With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d touch on a mental illness I have an unpleasant amount of experience with: anxiety.
One of the big peeves I see is when someone with anxiety is written to be simply ‘nervous’ because that’s really not how anxiety works. There are multiple types of anxiety—Generalized Anxiety, Social, Panic and Phobias are all well known, as is PTSD. OCD is also linked to anxiety, and anxiety also has links to depression and ADHD as well. PTSD, OCD and depression also get their share of poor writing.
Keep in mind that anxiety is a beast with a lot of varied forms and symptoms. It doesn’t present the same for everyone. These are just the things I’ve found from dealing with my own anxiety. Even though anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting about 18% of the U.S. population, it doesn’t present the same for every sufferer.
It’s not just nervousness. You know that feeling when you’ve just gotten off a roller coaster? Or watched a horror movie that actually terrified you? That’s an ongoing feeling, frequently for no reason. Anxiety is actually caused by your fight-or-flight response being always on. Most of the time for me that translates to being afraid. Nervousness is something I generally don’t deal with, to be honest, but constant, inexplicable fear is.
Tiredness is a constant. As I mentioned, there’s an ongoing feeling of adrenaline rush. It’s a wearing experience and frankly, I’m tired a lot. Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t just shut off when I go to bed, so that means sleep gets interrupted, or it’s not restful.
Little things have a massive impact. I do mean this literally. I can go from having a perfectly good day and have dealt with a ton of good and positives things. Drop one dinner plate and my anxiety will determine how the rest of my day has gone based on the fact I dropped a plate. Conversely however, little things can also be really soothing. Spraying my pillow with the same perfume I put on before morning yoga can sometimes act like flipping a switch, and clicking a pen can help derail some of the irritating ‘what if’ thoughts my anxiety likes to throw at me.
It’s a literal pain in the neck. Muscle tension comes with the territory, and for me, that means a lot of neck and shoulder pain. A top that, it also causes headaches.
It always feels like someone’s judging. It really does not matter what I’m doing or how irrational I know this is. Going to the grocery store? I’ll be silently rehearsing exactly what I’m going to say to the cashier and trying to remember if I have to buy anything I could be carded for on the off chance they decide me and my permanent baby-face aren’t actually old enough to have superglue. I have to call and make a doctor’s appointment? You guessed it—somehow or the other my brain is convinced that the super-friendly receptionist is noting down that it’s a ‘medication’ review and probably thinks I’m addicted to something.
I’m acutely aware of my own irrationality. Believe me. I know my doctor’s receptionist only asks what I need an appointment for so my doctor can come into the appointment prepared. I know dropping one plate doesn’t mean that my day was terrible, it just means I dropped a plate. I’m aware that these reactions are irrational. That’s a huge part of anxiety: having fear and anxiousness that is disproportionate to the scenario. I know it’s irrational. Anxiety loves throwing logic out the window.
Coping isn’t a simple answer. At the moment I’m on two different medications. I’ve worked yoga into my daily routine. I tried—and failed—to cut back on caffeine and I know to watch what I eat. Along with therapy and other habits, it’s very possible to manage my anxiety. But, there is no ‘simple’ solution. It all takes time, and routine and constant upkeep.
Again, keep in mind that anxiety is not the same for every person. However, also remember that cheapening mental illnesses like anxiety by reducing them to being just ‘nervous’ makes it harder for those who have an illness or disorder to recognize they need help, simply because they may not recognize the symptoms they have when compared with the stereotypes and images portrayed by media.