Anxiety & Me
Anxiety is a totally normal human experience; we all feel it from time to time. Feeling anxious about a job interview or a big event is natural and sometimes it can even be helpful. However, if you suffer from an anxiety disorder this anxiety can take over your entire life. You feel anxious all the time and sometimes you don’t even know why. You become anxious over the anxiety itself. This is how it feels for me, it can be totally consuming and it makes every day life so much more difficult.
About a year and a half ago I first went to the doctors about my mental health and I was diagnosed with anxiety. Before I really understood my anxiety I felt like I was just going crazy, I couldn’t believe the physical sensations I was experiencing could be caused just by my own mind. Since then I have spoken a lot about it, done a lot of research and done a short online therapy course which has helped me to understand my brain a lot more. I still don’t understand it completely and I’m still learning some of my triggers, but I’ve attempted to break it down into a few key points.
H E A L T H A N X I E T Y
Health anxiety, this is a big one for me, and a type of anxiety that I feel like isn’t spoken about as much as others. It started when I was a child, I think about aged 9 or 10. I went through a phase when I had constant headaches and this turned into a viscous cycle of being worried about getting a headache. This then spiralled into a complete obsession with getting ill. I was constantly worried that I was poorly or about to get poorly which made me worry about doing ANYTHING. Hanging out with my friends – what if I got sick? Going on the school trip – what if I came down with something while I was there? Christmas day – what if I’m ill and I can’t enjoy myself? It got to the point where I wouldn’t let my parents leave me alone through fear of suddenly becoming ill. I ended up being taken into hospital for a head scan to see why I was getting so many headaches. The results came back completely clear, there was physically nothing wrong with me. The truth is I was worrying so much about the headaches that I was giving myself headaches. I was worrying myself sick. Thankfully, I grew out of this phase and for the rest of my childhood and teenage years I was absolutely fine.
However, this same anxiety has come back in my adult life. I’d experience little glimmers of it now and then – I’d book a trip and the ‘what if your sick?’ thought would pop into my head. But I was able to brush these thoughts off and they didn’t really effect me very often. But then, in my final year of university I had a little bit of a health scare. I had to go to the doctors and get myself checked, and after a few tests they told me I had nothing to worry about and it was nothing serious. I didn’t believe them. For the next 8-9 months I was convinced something was wrong with my stomach and my digestion. I got diagnosed with IBS, I had pretty much constant stomach aches and my stomach was upset a lot of the time. Every day I would google my symptoms and come to a different conclusion. I must have driven my poor boyfriend Rob CRAZY as I constantly asked for reassurance and told him that I absolutely DID have a stomach ulcer or ulcerative colitis (shout out to Rob for being so patient and understanding and great!). However, as you can probably guess, there was nothing wrong with me. I was just obsessing so much over my symptoms that I was making myself ill, and now my stomach is completely fine. However, as my stomach improved I started to notice a few other unwanted symptoms. Nausea, fatigue, racing heart, feeling incredibly spaced out a lot of the time, what on earth could be causing that?
P H Y S I C A L S Y M P T O M S
For me, the physical symptoms of anxiety are what I find most difficult. Sometimes my mind doesn’t even feel anxious but my whole body does or I’ll experience a wave of panic out of nowhere. This makes it so much harder to deal with because how can I stop these feelings if I don’t even know what’s causing it? Some of the symptoms I experience are:
- Feeling Sick
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Upset Stomach
- Muscle Tension and Aches
- Feeling Weak and Faint
- Loss of Appetite
- Trouble Sleeping
- Tight Chest
- Spaced Out (derealisation)
And there’s probably even more! Its absolutely insane the amount of physical sensations anxiety can give you and its so horrible to deal with. I see these symptoms as almost like an ‘unlucky dip’, I never know which ones I’m going to have or when I’m going to experience them. I went through a phase a while ago where I felt spaced out, light headed and not like myself 24/7 and this is what pushed me to first go to the doctors (shout out to my amazing mum who helped me so much during this time). Ironically, I was so anxious about going to the doctors I had a panic attack in the waiting room. I did manage to still go through with my appointment though and I did feel so reassured to be told by a doctor that what I was experiencing was just anxiety and that I wasn’t going crazy or seriously physically ill. All these physical symptoms are just caused by my mind and they can’t actually hurt me.
Despite being told this though and feeling reassured, there’s still a part of my health anxiety brain that worries that they could be caused by something else. A worry cycle I often go through is ‘am I light headed because I’m anxious or am I diabetic?’ ‘Is my chest tight because I’m anxious or am I about to have a heart attack?’ etc. Thinking like this only aggravates my anxiety, but its such a hard cycle to break out of. The physical symptoms are what a lot of my anxiety is rooted from, I worry about having panic attacks at work or around my friends. I worry about being at an event and suddenly feeling spaced out or lightheaded. I worry about going to the hairdressers and feeling sick. I truly am anxious about feeling anxious!
S O C I A L A N X I E T Y
And of course, I’ve got the good old classic social anxiety. I really struggle with this one. Meeting new people, going to new places, appointments, ordering in a restaurant and talking on the phone all give me the heebie-jeebies. I’ve realised I get particularly triggered by situations I feel that I cannot escape from; waiting rooms, interviews, beauty treatments, even the cinema and restaurants. Often the build up before something is the worst part, I always pray the anxiety will leave when I get there and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Then often when I get home I will analyse every single thing I’ve said and done to make sure I haven’t done anything embarrassing, been annoying or upset anyone. I get so paranoid and sometimes will message my friends just to be 100% sure they aren’t mad at me, it’s exhausting.
I’m a massive people pleaser and I have a huge fear of any type of conflict. I cannot allow myself to upset anyone, cause any arguments and I must be liked by everyone. In everyday life though, this can be impossible. You can’t please everyone all the time, and this sometimes causes me a lot of anxiety. I also get anxious about the anxiety I feel at social events and how this makes me come across, I usually feel very physically anxious and this can sometimes make me act a bit fidgety and strange. I hate to feel like I’m not giving ‘best version of myself’ and so if I feel very anxious it can make me very panicky. The idea of having a panic attack around a lot of people is my worst nightmare. I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable with my own discomfort. Once again, I am anxious about being anxious!
H E L P
Since realising I have a real problem with anxiety I have reached out for help twice with my doctor, and both times have been positive! The first time I was recommended an online CBT therapy course which gave me a lot of coping tools and helped me learn some of my triggers. The second time, which was only last week I have been prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. Medication is always something I’ve been very weary to try, and what I considered to be a last resort. However, after a lot of thinking and talking with close friends, my family and my doctor I’ve decided to give it a go. If the thing that can really help me and change my life for the better is taking a pill once a day, then so be it! I’m only at the very beginning of my medication journey, but I’m feeling excited and hopeful for how it could go. I want to start enjoying my life instead of worrying about it and I want to be able to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Being more open and honest with the people in my life has also really helped me too, it really takes the pressure off. After being more open talking about my anxiety a lot of people have responded with ‘but you’re so happy, confident and bubbly, we never would have thought you were struggling!’ The truth is I still am all of those thing, I’m just anxious too!
If you are struggling with anxiety, I would 100% recommend talking to someone and reaching out for help with your doctor. Telling someone your struggling is the first step to feeling better and it will feel like a huge weight off your shoulders! SO many people struggle with this and you are not alone. There is absolutely no shame in needing help with your brain!