I am very happy to announce that today the second part of my series “My Mental Illness and Me” will be going online. The lovely Jen from Diffusing the Tension agreed to share her story and six of the tips that have helped her to deal with her anxiety in a healthy way. You will find more information about Jen at the end of the post, where you can also find all her social media links. I hope you like this post and find it helpful, let us know what you think! ———————————————————————————————-
“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” -Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home
“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.” -Paulo Coelho
“In an era of stress and anxiety, when the present seems unstable and the future unlikely, the natural response is to retreat and withdraw from reality, taking recourse either in fantasies of the future or in modified visions of a half-imagined past.” -Alan Moore, Watchmen
There are many modern thoughts about anxiety. For those that have experienced it, it becomes all encompassing, like you are drowning in an ocean of your own experiences. I have certainly dealt with it, so I wanted to share with you: what it is, what the symptoms are, and what you can do to manage it.
What is anxiety?
According to WebMD, there are a few different disorders that fall under the umbrella of anxiety.
- Panic disorder: It strikes out of nowhere and the episodes can feel like a heart attack.
- Social anxiety: This is when a person feels overwhelmed in everyday social situations.
- Specific phobia(s): This is when you feel anxious about a specific thing like heights or spiders.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: This is simply an underlying sense of worrying that does not seem to have a cause.
Anxiety can have several symptoms, according to that same article:
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Sleep problems
- Not being able to stay calm and still
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
As you can see, many people might not realize that what they are experiencing is anxiety. Each of the symptoms can be caused by so many different things. Getting appropriately diagnosed is the first step toward getting well.
My story with anxiety
I have suffered from mental illness in some capacity for almost 25 years. What started as trauma related depression turned into bipolar 2 disorder. Now, I suffer from bipolar disorder and anxiety. It has taken years of treatment, and years of introspection and personal development, to become truly comfortable with this diagnosis. While it can be difficult to live with, I now am able to accept who I am.
There are several things that make me anxious:
- Long car rides
- Thinking about death
- Going somewhere without easy access to a bathroom
- My kids’ occasional bad behavior
- Being overly tired
I am just one example of a person living with anxiety. My triggers are ones that can be common for many people, and other people might be triggered by things to which I don’t give a second thought. It is such a varied illness, which can make it hard to manage and treat.
6 tips for managing anxiety
- Exercise. Exercise has been a game changer for my mental health in general. With anxiety, our mind is constantly flooded with thoughts that leave us feeling overwhelmed. Working out is a hobby that can not only give you a distraction from these thoughts, but that releases feel good chemicals into your brain. It is a win-win!
- Find a good mantra. Something I have found helpful is to find a phrase that you can repeat to yourself as often as needed when you feel anxious. This phrase will be different for everyone, since everyone’s anxiety is triggered by different things. The mantra I choose to repeat to myself when I begin to feel panicky is: “The thought of a tiger is not a tiger.” This reminds me that the overwhelming thoughts I have often do not reflect reality.
- Grounding. Grounding yourself in reality is very important for calming you when you’re anxious. My favorite technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Simply put, you acknowledge the following: 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Therapy. I recommend therapy to everybody! I just started going back myself a couple months ago and it has already been a game changer for me. I have been able to get rid of one source of anxiety that has recently popped up. It is so helpful to talk about the way we are feeling, and to talk to someone who is trained in different coping strategies.
- Be your own advocate. It is so important to stand up for yourself when you are mentally unwell. Track your symptoms, and learn to recognize when you are not doing well. When this happens, tell your doctor. Maybe certain adjustments to your treatment plan need to be made. But remember, do not expect others to speak up for you. You are your best advocate.
- Medication. There are many medications that can help manage anxiety. You can choose to take something daily that will help proactively treat your symptoms, or you can ask for an as needed “rescue” medicine.
As you can see, anxiety is complicated and can feel hard to manage. But by no means does that imply that you cannot live a happy, full life with this diagnosis. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the United States, according to this article. It says, “Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.”
That means that it can happen to anyone. If you are going through it, keep in mind that it is common and does not discriminate. It affects mothers, fathers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, men, women, children, and adults alike. It is way more common than you might think. If you are in a crowded room, it is likely that many of those people are suffering from the same thing you are.
There are many things that make me anxious. When this happens, I try to remember to take my meds, do my grounding exercise, and remember that I am not alone. And neither are you.
About the Author
Jen (the writer behind the blog, Diffusing the Tension) lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband and two children (ages 4 and 2). She has bipolar disorder and frequently writes about her experiences with that. In her spare time, she is a bookworm, TV junkie, and fitness nut. You can follow her on:
Facebook- Diffusing the Tension
Her blog- www.diffusingthetension.com