Perspectives on Anxiety
Anxiety comes in many forms. I’ve been dealing with it for a couple of years now, but have spoken to a lot of people in that time whose descriptions differ from my own. I reached out online and asked people to answer three short questions about their experience of anxiety (and/or Anxiety). Here’s what they said, as well as my own responses.
How does anxiety affect your daily life?
For me, anxiety crops up in a number of forms. One day, the panic of realising I forgot to put the bins out might send me into a downward spiral of chaos. Another day, I might get so overloaded with sensory input on public transport that I have to get off before my stop and take some fresh air. What really gets me about anxiety is the irrational nature of it. Nothing about public transport or bin collections scares me on a conscious level. But beneath — in the subconscious — we all have triggers, and often they have no link to our conscious experience. Life becomes about finding them, and managing them.
“Anxiety is always there. It doesn’t always have a direct effect, but is with me in every single thing I do, mildly through to intensely.”
“Anxiety affects every single interaction I have with other people. I have to psych myself up to simply talk to a convenience store clerk. If I say anything that’s the slightest bit silly or awkward, I obsess over it and refuse to talk to another stranger until I can settle the fear and discomfort. I distance myself from friends and family and rarely leave my apartment because I’m constantly worried that I’ll make a fool of myself or that something terrible will happen. I get frustrated and overwhelmed so easily because it’s literally impossible for me to not automatically assume the absolute worst outcome of every situation. Even as I type this out, I’m worried that I’m just wasting your time.”
“Anxiety makes it really difficult for me to attend social events, especially those where I don’t know everyone, and being 21 there are a lot of birthday parties and weddings to attend — it’s not ideal!”
“I have to set my alarm two hours in advance as I wake up every morning with what feels like the world’s worst hangover. I also tend to work from home more because certain days, I can’t stop crying or hurling over the stomach pain.”
“My anxiety makes it hard for me to arrive and leave places, so leaving the house for work, getting into work, leaving work (especially if I’m nipping out somewhere and coming back again). It makes everything take a little longer because I have to psych myself up to go anywhere.”
“Sometimes I can go for weeks at a time without experiencing any anxiety and then panic can strike (often for no logical explanation) and stay with me for days. It’s exhausting, affects my sleep, and can really affect the way I look at everyday things like getting on a busy tube train (I can let 3 or 4 go before I feel I will have enough space to breathe on one) and even having the energy to get up and go to work.”
What do you do to combat, or deal with, anxiety?
My approach to managing an anxious situation varies. My main difficulties are with a) social interaction, and b) sensory stimulation. So I often need to just sit in a quiet room (or my flat) and be alone for a while. This removes the noise, movement and social pressures that cause me to crumble.
But idleness can also bring anxiety on. I often go for a run to ‘shake off’ an anxious episode. More recently, meditation has been beneficial too. Not only sitting meditation, but meditative activities such as cooking, baking, even juggling. Anything that requires my complete attention will pull my mind away from the anxiety and allow it to defuse naturally.
“When having an Anxiety attack, I go with it. I was taught early on not to distract, but to ride it out, accept it and face up to it. If I’m feeling generally anxious, this tends to be quite a tiring feeling, so I rest, evaluate why and what’s happening and practice mindfulness.”
“What works best for me in combating anxiety is separating myself from other people. Going somewhere quiet where I can be alone for a while and decompress. I try to avoid over-stimulation. Music is always a huge help. Giving myself a project also helps; something that I can pour all of that nervous energy into.”
“I put my phone in the drawer for a few hours and have a mini social detox. I’ll have a long, hot shower and I’ll do something “creative” be it blog, update a photo album or simply, paint my nails.”
“I work out, although I also have to fight my anxiety to get there, a good workout does wonders for me. It’s an hour where I’m not feeling anxious which is the only time I ever get that apart from sleep and I can’t explain how good it feels to be home from the gym after having a clear mind for a whole hour.”
“Cutting down on caffeine really helped with my anxiety, and I’ve tried guided meditation and deep breathing exercises before which really helps with ‘general’ anxiety.”
“I feel I am getting a little better at controlling it — distraction techniques sometimes work (reading a magazine or looking at happy pictures on my phone) and focusing on my breathing. The Headspace app is good. But the thing I absolutely swear by are Bach’s rescue remedies. They work instantly on me and help calm me down — whether it’s a placebo affect or not, they really work!”
In three words, describe anxiety to somebody who has never experienced it.
“Terrifying, exhausting, intense.”
“Overwhelming, exhausting and crippling.”
“Terrifying. Maddening. Hellish.”
“Suffocating, restricting, depressing.”
“Extrovert trapped inside.”
“No getting out.”
For me, it’s life turned upside-down.
The aim of this post was to demonstrate the broad spread of experiences that come under the umbrella term anxiety (and Anxiety), and highlight how everybody is affected by it in different ways. An unexpected side-effect of this piece was that I discovered some people in my circles who I had no idea were dealing with anxiety. People I’ve been friends with, worked with or connected with online for a number of years took part, and with many of them I was clueless that they were in the same boat as me. It just goes to show, you never know what’s going on beneath the surface, even among those you know well.
Thank you to everybody who shared their experience so openly. ■