Let’s Talk About Anxiety

Let's Talk About Anxiety

There are many things I am proud of in my 22 years of life. Having anxiety doesn’t exactly make the top of the list, but it is what it is. Living with anxiety has been far from easy, but after 2 and a half years of battling it, I am finally comfortable enough to share my story.

I suffer from GAD – General Anxiety Disorder. While I used to be incredibly embarrassed by that fact, the more research I do, the more I realize that I’m not alone. Most people don’t see this as a big deal because it’s not life threatening, (thank goodness!) and because it can’t be “seen.”

Unfortunately there is such an unfair stigma against mental health. There’s so much more to it than what meets the eye, and I’m ready to share that without ANY shame. So, let’s dig just a little bit deeper shall we?

What Does It Mean To Have GAD?

Firstly, what does it mean to have anxiety? Well, to be honest, there’s a different definition for every sufferer out there. For me, having anxiety means chronic worrying, self-doubt, and over exhaustion of nerves. The simplest of tasks are daunting and we simply have no control over those feelings.

How Does Anxiety Start?

Theres really no concrete answer to this. Anxiety can occur at anytime to anyone, for any number of reasons.  Sometimes, anxiety is genetically inherited, other times it literally just happens.

My Story.

In my life, I experienced my first panic attack on my 16th birthday in Disney World. Disney freaking World….of all places! I was having a FABULOUS time and my family and I were waiting for dinner at Planet Hollywood, when all of a sudden, this overwhelming sense of terror consumed my body. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I had to escape, somehow, someway. When it finally passed, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I hoped to never experience that again.

Flash forward to February 2013 and once again, out of nowhere, I had the absolute worst panic attack of my life. It was a 2 hour ordeal and from that night forward, I was changed. What was once a rare occurrence became a daily battle. I went into hiding. I distanced myself from my family and friends. I lived in constant shame and self-loathing for having this medical condition. Anxiety was like the big bully on the playground, just lurking around every corner waiting for me. My biggest fear was people finding out what I was going through and judging me. I was way too embarrassed to ask for help, and I thought I could handle it on my own.

Unfortunately, I experienced two major tragedies in a short period of time and my anxiety became worse. It started to affect my health in ways I NEVER expected, and so, the time came for me to get some help and begin to heal myself. I began to seek counseling and start medication. That moment was the best decision of my life.  

For the first time in the LONGEST time, I could breathe. I could resume a normal, healthy lifestyle again. I could go out with my family and friends. I could do all of the normal things that I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s something that doesn’t just go away overnight. However; I’ve learned to accept it. Anxiety and I are by no means friends, but we are no longer enemies either. There’s so much more I could say about this illness, but each and every person experiences it differently. I will say this though, the journey I’m on is unique. Anxiety will always be a part of it, but I know I can overcome it. I know I can survive it.

What I Want My Loved Ones To Know – What ALL Loved Ones of Anxiety Should Know.

  1. We will be frustrating sometimes.

    One of the hardest parts about living with anxiety is what it does to our relationships/friendships. I have a friendship in which anxiety has played a LARGE role in it. I often frustrate, annoy and upset my friend with my behavior. I often hear “stop dwelling”, “stop apologizing”, “stop explaining”, “why are you making a big deal out of this?” and more. It hurts to hear harsh words sometimes. Mainly because I know I dwell, over think & over analyze, but I know I can’t help it. I know it’s horrible for my friend to put up with and I know it’s both exhausting and sickening to her as it is to me. Here’s the thing: Our anxiety ridden selves find it hard to believe that we can be loved and accepted despite this. We are constantly torn between pushing people away, and worrying about losing them. We don’t want to lose the people we love. I know I certainly don’t want to lose my friend. But, our minds simply cannot help but worry over that. It’s frustrating, yes, but it also shows how much we care about you.

  2. We can’t do tough love. 

    Sometimes, people with anxiety can have pretty stubborn heads. It takes us awhile to understand something. It’s not because we can’t comprehend, it’s because we have 2 parts of our brain that are fighting to have control. It may be so easy to get tough with us – we know. But, please, know that harshness and tough love, doesn’t help, it hurts. It hurts a lot. It makes us sink further into self-depreciation mode. It makes us feel even worse about ourselves. Please try to be patient with us….we know it is hardly easy, and we know it’s just as rough for you. But, we appreciate your gentleness and sensitivity to us more than anything in this world.

  3. We don’t want/need pity.

    Yes, we realize that some people have it way worse than we do. While we need your tones to be gentle, we don’t need you to feel sorry for us. We don’t need to hear “I’m sorry” or “I know you are suffering.” Instead, we need encouragement, positive energy, and an occasional shoulder to lean on.

  4. It’s the little things that mean the most to us.

    Anxiety sufferers need to be reassured on occasion. We need to be reminded that we’re loved, cared about, and supported. Something as simple as a sweet text message, hug or affirmation can make a world of difference in our lives.

  5. Anxiety is a REAL diagnosis: 

    As I mentioned above, I’ve struggled with other health issues caused by my anxiety. Did you know that anxiety can raise your white blood cells? Neither did I until I had some routine blood work done, only to find out I had to see a hematologist to figure out the problem. I’ve never been so scared. So please, if you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to get help, or be a beacon of help for them. Don’t let them go through this alone.

  6. We are more than our anxiety: 

    Yes, anxiety is a part of us, but it’s not all of us. While we worry, regret, get emotional, and may be as confusing and complicated as Calculus, we have some great points. We have a huge heart that loves and cherishes you all dearly. We will always be there for you. We may not always be the best of friends, or family members, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love or respect you. That doesn’t mean we aren’t (or can’t be) a joy to be around. Believe in us….like we believe in you.


Allison AcquavivaAbout the Author: Allison Acquaviva 

Allison is a 22 year old Public Relations professional; passionate about sharing her story of anxiety and depression in hopes that it will inspire others. She is a woman of Faith, animal advocate, and part time freelance writer. You can find more of Allison’s work on her website, The Positive Princess, on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

[irp posts=”1015″ name=”Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication”]

4 Comments

Jan

Wow! After reading Allison Acquaviva’s article, I thought I could have been reading my autobiography! I do and have been seeing a doctor for several disorders I have but had never realized what this was. And family members have told me I need to stop worrying over everything and they make comments that, yes, really hurt my feelings. I have been told that I dwell on things, that I make a big deal out of things and I tell them I can’t help it. They tell me that I can help it…….that there is no need to worry about things that haven’t happened. Sometimes I feel so “different” from the rest of the world, that I think it would be easier to just be dead. It is VERY hard to deal with life when it seems no one can understand you.

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Hey Sigmund

Anxiety can be really difficult to understand for people who haven’t been through it, and I completely understand how hard it must be for you to have family and friends react as they do. If you are interested in reading more about anxiety, head to the ‘Being Human’ tab in the menu and click on ‘Anxiety’ in the drop down menu (or just click on this link: https://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/). If you read the comments it will become clear how many people feel as you do. I hope this will help you to feel more understood. You are certainly not alone on this.

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Debbie

I suffer terribly with anxiety Depression and Suicidle thoughts . The medication I’m on doesn’t seem to help .. If I don’t take it I’m in a terrible state and when I do take it I feel as if a cloud is over Me .. I do suffer with the winter months too .. I have had some pretty traumatic situations too ? I just want to be Happy .X

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Debbie I’m sorry you’re going through this. Depression is awful. Of course you want to be happy and you deserve to be. Are you able to speak to your doctor about a different medication? There are a number of different ones out there and they don’t all necessarily work for everyone. It might take some experimenting to find the one that works for you, but please don’t give up. I know the strength and courage it would be taking to keep fighting to get through every day but please keep going. The world needs you. Love and strength to you x

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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