Upon watching Lady Gaga and Prince William’s video for the Heads Together #oktosay campaign, I got inspired to go ahead and talk about my own anxiety – with the hope of encouraging others that it’s okay to do the same.
While I have never been officially diagnosed, my experience with panic attacks and an all-consuming feeling of worry and nerves to the point of physical illness, I have been able to deduce that I do, indeed, struggle with anxiety. I have struggled with anxiety since childhood – I just wasn’t able to really identify exactly what I was feeling until adulthood. I used to get so anxious for various social gatherings and events to point where I would get physically ill, but I would just brush it off as nerves because I had no perception of what anxiety was since nobody I knew talked about it. In my teen years, I had panic and anxiety attacks, but I called them “mental breakdowns” because I had no other name for them. I had no idea at the time that what I was experiencing was anxiety – I just figured that I was going through some kind of emotional phase that would eventually pass. Little did I know that it was something I’d be living with for the duration of my life.
After some research, I have come to the conclusion that what I experience is mainly social anxiety. Given that most of my panic and anxiety attacks have stemmed from social experiences or situations, I feel that it’s most likely that my anxiety is rooted in the social category. My anxiety also tends to manifest itself physically. For some perspective on what exactly I feel when my anxiety kicks in, it’s typically a combination of shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, slight dizziness/lightheadedness – amongst other things. It’s hard to describe in words but I also feel this weird sensation of skin wanting to jump off my body. In situations where I have to contain my anxiety and swallow down the panic because I’m in a public place, I try my best to center myself by focusing on breathing, counting in my head, and – if I have some handy – drinking water. It should be noted that, once you’re in a place where you comfortably work through your anxiety, sometimes it’s best to cry it out. In my personal opinion, I have found that a good cry can be incredibly cathartic. As it is, I’m always on the lookout for new calming strategies.
My social anxiety that chooses to rear its ugly head whenever it damn well pleases. Combine that with my natural introversion and you can end up getting one exhausted, severely stressed-out human. My anxiety is not omnipresent, and it certainly has gotten easier to deal with over the years. Even still, I cannot tell you the algorithm of when or why it still likes to knock me around every now and then. I can, however, tell you that I have been able to figure out a small handful of my biggest triggers.
- Self-image. For as long as I can remember, I have always cared a lot about what other people think of me. While I may be good at pretending that this isn’t the case, trust me, it is. My internal need to please others has always pushed me to make sure I am not doing anything that bothers others. As I’ve gotten older, I have gotten a lot better at overcoming this people-pleaser impulse of mine. I have done loads of thought training to help me care less about what others think of me. It’s been a long journey of learning to value my own opinion of myself first and to continue outweighing any negative self-image with positive self-image.
- The prospect of failure. I’m positive I’m not alone in fearing failure. My mind is a constant trap of worst-case scenarios. I am always thinking of the worst possible outcome of a situation and thereby preparing myself accordingly for possible disaster. I am so afraid to fail that it mentally (and slightly physically) cripples me at times. If you really want to send me down the anxiety rabbit hole, start talking to me about my future and where I plan to be in five to ten years. By the time I open my mouth to respond, my mind will have already thought up 42 different ways that I can completely annihilate my future.
- Lighting. Through my own personal experiences, I have found that certain types of lighting can be triggers for my anxiety. In college, there was this one particular class I had in my junior year where I always ended up cutting out of it early because of the room’s lighting. It was in an old building on campus, and the classroom itself had no windows. The installed lighting in the classroom was old and really off-putting to me, and it ended up being a significant trigger for me where it often pushed me to the point of feeling like crawling out of my own skin. I cannot explain why or how lighting became such a significant trigger for me – it just is. While there were definitely times where I was able to internally calm myself down enough to endure the lighting in that one classroom for the sake of my academics, I knew my limits, and there were just some days where I knew the best thing was for me to remove myself from the situation – and that’s okay.
- Caffeine. For the past two years, I have cut caffeine out from my diet in a significant way – only drinking it when I’m absolutely exhausted. If I drink caffeine when I’m not dead tired or really in need of a boost, it sends my nerves completely haywire – which ultimately creates an easy opening for a panic attack to occur. Unfortunately, I did not end up figuring this out until after years of struggling in my college days. Nevertheless, I can say that after finally realizing the negative effects caffeine can have on my body and thus adopting a mostly caffeine-free diet, my anxiety is much better off. If I’m going to give any sort of anxiety-coping tips in this blog post, it will be for you to also take your caffeine intake into consideration.
I could sit here and just ramble off a list of things that will help you cope with anxiety, but I’m not going to do that. I won’t do that because I’m not an expert or a professional, and, ultimately, everyone’s anxiety is different. People will try and tell you that their anxiety is the exact same as yours when, really, it’s most likely not.
Think of people as hand-woven quilts. Each quilt is made up of its own fabric and thread and consists of their own unique pattern. The fabric and thread that make up each quilt is a combination of the family each person comes from, the environment they grew up in, and the life experiences they’ve had. Every person’s pattern will be different because no two people will have the exact same kinds of thread. Essentially, we have all experienced different things in our lives, and while many experiences may be similar – and sometimes the exact same – our perceptions are usually different. It’s our life experiences and our perceptions of those experiences that really create the thread that weaves together our quilts. In recognizing that we all have different quilts, you can realize how possible it is for anxiety to be unique to each person it’s attached to.
My anxiety is not your anxiety, nor is yours mine. We all have different triggers and responses and coping mechanisms – it’s just a matter of how well we recognize that fact about each other. We must also recognize that everyone has their own issues and problems and fears, and it’s ok for us to talk about them. It is ok to speak up about your mental struggles, it is ok if you are struggling mentally with something such as anxiety because you are not alone in this. Zoella’s video where she first discussed her anxiety was such an eye-opening moment for me. I cannot express how much relief I felt hearing someone (especially someone I admired) talk about their anxiety and vocalize exactly how I was feeling and thus, help me to see that I am not alone. Once I was able to come to terms with what I was feeling and going through, I felt inspired enough to finally start talking to people about my anxiety. The minute I decided to become more open and talk about my anxiety and everything that comes along with it, I felt a weight lift off of my chest. While talking about it doesn’t make it go away, it certainly helps. No one should have to bear this burden alone. The moment I realized this, it made my journey of coping and living with anxiety feel so much lighter.