay with the baby, so I could have a bit of a break, and although I was hesitant, I knew my dad would take good care of my little one.
We were at the salon, and my mom called my dad to check on things. I heard him say that the baby had been fussy, but that some friends of his stopped by, and the wife was able to hold him and calm him down.
I immediately began to sweat. My thoughts started racing. I had an intense sense of dread and panic, and I had no idea why. I had to get out of there and get to my baby. When I got home the people were gone, and I was physically shaking and on the verge of tears. All I wanted was to hold him close. The idea of him being upset and some woman...some STRANGER...who was not me, comforting him was inconceivable and excruciating.
My panic was irrational.
I know that now.
However, Generalized Anxiety usually is.
I've found that the more in control I am of a situation, the less anxiety I have. If people are coming over to my house and I have plenty of notice, I can go down my checklist of things I need to get done before their arrival:
· Getting myself ready
· Getting my kids ready
· Making sure there are drinks and snacks
If my list is complete, I feel more calm. I'm still anxious of their arrival, but much less anxious than I would be say, if it had been an impromptu visit my husband sprung on me last minute. Thankfully, in 9 years of marriage and over 15 years of dating-- he knows better.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, there are 5 major types of anxiety:
· Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
· Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.
· Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
· Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation - such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others - or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
Other ways my Social and Generalized Anxiety manifest:
· Avoiding phone calls
· Worrying my card will be declined while in line to pay for something
· Avoiding social events
· Cancelling plans last minute
· Worried other people are talking about me
· Sweating/shaking during social events and worrying people can see my reaction
· Being easily embarrassed
· Replaying something dumb I said in my head over and over
· Fear that my kids will meltdown in public
· Fear someone will try to take my kids
· Fear someone will harm my kids when I’m not there
· Worrying I’ve hurt someone’s feelings/offended someone unintentionally
· Fear of embarrassing myself in public
· Fear of getting lost while driving
· Fear of being late
· Worrying I’m inconveniencing someone
At My Worst
If I’m honest, when I’m having a full-on anxiety attack, I am not kind to those around me. My husband usually gets the worst of it. If I’m melting down over something, say, the house not being “ready” for guests, I can be pretty... let’s call it “intense.” I know in the moment I’m being irrational and mean, but I can’t control the adrenaline or racing thoughts saying “your house is a mess and they are going to judge you for it.” My husband is usually pretty forgiving and understanding in the moment. He knows my harsh reactions have nothing to do with him. I usually even shout (while on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor) “PLEASE JUST BE PATIENT WITH ME, YOU KNOW HOW I GET!!” When things calm down, I’m apologetic, and usually embarrassed. I’m lucky to have someone who understands and loves me, even through my ugliest moments.
As a mom, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. As a mom with anxiety, it happens far quicker, and more often than I’d like. I love the two little humans my husband and I created. I love, even more, that they get their stubborn nature from their mama. However, when my 5-month-old is teething and has been fussy all day, and my 3-year-old is throwing his 7 millionth tantrum because he’s not feeling well... keeping it together all day can cause a buildup of anxiety. Kind of like the “power walks” of my youth, I just need to get out for a while to someplace quiet (or to Target...I’m not picky) to calm down and regroup. If for some reason this isn’t possible, it’s much easier for me to lose patience with my kiddos.
Ways to Cope
People ask me all the time what they can do about their anxiety/panic attacks. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Here are some things I’ve learned, and ways I’ve been able to lessen my own anxiety.
· Having a mantra- A panic attack usually reaches its peak and starts the “slow decline” after around 10 minutes. In my head, I have a mantra. I usually repeat over and over “I can survive anything for 10 minutes.” It sounds dumb, but it helps get my mind off of the obsessive thoughts and helps the time pass.
· Deep breathing- Although I’m not great at remembering, learning to “4-7-8” breathe has been helpful for me in the past. Here’s how it works:
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Close the mouth and slowly inhale through the nose while you do a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a mental count of seven.
Exhale through the mouth for a count of eight.
Perform at least 10 times.
· Doing a physically exhausting activity- I’m not sure why it helps, but if I’m having a bad anxiety day, cleaning my house or going for a run on my treadmill seem to help.
· Self-care- hot baths, quiet instrumental music, hot tea/coffee, reading a book, writing
· Saying “No”- It’s important to give yourself permission to tell people no. If you’re not having a good day/week, and you have something coming up that seems to just add to the anxiety of it all—it’s OK to cancel. If your friend invites you out on a Friday and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to say no. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits.
· Faith- Personally, my Faith has been instrumental in helping me deal with my anxiety. I know that not everyone who reads my blog/follows my page believes the same things, but for myself, knowing God is in control helps my anxiety in the grander scheme of things. Prayer helps during panic attacks as well and falls under the “mantra” category.
· Therapy- in many instances, reaching out to a professional that can give you tools to help you cope with your specific type of anxiety can be extremely helpful. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to so you’re able to get out of your own head for a while helps.
· Medication- I say this without any hesitation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking medication to help your anxiety/depression. Sometimes, all the deep breathing in the world isn’t going to make it better. Knowing when to reach out for help is so important. Doing so takes incredible bravery.
I've also seen this floating around. I have yet to try it, mostly because when I'm in the midst of it, I forget. But I've heard it can also help...
It’s easy to curl in upon yourself and feel like nobody understands what you’re going through. Anxiety can be crippling, but it isn’t monogamous. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from some form of anxiety. Globally, anxiety affects about 1 in every 13 people. Don't be afraid to talk about it. The more we talk about our experiences, the more light we shine on an often stigmatized illness. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.
I’d love to hear what’s worked for you in dealing with panic attacks/anxiety! Feel free to comment below or shoot me a message! I may publish a follow up with your suggestions in the future!