I had originally planned to write on another topic this week, but my anxiety reared its ugly head leaving me uninspired to tackle the other subject, so anxiety it is! I had a particularly fruitful conversation with visiting family this week regarding anxiety and the roots it has in my family. Several of the members in my family are young, seem to have their lives together, and struggle with the physical manifestations of anxiety.
But I’m not anxious…
I find it interesting that many people I know cannot fathom anxiety being something they struggle with. The abdominal discomfort, chest tightness, or lump in their throat is not anxiety because they do not “feel anxious”. Well, let me ask you… what does anxiety feel like? How would you describe it? Many people visualize a panic attack when they think of anxiety. This may be how anxiety manifests in some, but not all people. Others may brush off significant anxiety as stress, attributing it to the busy lives they lead. Some do not seek help because they fear the stigma or because their anxiety comes in crippling waves. If they can just get past this hump, they will be ok.
Anxiety the Friend
Admittedly, I am someone who has lived her life reliant on anxiety. I am the person that studied up to the moment before a test, wrote that paper last minute, and likes anxiety provoking roller coasters, vacations, etc. I need that extra bit of anxiety or kick in the butt to get my engine going, as I suspect many people do. Some level of anxiety is normal and necessary to us functioning everyday. The key here is the optimal level and too often we tip in the wrong direction. Too much anxiety affects our productivity, relationships and physical health.
Anxiety the Foe
So, when did I realize that my anxiety had become overwhelming? I was in denial for a long time regarding my mental health. I struggled with bouts of depression in high school but didn’t feel that I had a “reason to be depressed,” so I brushed them off. My senior year of college when I was applying to medical school, I ran into my anxiety like a brick wall. Everyday tasks became crippling. I was so paralyzed by fear about the future that I was tearful and couldn’t move forward. My coping mechanism was to shut down. Napping, that would solve my problem right? Sure, go ahead and avoid everything I need to do altogether. Or better yet, smother the anxiety with food.
One day after work I came home, packed a bag and drove 10 hours to see my sister in Ft. Worth. I walked in the front door and hid in her closet, as a joke, until she came back from a taco run (yes a real thing). I jumped out and scared the crap out of her and my parents as they were helping her move in. That is one of the only times I can recall that I fled toward family in a particularly depressed or anxious time. Two days later, the impulsivity of my decision hit me as I had to return to work the following week. My mother offered to drive me back and then fly home. I took her up on it. I think I slept for the majority of the trip home. Normally the control freak in me would have preferred to drive, but I was so exhausted. Being so anxious and on edge all the time steals a lot of your energy.
So how do I manage my anxiety? It has varied over the years with medications, therapy, yoga and focused breathing, and doing things that I enjoy. Personally, I have found treating my depression with medication relieves my bouts of anxiety. I also get relief from mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises and nature walks. Everyone is different. Another of my family members has anxiety similar in some ways to mine. When confronted by her doctor about taking a medication to help relieve her symptoms, just reading the side effects gave her more anxiety. Medicine does not work for everyone and of course you have to actually take it.
Find What Works for YOU
Mental health is a very personal journey, and you have to do what works for YOU. If practicing yoga and calming your mind with meditation relieves your anxiety, then by all means do that. If counseling and talking through your fears and anxiety in safe space gives you comfort, then continue that. My personal opinion is that the most effective method is probably a combined approach. I have tried all of these things and found that I have been the happiest when I am constantly making an effort to work on myself, and find a balance for wherever I am at that point in my life.