My Anxiety Backstory + Tips for Dealing

Like I said, I’m in Chicago this weekend.  It’s all been great fun seeing my friend and doing fun things, and I have been looking forward to this trip for weeks, but traveling (or doing anything out of the norm for me, really) is something that tends to be a huge anxiety trigger for me personally.

I talked a little bit about my experience with anxiety awhile ago in a post on World Mental Health Day.  Not surprisingly, I got a comment by someone else who said they also suffer from anxiety.  Now-a-days, having an anxiety disorder or panic disorder is not uncommon, and more people suffer from it than you would initially think.  Though it’s not talked about a great deal, it’s something that so many people suffer with, even though we often feel like we suffer alone.

I was “diagnosed” (which still feels weird and so clinical to say) in 2010 right after starting college.  I had started having panic attacks a few weeks into my freshman year.  One moment I would be completely fine, and then the next I would begin to feel smothered, my mind would race, an overwhelming mix of fear and sadness would come over me, mixed with an urgency that I didn’t understand, and I would immediately burst into sobs.  The feelings would last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, and I would feel exhausted and sick afterwards. Between these “episodes” as I called them at the time, I had bouts of feeling incredibly lethargic.  I started to avoid doing things that stressed me out for fear that my “episodes” would happen again.

Finally, my parents convinced me to make an appointment at the psychological services center on campus.  I spoke with a psychologist, who referred me to a psychiatrist shortly after.  Both too told me the same thing: Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression.

I spent the new few years managing my symptoms with medicine off and on.  The “episodes” which I now know were panic attacks became less emotional for the most part, and are now mostly characterized by intense feeling of unrest, of feeling like I am being stared at/judged/”in a spotlight” by anyone around, being hyper-aware of my surroundings, chest pain, shallow breathing, shaking, and sometimes tingling in my arms.

I stopped doing things that triggered anxious feelings, mostly things that were related to social situations.  I jokingly call myself an introvert, even though the reality was that making small talk or going to parties/bars makes me anxious.

Fast forward to now.  My anxiety disorder has evolved as I have and I have learned to manage it as well as I can, but it still does not get easier.  Everyday situations can be terrifying, like having a panic attack whenever I drive to Applebee’s because I’m afraid of the possibility of becoming overwhelmed at work.

However, years of dealing with it has taught me a few tricks to keep up my sleeve to help manage my symptoms.  Though, in my opinion, it’s so worth it to have a conversation with your doctor about how you can get help.  You can read every article online about managing yourself but I can attest that my anxiety is at the lowest and my panic attacks are at the fewest when I am taking a daily medication to help.

Unfortunately, if you can’t get there (or you are there, but still need an extra boost), here are my tips for dealing with anxiety:

Journaling // I have been a diary/journal keeper on and off for my whole life.  It’s been a good way to look back on my life, but also a good way to demand at least a few moments of peace and quiet in my day.  While I enjoy journaling even when I am in a good place mentally, I find it especially useful when I am feeling particularly anxious.  If I can bare to sit still (which is hit-or-miss), journaling helps unload all of the thoughts that seem to filter uncontrollably through my mind when I’m anxious.  Physically writing it down feels like taking control over the tornado of my mind by forcing me to actually slow down in order to write the words on the page.

Sometimes I write lists, stream of consciousness babble, or just write out my feelings.  If I’m anxious about a particular event, I’ll write about that.  As long as I get whatever is on my mind onto the page, it can be very helpful.

Distraction // As an anxious person, one of my coping mechanisms has become constantly distracting myself from my own thoughts.  Either it be TV, Youtube, music, reading, Podcasts, whatever, I always have something going to keep my mind from running rampant.  I have always been a person who needs “background” noise– which sometimes I think was an early clue to problems to come– but in the past few years I have noticed it become my main way of dealing.

My favorite form of distraction is Youtube videos.  Most videos are pretty short, so you change between them quickly.  That keeps me interested and involved in it, as opposed to TV, which requires more concentration (if that makes sense?).  I prefer comedy or daily vlogs, but anything works, really.  There have been countless times where I have been in public, especially on campus in college, where I started to feeling panicky, and just immediately immersed myself with my headphones and Youtube to stay calm.  Call it escapism, or what, but I know it works and it provided comfort in very uncomfortable situations in the past.

My favorites include:  itsGrace, Zoella, MoreZoella, SprinkleofGlitter, Sprinkle of Chatter, Tyler Oakley, Harto, Mametown, YDAD, Troye Sivan, Caspar Lee, Tanya Burr, Colleen Ballinger (PsychoSaprano), and many, many others.  Honestly, even searching videos like “guys falling off boats” will give you a good laugh and hopefully an escape from your mind.

Exercise // Even if you hate it, try doing some serious exercise to burn off the energy (if you are able too– obviously, consult a doctor first, don’t hurts yourself, and all that legal jargon, blah, blah, blah).  Regular exercise is supposed to help manage daily anxiety, but it can also be a good thing to take your mind off your current anxiety.  Running used to help me so much a few years ago.  And instead of doing something that could be potentially harmful (like binge eating), you will feel accomplished and calmer after it’s all over.  Try even taking a walk and getting some fresh air to clear your head.

These are clearly only a few things, but these are my most successful when it comes to managing my anxiety.

The important thing is to do what you can to help yourself, but know your limits.  Don’t hesitate to seek out help if you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed.


World Mental Health Day

This entire week has been Mental Illness Awareness Week, leading up to today, October 10th World Mental Health Day!  Huzzah for raising awareness about mental illness and continuing to work towards support for those afflicted by it.

More and more, especially with the very publicized deaths of celebrities due to overdose or suicide related to mental illness, awareness for mental illness is becoming a mainstream topic.  
Even as I type, I am watching Amanda Bynes’ current Twitter “rant” (for lack of a better word), in which she is accusing her father of sexual assault.  And while this is going down, I’m mildly wondering if she’s become sick again, or if she is actually just taking a bold move to seek some justice for herself…
Then she tweets this:

“My dad never did any of those things The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me” – @amandabynes

 And it just breaks my heart.  Cue the tabloids with new fuel to add to the fire about her (which she also tweeted about recently), as we all– myself included– hold our breath to see how this pans out.

I’m imaging in how many celeb gossip sites are going to take this and run with it.  And how many over puffed “psychological experts” they are going to bring on to discuss what they think they know about her and her condition, and use her previous comments and questionable public appearances to pad the narrative they are creating about her and her disease.

And they can do that, because we as a society are relatively ignorant to mental health and mental illnesses and we will lap up the words that those “experts” throw at us.  We’ve all heard the term “schizophrenia” but how many people actually understand what that entails?  I sure as hell only know what I can remember from a few different psychology classes I’ve taken through high school and college– which really isn’t much.  I wonder how many people hear the term tossed around in regards to Amanda Bynes and assume she spends half her time talking to three other personalities?

Which is why days like today are so important.

If you follow me on Twitter (another shameless plug, #sorrynotsorry), you’ll notice a lot of my tweets have been about my own struggles with anxiety.  Maybe someday I will do a “My Mental Health Story” post, but now is not the right time.  All I know is that even though my anxiety disorder is such a big part of my life, there is reason that Twitter is the one place where I am relatively open about talking about it.

On Twitter, it’s me and a screen when it comes to talking about my feelings.  There is no person’s face staring back at me when I say things, no raised eyebrows or tense change in body language when I mention the word “anxious”.  All I have to do is type and hit send, and I don’t have to see anyone else’s reactions to my words.  It’s an anonymous release with my name attached.

This stigma that the world has in response to mental illnesses makes it exceptionally hard for those who suffer to receive help, or even talk about it freely.  Though I am not ashamed of my struggles with anxiety, the fear of opening my mouth about it has never gone away when I am actually speaking with another person.  The fear that despite the fact that this is how I am feeling, and there is no right or wrong way to have a feeling, that somehow it is wrong to feel this way because it’s not normal.

Even to the point where I let myself suffer, have daily (and sometimes multiple) anxiety attacks, never sleep, and basically never leave my house for the last few months because the idea of going back to a doctor and asking for help made me too nervous.  What if she thought I was lying?  I had this distinct idea in my head that despite having discussed anxiety and depression with my doctor several times in the last 5 years, that she would still be looking at me, waiting for me to slip up on my story, or give her a reason to doubt my feelings.

And of course, nothing like that happened.  Last month when I finally went in, she and I had an honest conversation about my symptoms, just as one would expect when visiting a doctor.

Since then, my quality of life has vastly improved.  She prescribed me a medicine to help with my symptoms, and though it still takes some management, being able to finally sleep through the night– and not throw up before going into work each day– has been immensely helpful.

It is still a battle, but a battle that I am ready and willing to continue forth on because I have broken down the fear of being disregarded, at least by that one person.  Days like today, built to raise awareness and get people talking about things like mental illnesses help make that possible.

In a perfect world, mental health would be a continuous conversation and topic of education.  There would be no stigma and no worry, and maybe we wouldn’t be eating up the Amanda Bynes story like starving dogs if we knew more about it.  Until then, we should continue to use days like World Mental Health Day, #BellLetsTalk, and Mental Illness Awareness Week to spark a dialogue in hopes that we can some day get to the point where it isn’t news anymore.