Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What does anxiety feel like?

I can’t breathe. I start hyperventilating. I feel a knot in my throat and I just want to cry. My whole world seems to come crushing down, and suddenly I feel like I’m locked up in a bubble of my own fears. My heart starts beating even faster because I’m getting even more scared, and every beat of my heart is just a sad reminder of this uncontrollable fear that has taken possession of me.

Anxiety feels like your heart will jump out of your chest.
It makes you want to cry. It makes you want to bawl.
I breathe deeply just as I have been told to do. I can’t even breathe that deep because my mind won’t allow it. I close my eyes, and try to calm myself, but as soon as I close my eyes, horrible pictures of catastrophes make their appearance. Sometimes, just like the little kid scared of the monster in the closet, I see grotesque figures as soon as I close my eyes. So I keep them open.

I cry. I bawl. And I want to kick myself for feeling this way, and I envy those who can live life without worrying about anything.

Once the tears come rushing down my face, I start feeling better. The pressure in my chest is being slowly released. I am calmer, but still scared. My phone rings and I have to pretend I’m normal once again.

What was that? 
What I just described was anxiety at its peak: it was an anxiety attack. I experienced this months ago and it lasted about 15 minutes. But anxiety doesn’t last 15 minutes. Anxiety is a chronic disorder that lives with you day in and day out. You leave your house feeling anxious and you come back feeling anxious.

Many people don’t understand what this feels like. They just think anxious people are nothing but “scaredy cats” who are too scared to live. And to some extent that may be true. However, the part that I want non-anxious people to understand about us is our constant struggle to be normal, to be like the rest of the people that are not paralyzed by fear.

No, it’s not just a matter of forget your fears and do it anyway.  It’s not just a matter of : “look, she’s doing it and nothing has happened to her.”
Even if statistics show that our fears may be unreasonable, they feel totally viable in our minds.

So please try to understand us. It is especially important for those who are close to an anxious person to be patient and to understand that we are struggling and that we are trying to think like you do. Please understand that we also want out of this cage, but can’t find the key. Please be patient and don’t try to push us into anything we are not ready to do. Please don’t stop loving us because we seem to make your life a little harder.

How can you, the non-anxious person, help? 
When we go into an anxiety episode, be gentle. Don’t yell or scream, or dictate that we are being unreasonable. Instead, asks us questions. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re anxious about. Play the role of a therapist. Ask us question such as:

  • Why are you feeling so scared?
  • What is it that you are picturing in your mind? 
  • How likely do you think that is to happen? 
  • What’s the worst that could happen? 
  • If you don’t do [insert activity causing anxiety]  what could be the consequence of it? 

Never ask these questions with a judgmental tone. Be caring and nurturing. Empathize and sympathize with your anxious loved one.

Normally, asking questions helps the person in fear to release some of the pressure being kept inside. Knowing that we have someone that is willing to understand us is also a great source of relief.

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