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.

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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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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