• Khia

What Friends and Family Need to Know About Anxiety

So, I had a completely different idea on what my next post would be about, however, with May being Mental Health Month and me being a social worker I thought this one should come first. The other one is still coming, promise.

I wanted to speak out about my anxiety. It is not something that I tell many people that I have and I definitely don’t share the individual experiences with many people.

I want to preface all of this by saying that everyone experiences mental health symptoms differently. I hope that by sharing this it may shed some light on how a person with anxiety might feel and experience, give the loved ones of anxiety sufferers some beginning talking points, and share advice on what you can do to assist someone in the midst of an anxiety/panic attack.

My Story

I honestly cannot tell you exactly how long I have struggled with anxiety. I can only tell you about the first experience I remember. I was a freshman in college, I was walking back to my dorm room from class and my chest felt like it was caving in, I couldn’t breathe, my vision was getting blurry, I was hyperventilating, and I honestly felt as if I was going to die. As far as I can remember this was my first time experiencing anything like this and had no clue what was happening. I was scared out of my mind. After what felt like a very long time everything started to subside. Later, I remembered a friend of mine mentioning a panic attack. At that point I began to connect the dots. I did some research and determined that it must have been a panic attack that was happening. I cannot recall how long it was before the next one but it has happened countless times since that day. There was an entire semester during grad school that I could not open my computer to do homework without having a panic attack. I could not even think about my classes that semester without an attack happening. Needless to say, I did not do as well as I would have liked during that semester. Anxiety is not an easy thing to deal with and just as hard to explain to others so with this post I hope to bring some clarity to those who may not understand and support those who experience it firsthand.

Photo courtesy of www.createherstock.com

The first thing that I want to share about anxiety is

1. Anxiety impairs function

For pretty much any mental health issue to be diagnosed there has to be some kind of function impairment. For instance, when I am having an anxiety or panic attack it is very hard for me to concentrate on my work, all I want to do is sleep, and I completely lose sight of any tasks that I am supposed to be doing. Even conversations are very different during these times. I am much more irritable and easily frustrated. Everyday tasks become daunting and seem to be impossible to complete. EVERYTHING BECOMES A BIG DEAL. And everything starts to feel like it is all falling apart at one time. I can’t find my keys, my phone won’t stop ringing, I can’t find any silence, sounds are much louder, senses are heightened, I stub my toe, I get in late to work, everybody needs something. Any other time these things could probably be frustrating to say the least but when I am having anxiety it all happens at once and feels unbearable.

2. My anxiety and panic attacks are just as scary for me as they are for you

There has only been one time that a friend has been physically present during an extreme panic attack and he was so worried. I was kind of scared too but since I have had so many I able better able to identify it and deal with it a little at a time. My legs and feet were shaking uncontrollably and I couldn’t let go of this pillow that I had, and my teeth were quivering. If you witness someone going through this, please do not try to make them make you feel comfortable. What do I mean? Don’t let your fear of what is happening get in the way of them going through this process. You can’t tell them to stop because you are scared, it just doesn’t work that way. We don’t want to go through it just like you don’t want to see it happening so if we could just stop it, I believe that all of us would.

3. There is not always an identifiable reason for the anxiety

This one is probably the most important. People who do not experience anxiety for themselves often want to find a reason for what is happening. That is not always possible. People with an anxiety disorder are generally overthinkers. We put way more thought into everything that happens to or around us. So, that, of course, could cause some anxiety because our brain is trying to process too much at once and when our thoughts start to go down one path it is very easy for us to get lost on a whole ‘nother road. There are also times that not much is really going on, my body and my brain just kind of start panicking, hence the panic attacks. With that being said, it is probably not all that helpful to keep asking ‘what’s wrong?’ because the person probably cannot give you an answer, at least not at that time. I would say that 45% of the time my anxiety attacks happen with no possible explanation. Other times I know it is because of stress. For other people the unexplainable percentage can be a lot higher. And once again, it is just as frustrating for us as it is for you. Our bodies our completely out of wack and we can’t even determine the source of the problem, let alone control the problem.

So, how can you help the person that you love who is struggling with anxiety?