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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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