Five Things I’ve Learned From Living With Anxiety

How my anxious brain thinks.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have anxiety. As a small child I had separation anxiety. I was the only child in my neighborhood who didn’t go to preschool. It was difficult for me to go places by myself, or even to be home alone, especially at night. Still, somehow, I didn’t realize my problem was anxiety until my son was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) when he was 14.

Over the past eight years, I’ve talked to specialists, sat in group therapy and read lots of self-help books and articles. Through trial and error, and lots of humility and patience (sometimes not so much), I have learned some important truths that I hope will help others who live with the daily struggle of chronic anxiety.

  1. You can’t always trust your own feelings.
    In my experience, with anxiety comes a touch of paranoia, as well. If I am anxious that someone doesn’t like me, then my brain will look for “evidence” to prove it’s theory. Did my friend not call when she said she would? There’s the proof. Obviously.
    If my son told me exactly what I just told you, I would be the first to try to convince him that his theory is ridiculous. But somehow, when it’s my own brain telling me these lies, I choose to believe them.
    I have found that the best way to counteract the lies my brain tells me is to defuse them. I ask someone I trust, usually my husband or therapist, if they think my “evidence” makes sense. If they say no, then every time that thought returns, I remind myself that it is false.
  2. Talk about it.
    Whether it’s general anxiety, or specific anxious thoughts, labeling them and talking about them to someone else helps in two ways.
    First, it helps me to understand myself a little better. Labeling my feelings and thoughts helps me to know my triggers and to better express my needs and wants to others.
    Second, talking about the thoughts and feelings, instead of keeping them secret, gives them so much less power. Alone in my head, they are all-powerful.
  3. Make self-care a priority.
    Establishing a routine of self-care helps to keep me calm; makes me feel safe. My daily routine consists of devotions, journaling, exercise, healthy eating (mostly), and a calm, relaxing, consistent bed time.
  4. Overdoing it will just make the situation worse.
    A few years ago, I learned about The Spoon Theory, a blog post written by Christine Miserandino, as a way to answer the question of what lupus felt like. Over the years, those of us with chronic illnesses and mental illnesses have co-opted the story. The gist of the it is that having anxiety means I have limited resources compared to those with “normal” brains.
    A lot of energy goes into dealing with anxious thoughts, so if I plan too much in a day, I will have less energy for the next day. More than four or five stops on an errand run, meeting too many new people in a day - these are the areas where it is particularly easy for me to overdo it and regret it.
  5. Getting help does not make you a failure.
    Whether help means taking prescription meds, or talking to a mental health professional, calling a suicide help line, or even just asking your bestie to go shopping with you, it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, if you think about it, asking for help doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a success at knowing what you need and articulating it.

What lessons have you learned from living with anxiety?

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