True story in my brain:
Me: I feel like being productive today!
Anxiety: NO! THIS IS TOO MUCH!
Me: What’s too much? What’s going on? I just wanted to run some errands.
Anxiety: Nope, not today.
Me: But, I’m not even doing anything yet. I don’t understand what’s going on!?
Anxiety: TOO MUCH! SYSTEM OVERLOAD.
Me: But… I’m just sitting on the couch?
Anxiety: NOPE! NOT TODAY. TOO MUCH. SYSTEM OVERLOAD.
I feel like it’s kind of “cool” or dare I say trendy to tell people (particularly on the internet) that you’re stressed out and have anxiety. I realize most people have moments of anxiety throughout their lives. But as someone who has struggled with an anxiety disorder from day one, I’m here to tell you it’s a little different. I also want to stress that it’s normal… just because you struggle with anxiety, doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Even though (like me) you might over analyze and think that you’re f’ing losing it sometimes and think the whole world is in on it.
So, what exactly is anxiety? Everyone gets nervous. Whether it’s speaking in public, dealing with friends, stress about month, etc. But, for other people, it can be something that never really goes away and is a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your standard daily anxiety is an actual “disorder”. In my case, I get extremely intense panic attacks, social anxiety & have some very specific phobias.
I’d also like to point out that I didn’t self diagnose myself. I’ve had anxiety and struggled with it since I was very young. To the point where I saw and have seen therapists throughout my life to try to manage it. In no way am I embarrassed to admit that – it’s totally cool. It’s like talking to someone you can totally word vomit on and they just make you feel normal and awesome.
There’s no major “point” to writing all of this, except that maybe it will resonate with one of you and make you feel a little less embarrassed of whatever you’re going through or realize you’re not alone.
How did I / do I know that I have anxiety? I’m what you call a “worrier”. I fucking stress out about EVERYTHING. At this point in my life, I can totally joke around about it. Growing up, I struggled making friends. School was always easy for me and I got good grades, but I stressed myself out to the max thinking I wasn’t doing well. Imagine 7 year old Erin having a full melt down because she got a B+. My parents didn’t care, but I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.
Fast forward to high school college. Same stressed out Erin, now dealing with the politics of cliques and girls and trying to fit in. It was a struggle to say the least. To this day, I have a hard time making friends. I call it my “Jan Brady” moment – where I literally feel like I’m talking to myself about trying to act normal and not be weird. I have some great friends who totally get me. But trying to fit in with new groups of people is literally one of my biggest nightmares.
One of my biggest fears is making choices. When I was a little kid, I would freeze up and end up hysterical over the smallest decisions. Which doll to play with? Oh man, I would start weighing which doll got more attention and which doll would feel sad that it wasn’t getting as much attention. It’s kind of funny now, but in 5 year old world – it was real shit. Sleepovers? Hell no. I was terrified of leaving and staying at anyone else’s houses. Not to mention if I did go to someone’s house, I would sit there and be terrified to ask for water or where the bathroom was. Nothing ever happened that would give me a reason to rationalize these fears – they were just in my brain.
A lot of times when I talk to people about my anxiety, they’ll tell me that they get anxious sometimes too. In no way do I ever want to diminish their feelings (trust me I’ve been there). But I usually give the same example and tell the same story to help shed some light on a day in the brain of Erin:
A few years ago, I was at the grocery store. Who knows what I was shopping for. It had been an “anxious week”, meaning I knew that my anxiety levels were skyrocketing for some reason. I was standing in the dairy aisle looking at different types of cheese. I felt so overwhelmed by choices. There were so many brands and types, I literally just started crying. I had to leave my cart and go to my car. The idea of having to pick a type of cheese out stressed me out so badly that it gave me a panic attack. I can totally joke about it now, but at the time it was so real. It wasn’t about the cheese, but about having to make a decision and worrying that I was making the wrong one. That’s the easiest way for me to explain my anxiety to people – most of the time it makes no sense. I just get overwhelmed and can’t breathe. It has nothing to do with “triggers” or something huge happening most of the time.
So how do I deal with it? Well… almost 30 years later, it’s a trail and error situation. I get extremely bad muscle tension. Meaning, when I’m having anxiety (which could be for an hour or a week), my jaw gets really tight and I start fidgeting my hands a lot. I can usually see anxiety coming before I even feel it in my brain. When I’m anxious, my fingers start moving more and I clench my fists a lot. The one thing that helps is regular exercise. I exercise almost every single day. Not just because I like feeling in shape, but it’s literally the only thing that chills out my muscle tension and helps my brain stay straight. I stick to a pretty regular workout schedule. If I notice more anxiety coming on, I get my ass on a treadmill.
The trickier thing to deal with is social anxiety. I actually have a “fake personality” I use in work and social situations that make me feel uncomfortable. That sounds weird… I know. But at this point, I can “turn on” social Erin. It’s not really how I feel most of the time, but it’s easier than sitting in a corner with my eyes shut. More than anything, I just avoid situations I don’t like. I’m ok with the fact that I don’t like being in big groups of people. Some people thrive in groups – good for them! That just aint me! Meeting new people freaks me the F out a lot of the time. I have no idea why. I feel self conscious and worry that I’m getting judged a lot of the time. But at the end of the day – I don’t really care and I have to remind myself that.
The kicker: panic attacks. A lot of people have heard this term used. It means something different for everyone. No 2 people’s symptoms are exactly the same. My panic attacks have reduced significantly over the years. A lot of that has come from just accepting life and doing things / being with people who make me happy. You know, trying to adopt a “no shits given” mentality. When I get a panic attack, I generally feel it in my hands first and feel like I can’t use them. Then I feel like I can’t breathe and feel like everything is kind of falling around me. It usually just makes me start crying. I used to be really nervous about having a panic attack in public. Now I try to remind myself that people don’t really notice. If anything they just think I’m being emotional and crying. But I usually try to avoid doing things / going places that cause them. As I’ve gotten older, I can usually feel them coming and have found tactics to avoid them or reduce them. If I’m “feeling it” I stay home, sleep in and chill out. I workout. I listen to music. Shut my brain off.
Long story short, this is my brain and it’s not going anywhere. The only thing I can really do is try to learn to live with it. Whether it’s trying therapy to talk it all out, working out, homeopathic remedies, etc…
My go to’s:
- I read Siddhartha & The Power of Now regularly. Sometimes I’ll just read a random chapter to help focus my brain.
- Sleep: I take Olly Sleep Gummies & drink Sleepy Time Tea to try to manage my insomnia, because the less sleep I get… the harder it is to manage my stress.
- 4 square breathing or Box Breathing – google it, it works!
- Worry Rock – I used these more when I was younger, but basically you pic a smooth polished stone out and keep it in your pocket / purse. You use it when you’re stressed or anxious by rubbing it – sounds crazy but it works. I used it to help stop biting my nails.
- Ashwagandha Root is an herbal remedy that can help with insomnia and anxiety.
If you think you have anxiety or are feeling depressed, reach out to someone. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, you can find more information here!