I remember feeling like the world was ending. I had just gotten home after having a particularly humiliating anxiety attack while out at a bar with a group of friends, and it felt like there was something very, very wrong with me.
I remember thinking, Why can’t you just be normal? Nothing bad even happened to you today! Why can’t you go out and have a good time like everyone else?
Last year I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. which affects almost 40 million adults in the U.S..
I also started experiencing anxiety attacks, where my body would start to shake, my heart would race, and my breathing would get shallow and choppy. If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, you know how scary it can be.
In that moment, you feel as if your life is totally out of your control. It’s a mixture of worry, self-doubt, criticism, and fear coursing through your veins, and it can be so nerve-wracking that you feel paralyzed.
My experience with anxiety was quick and intense. I had dealt with depression on and off since I was about 12 years old, so the feelings of hopelessness and sadness accompanied with it were familiar.But the experience of extreme and prolonged anxiety was entirely new for me.
I suddenly found myself being totally controlled by the emotion. I had to force myself to get out of bed most mornings, fighting past the feeling of churning worry in my gut.
I would call my manager and apologize for being late (again) because I was too worked up to get into my car and drive to work.
I’d bail on plans with friends because the thought of being in a social environment made me want to curl up and hide in my room forever.
It got to the point where I knew I needed professional help. My work and relationships were being affected; plus, I was tired of feeling like crap day after day.
I started seeing a therapist and shortly after started taking medication to help with the anxiety and depression. But it didn’t really help all that much. If anything, it just made me feel numb to it all.
What Is Anxiety?
Here’s something that might seem surprising: Anxiety is a normal part of being alive. Even though it’s often viewed as a negative emotion, anxiety actually serves a purpose.
It’s a feeling of worry, unease, tension and nervousness, often triggered by an event or a situation that we believe might harm us. Its role is to keep us safe from danger.
However, we often develop fear or worry around situations that are beyond our control. We don’t always express our emotions in a healthy way, which allows stress to build up over time.Underlying stressors from our past may also contribute to feeling anxious.
So while anxiety can be helpful by alerting us to external situations that might be a legitimate cause for concern (i.e. a tiger in the woods that could attack at any given moment), it can also be really detrimental (i.e. having an anxiety attack while driving to work because you’ve been subtly dealing with stress from your job for years on end without really expressing the emotion in any way).
I started to get really interested in anxiety because, as I mentioned, it was such a new experience for me.
I was curious to learn more about this emotion and how it could have such a strong hold over my physical body, producing symptoms associated with anxiety attacks.
Even more so, I started to get interested in how anxiety had such a strong hold over my mind.
I started to notice the way I thought about anxiety, and the negative things that went through my head every time I sensed the emotion arising.
Things like, “You shouldn’t feel this way,” or, “You’re better than this,” or, “I thought you had dealt with this already, why are you getting upset again?”, or, “What the heck is wrong with you? Why can’t you just wake up and go to work like everyone else?”
I noticed I was beating myself up in my own thoughts because I was experiencing a normal human emotion. How twisted is that?!
My anxiety was actually causing more anxiety because I thought there was something wrong with me for experiencing the emotion. Hah!
Since then, I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to feel anxiety because it can point you in a different direction in your life.
It can serve as a tool to alert you to situations, events, places, or people that are not serving you to the highest potential, so that you can become more aware about the life that you are living.
I have since developed a deep sense of gratitude for anxiety, because it shows me when things are out of balance in my life.
Tools And Resources For Easing Anxiety
Since I started to become more curious around anxiety and what its purpose is in my life, I’ve found several resources to be helpful in easing unnecessary worry and stress.
Writing down how I felt about anxiety was a huge turning point for me, because it allowed me to really see that I was viewing it as “bad” or as “wrong”, when I really should have let myself experience a normal human emotion without judgement!
I’ve always kept journals and they can be extremely therapeutic, especially stream of consciousness journaling, which is the practice of simply writing anything that comes to mind for a set period of time without thinking too much about it or worrying about editing for spelling or grammar.
Just let the pen flow on paper and see what comes up.
Meditation And Mindfulness
A regular meditation practice can be extremely helpful with reducing anxiety in your life.
More and more research has come out recently showing the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, which is the simple act of being present in everyday activities like brushing your teeth, cooking, running errands, etc.
Although it can seem daunting at first to try meditating, most people recommend starting with just 3 to 5 minutes per day in silence. Simply close your eyes, connect to your breath, and observe your thoughts.
Diet And Exercise
We’ve all heard that you are what you eat, and that truth can be applied to anxiety in the sense that certain foods will affect how you feel. Avoiding foods that are toxic and harmful for you, like fried foods, preservatives, and refined sugars can help.
Also, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, as well as excess dairy products, can also help contribute to a less anxious lifestyle.
There are also plenty of natural supplements available that can help with anxiety and are a great option in addition to or in replacement of prescription medication.
Regular exercise is another way to reduce anxiety. At least 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week is recommended, but be creative in how you get that exercise in – it doesn’t just need to be at a gym or on a treadmill.
Yoga, hiking, spinning, walking outside, bike riding and kayaking are all options, too, and they can have other benefits besides just burning off energy!
Seeking Support From Others
The most important thing I’ve done since I started dealing with anxiety was opening up to talk about it.
I was shocked at how many other people have gone through similar experiences as me.
Once I started to voice my experiences publicly, countless other people shared their own struggles with anxiety and depression, which made me feel so supported.
Therapy was also a crucial tool for me to deal with the key stressors in my life that continued to come to the surface and contribute to the anxiety.
Sometimes getting professional help is one of the only things that can really dig deep and help you heal in the way that you need to.
Don’t be ashamed or scared to ask for help if that’s what your heart is asking for.
The key things I’ve learned in the past year about anxiety boil down to this — anxiety is a normal human emotion that serves a purpose, and just because you’re experiencing that feeling doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
Allow yourself to experience the feeling for what it is, learn what you can from it, and then release it in a healthy way.
Take care of your body and be conscious of what goes into it, because the more love and care you put in, the more you’ll get out.
And remember that you are never alone. There are always people out there who love you and support you, and are here to help you get through whatever it is you’re going through.
Author: Lauren Madden of www.laurenmaddencoaching.com