Written by Amanda Topolski
As someone who struggles with anxiety, it's difficult for me to explain it to people who don't undergo the same experiences that I do. How can you possibly put into words this phenomenon that controls your life on a daily basis? Well, I'm going to try going back to the basics.
A - Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses with both mental and physical side effects. Some common types include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder.
B - Breathing seems basic, but is so important. When I get into a state of intense panic, I forget to breathe. Recently, my therapist showed me methods of meditation which often involve different breathing techniques, taking your mind off of whatever you're worrying about and onto something else.
C - Crying. It happens at the most inconvenient times with anxiety. Your heart starts to race, your chest is tight, and all of a sudden, your eyes are leaking. Last weekend, I was at a social gathering with my friends and had a panic attack. I was so embarrassed the rest of the night with my tear stained cheeks. It's important to be courteous, you don't know what someone is going through.
D - Death is a common fear among people with anxiety. For me, it's a major part of my OCD. For example, if I don't tap my pen X times, my family member will die. To most people it sounds irrational; it even sounds kind of irrational to me. However, the fear is so deep set that it is extremely hard not to give in.
E - Excessive is an understatement when it comes to anxiety. Every little thing has the potential to get blown way out of proportion, but, to us, it doesn't seem that way - it seems totally reasonable. Just tone of voice or a different phrasing of something can set off someone with anxiety into a spiral of thoughts.
F - Freedom is something I crave for, but not in the normal way that a young adult or college student does. I crave freedom from my mind. I told my therapist last week that I just wish I could turn off my brain because it's killing me slowly with its constant noise and thought.
G - Guilt is something that is felt very often by individuals with anxiety. Most of the time, the guilt is misplaced and not valid whatsoever, but that's what anxiety is kind of about - irrationality. For example, I feel extremely guilty if I have free time and I always feel like there's something I should be doing. However, free time is something I need in order to keep functioning and self care is essential.
H - Help is hard to get, but not because it's not available. As with other mental illnesses, anxiety is often looked down upon as a sign of weakness, like there's something wrong with you. Deciding to go to a psychiatrist, to therapy, or to start taking medication is a big step for someone with anxiety.
I - Introversion is not a qualifier for anxiety. Introverts and extroverts both experience anxiety disorders. Just because someone outgoing doesn't mean you could assume that they are feeling perfectly fine. According to my Meyer's Briggs Test, I am an extrovert, but I still have a couple of anxiety disorders.
J - Jittery is something people who know me call me a lot. Either my leg is bouncing, my fingers are moving, or my hand is tapping. Oftentimes its nervous energy trying to escape, but sometimes it's just a surplus of energy in general. People who do this aren't trying to be annoying- it's just so hard to stop because it's the only release of the energy. For me, fidget cubes are super helpful, and I also like fidget spinners.
K - Knocked down and abandoned is a common feeling with anxiety. Sometimes, people can't appreciate how unique you are and all they see is someone who is overbearing and high maintenance. People with anxiety already have a rocky self-esteem so try not to make it worse by just leaving and not giving them the benefit of the doubt.
L - Love is going to be expressed differently by someone with anxiety. They're going to be annoying sometimes - checking to make sure everything is okay, telling you they love you and miss you often, etc. It's all out of love- remember that and don't get annoyed or standoffish. If you can't handle it, maybe you don't deserve their love.
M - Medications are often used to manage anxiety include anti-anxiety meds, SSRIs, and other anti-depressants. While someone may be taking medications to help them, the meds aren't going to solve all of their problems. I'm on two medications for my anxiety and still have issues to work through. You can't expect people to be 100% okay because they're taking a few pills.
N - Noise is often a trigger for people with anxiety (I know it is for me!) My therapist told me it's because I become "overstimulated." This is when there is too much going on at a time that it just becomes overwhelming. If you see this happening to someone you know with anxiety, encourage them to step away for a few minutes.
O - OCD is commonly used to described people who are excessively neat, but that's not what it is at all. The obsessive thoughts lead to uncontrollable compulsions. Oftentimes, the person does the compulsive ritual is order to help prevent something bad happening that their anxiety has pictures in their mind. Performing the ritual may result in a brief release of the anxiety, but then it comes right back to haunt them.
P - Panic attacks suck. There is absolutely no way to glorify them in any way shape or form - they are simply awful. During the extent of a panic attack, you may feel like you're dying. You feel as if you might actually be having a heart attack and that your head is going to explode. And afterwards, you're just so drained both mentally and physically.
Q - Questions are constantly running through the brain of someone with anxiety. Am I smart enough? Am I annoying this person? Am I going to be a total failure? Why can't I do this right? Do they still love me? Personally, it exhausts me.
R - Relationships a little bit more complicated because of anxiety, primarily because of the whole constantly over thinking and need for reassurance. For a lot of people, this is too much to handle, but it important to understand that your partner is coming from a place of anxiety and panic, not a place of not trusting you. I, and many others with anxiety, work on this each and every day.
S - Social situations can often making individuals with anxiety very overwhelmed. Just being in a room with too many people could make their heart pound and their pores sweat. I know that I've had to leave social gatherings to sit in the bathroom and calm down for ten minutes. If your friend says no to plans, its most likely not because they dislike you -- they probably can't mentally handle it at that point in time.
T - Triggers are personalized for each individual person. Everyone with anxiety is going to have something that will just make their anxiety go haywire. Some common examples include failure, social situations, tests, relationship problems, flashbacks to triggering events, etc.
U - Underwater. Do you ever have a dream that you're trapped underwater? You can't breathe and you're slowly running out of oxygen? Your limbs begin to go numb? This feeling is common for people with anxiety. The crippling feeling of being trapped underwater with no escape. It's scary because, well, you can't escape.
V - Vulnerability is hard for anyone to embrace. You open yourself up and let someone into your soul. After being let down, it's hard to open yourself up to be vulnerable again. While you shouldn't try to pry open someone when they don't want to, don't let someone with anxiety just shut themselves away. They'll appreciate any effort you make to get to know them as a person.
W - Water is important to drink. You're supposed to have a couple of glasses a day, but, with anxiety, it's easy to "forget" to do these simple acts of self care, such as drinking water, exercising, and even showering. With anxiety, you put everything ahead of yourself. Self care is difficult but essential.
X - Xeniatrophobia is the fear of seeing doctors who you do not know. Going to see a therapist or psychiatrist for the first time is nerve-wracking enough, but needing to change doctors? That is flat out petrifying. You're comfortable with who you have and have made a connection and are now expected to open up to a totally new person. I had to change psychiatrists because my insurance changed and I can confirm that this is a real fear.
Y - Yoga is actually a great way to calm your anxiety. It may seem like a stereotypical thing, but 10 or 15 minutes of yoga a day could do wonders for your mind and your body. I prefer intense exercise, but I started doing yoga and I actually love it.
Z - Zzzz's are important to get for anybody, but especially someone with anxiety. Often times, anxiety can make sleep difficult, but it will also get worse without enough sleep (go figure). I'm learning to know when my body is done and needs rest or a nap.