I have anxiety. It probably first manifested along with my depression in high school, but it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t until after I had my first baby that it became more potent. There were times when my daughter was little—one or two—that my anxiety grew so bad as to throw me into panic attacks. One minute I was sitting next to her on the couch, uncontrollably nervous and anxious about something, the next I was hyperventilating and completely unaware of my surroundings. Eventually, I would come out of it to find myself still there next to her, but without any idea how long I’d been going through this panic attack. It was terrifying. My daughter could have gotten up and walked out of our home, and I would have had no clue.
Another time, I came out of my panic attack to find her in front of my face saying, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” over and over again. I had no idea how long she’d been there or how many times she had said my name. Circumstances like this happened several times—because that’s life with anxiety.
Everyone has heard the idiom, Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
Well, that’s exactly what anxiety does to a person. When I look at a pile of dishes that needs to be done, I don’t see a pile of dishes, I see a mountain of dishes that will take hours to do, energy I don’t have, time away from my kids, and my heart pounds, my pulse races, my breathing becomes labored … yeah, life with anxiety. I can’t see the one dish I could start with and go from there. I just see the mountain, and I panic.
A friend told me a story about her anxiety and a gym membership. She joined the gym in 1998, went a few times in the next year, then stopped going. Like many monthly payments nowadays, her membership fee was automatically withdrawn from her bank account. She continued to make these payments even though she had stopped going. Six or seven years later, she wrote a letter asking to cancel her membership, which unfortunately didn’t work. Meanwhile, the gym had been bought out by a larger gym, changes had occurred, and she was still making those monthly payments, though not going to the gym. It took a few more years before she finally got her fingers to dial the number, make the call, cancel her membership. All that time she had been making payments for a membership she wasn’t using. Because she couldn’t pick up the phone! It sounds crazy, right? I would think so, too, if I didn’t know what anxiety was like—or if I hadn’t had a very similar experience myself. I, too, get extreme anxiety when it comes to calling people. I, too, had a gym membership I needed to cancel, but just couldn’t do it. Every time I thought about it I would panic. Heart pounding, pulse racing, stomach clenching, throat constricting. And I just couldn’t do it. Luckily for me, my then-husband (now ex) who knew how bad my anxiety was and knew how hard it was for me to make a phone call, did it for me. He called the gym a few months after I had stopped going and canceled my membership for me. But I get it! And those of you with anxiety get it. It’s not that we want to be this way or that we’re weak or just don’t care. Sometimes I don’t do those dishes or I don’t make that call just to avoid a panic attack.
So what can you do to help your anxiety? I know people who have done very well on medication—it has really helped calm their anxiety. Medication helped with my depression a lot, but not anxiety as much. One thing that helps me are reminders. A friend recently posted a picture of a temporary tattoo she put on her arm that simply said, “Breathe.” I could totally relate to that! I honestly do have to remind myself to breathe sometimes. When I feel like I’m about to panic, I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. Such a simple thing really does help to calm and refocus me.
Yoga and meditation are also huge for me. Give yourself time, distraction free, to meditate and relax.
Lists can help, as well. This doesn’t work for me because I am not a list person. I already wrote a post talking about that. But I know, for others, being able to physically mark something off a list helps.
Even though I’m not a list person, I am a planner. Sometimes I can be spontaneous, but for the most part, spontaneity garners anxiety and panic. If you need to plan things out, plan them out and don’t let anyone stop you!
Now to those who know or live with someone who has anxiety—like always, I can only speak from my own experience, so that being said, one of the worst things you can do to someone with anxiety is pressure or try to force them into something. Years ago, someone close to me, who didn’t fully understand what I was going through, often did this, and it only made my anxiety even worse. It built up walls between us, between me and everyone, really, and damaged our relationship.
I also, again, advise to be loving and compassionate. Instead of getting upset when things don’t get done, be understanding. Know that it isn’t because they are lazy or don’t want to try. Instead, offer encouragement, a listening ear, and offer to help them with the tasks that seem so monumental to them.
Another suggestion is to remember that just because we have mental illness doesn’t mean we are completely incompetent. It’s okay to offer suggestions, but it’s even better to ask someone with anxiety what they need and let them tell you. At least that’s how it worked for me. Sometimes I really didn’t know what I needed, so there may be times where you’re at a standstill. But there were times I knew I couldn’t do certain things or knew how I needed help with other things, and what a world of difference it makes when someone actually listens to that and treats me like a competent adult instead of a child who needs coddling or chastisement.
It’s not that I believe those of us with mental illness deserve to get off scot-free. I do believe in personal responsibility, but that is a subject that deserves its own post, and one I will get to eventually! For now, I hope some of what I have written has helped.