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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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