Note from Ben:
The following is a Guest Post by Kat Melanson. Kat is a 2013 graduate of the University of Maine, and a 2014 graduate of rehab. You can find her working as an LADC in Maine, or
blogging about her journey with psychology and mental illness on her blog.
I don’t know if I could pinpoint a time when anxiety started for me.
Maybe it’s not all that important in the scheme of things. I remember for a long time living with a general sense of doom. To some degree, it motivated me, and throughout my life, I justified it as an important and motivational force. But even just the idea of not passing a test, or of not being well liked by someone, could drive me into such panic that I would develop physical hives. I simply considered myself driven.
But despite my efforts to try and rationalise this heavy feeling, it crept up on me, slowly building as pressure to succeed. Before I knew it, I was crippled with anxiety, frequently experiencing panic attacks, and avoiding social situations. The burden of this emotional instability was taking a toll on my relationships. I would snap at my friends and family, only to cry and apologise moments later.
I felt isolated, alone, and on some level that I must have been entirely mad. The experience started as something I considered normal, but over time it became worse. And when I finally realised that I was in the midst something I needed help with, I was too embarrassed to ask for help.
Unlike most physical ailments, mental illness symptoms are typically uneasy to talk about. The stigma surrounding mental health in society makes it tough to feel like you can speak out, or even just to admit that you are suffering. However, by beginning to understand your anxiety, you can overcome these challenges.
You are strong, and this struggle can be incredibly difficult. To suffer from anxiety is not a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with you, nor is it a sign of weakness. Many great people have dealt with the same trials and tribulations, and living with it can be debilitating.
I’ve compiled the following quotes on anxiety to explain what I now know about the illness and how I best deal with it. My hope is that by reading the words of others and sharing in my reflections, you can gain some perspective on anxiety learn how to better manage it in your life.
25 quotes about anxiety to help you conquer worry and eliminate stress.
“Even the simplest task can be overwhelming at times.” – Rhonda Bodfield
“When I’m about to engage in an anxiety spiral, it feels like I’m balancing at the edge of a pool, and if I dip my toe in the nonsense, I fall in.” – Rachel Bloom
“It can feel, at times, if you let your anxiety get the better of you, like everybody’s waiting for you to really mess up – and then you’ll be done.” – Taylor Swift
“It’s not because I’m overdramatic. It’s because I have a mental illness.” – Halsey
When I first began experiencing anxiety, I saw the strange thoughts that would creep into my mind as a weird fault of mine. I believed it more as a personality defect than a symptom of an illness; maybe something was just really wrong with me.
Anxiety can be hard to separate yourself from because it is difficult to not to believe in your thoughts. My ruminating began as fast-paced thoughts about things I don’t want to think about or don’t want to happen. For example, if I haven’t heard from someone for longer than I expected, I begin thinking something awful is happening to them. I then began to think about all the things that could happen – thus beginning the anxiety spiral.
The easiest way to manage this is to try to learn what triggers your rumination. Is there a word or phrase in your mind’s eye that sets off a particular chain of thoughts? Is there a time of day you always find yourself anxious? When do your thoughts become racing? Does your chest tighten, or do your palms become sweaty?
It can be easy to think that you are simply overreacting, or feel ashamed of these moments. Anxiety can go so far as to prevent you from doing simple tasks like going to the grocery store or going out with your friends. You don’t deserve to be judged, by yourself, or by others. These are symptoms of an illness, and they can be treated.
Understanding the Symptoms of Anxiety
“Sometimes I panic to the point where I don’t know what I’m thinking or doing.” – Dakota Johnson
“Over the past few years I’ve experienced horrible bouts of anxiety. When that moment hits, my whole body tenses up and my mind spirals, thinking the worst – that I’m not safe and can’t get home. I start crying, my breathing is all over the place and, in extreme cases, I throw up.” – Louise Pentland
“The first time I had a panic attack I was sitting in my friend’s house, and I thought the house was burning down…I just needed to know that no one was going to die and nothing was going to change.” – Emma Stone to The Wall Street Journal
“Imagine that you have no idea why your body is turning inside out, (and) your brain feels like it’s on Pluto…” – Lo Bosworth
Panic and anxiety can be difficult to identify because they are so dizzying,. After a panic attack, it can be hard to know what’s just happened. It was confusing when I first started struggling with anxiety to see how profoundly thoughts could influence physical symptoms. A worrying thought would pop into my mind, and then suddenly my whole body would feel frozen. The air would feel electric. I thought there could have even been something physically wrong with me, which caused anxiety in itself.
One thing that makes anxiety hard to understand is how very different it can look to everyone that goes through it. The actual symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety vary from person to person and depend largely on the cause of anxiety as well as the chemical makeup of the individual experiencing it.
I found that in learning what different symptoms of anxiety and panic can look like, I began to understand my own experiences and also began to learn to help others with their anxiety. Some of the common physical symptoms of anxiety, according to the Calm Clinic, range from digestion issues, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties and shaking to sweating, yawning and dizziness. The full list is available here, and is a wonderful resource to examine some of the direct physical symptoms of anxiety.
These physical symptoms are so varied that many could find symptoms they experience. However, if you experience several of these on a regular basis along with cognitive symptoms, you may be suffering from anxiety. These cognitive symptoms are things like racing thoughts, irrational thoughts, unwanted thoughts, strange thoughts or violent thoughts or obsessive thoughts. Any of these combined with the physical symptoms can be a strong sign that you are experiencing anxiety.
Opening up about Anxiety
“I had people saying, “It’s all in your head.” Do you honestly think I want to feel this way?” – Sonia Estrada
“What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time, and I am quite proud that I got out of that.” – J.K. Rowling
“I wanted to tell the truth. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it affects millions of people every day.” – Zayn Malik
“It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.” – Matt Haig
Explaining your anxiety to your loved ones can be extremely difficult, especially as some of them may struggle to understand. It’s not all in your head – anxiety is an illness. No one chooses anxiety or wants to live with the burden it gives you.
However, it’s important to educate your loved ones as well. When others can learn what anxiety looks like and learn to have a compassionate response, anxiety can feel more manageable. By learning to identify your symptoms as part of an illness, it can be easier to explain to others what is happening and why.
The duration of anxiety can make the battle of fighting the symptoms feel like it’s not worth it. Trying to explain your behaviours or thoughts to others can be frustrating. How do you explain the neverending pressure, the constant awareness of your surroundings? How do you explain your sudden need to leave what seems like a perfectly normal situation, or your last-minute cancellation of plans?
The truth is, suffering from anxiety can be an enormously uphill battle. I won’t pretend it’s easy. By learning more about anxiety, and then helping to educate those you love, you can help both fight the stigma against anxiety and begin to treat your symptoms.
Why is it so hard to embrace Anxiety?
“I wish somebody told me that it’s okay to be anxious, that you don’t have to fight it, that in fact fighting it makes it worse. That pushing it away is really what it is – it’s the fear or fear.” – Mara Wilson
“Anxiety is one little tree in your forest. Step back and look at the whole forest.” – Unknown
“I’ve come out the other end not hardened but strong. I have an ability to persevere that I didn’t have before.” – Kristen Stewart
The strength in accepting that you have an illness is admirable. Fighting your anxiety makes it sound like you’re battling it head on, but the truth is that your anxiety is a part of you. Learning to understand your anxiety, identify your anxious thoughts and feelings and learn how to divert those thoughts is the best way to fight the battle.
Embracing the thoughts and feelings you experience with your anxiety is key to learning to break free from it. When we are struggling with mental illness we can really begin to feel like we hate our life, and the situation we’re in. The irony of anxiety is just that: the harder you fight against your anxiety, the worse it becomes. You can’t tell yourself not to think something, or you will inevitably think it more. Instead, embrace that you feel anxious and overwhelmed. Identify those thoughts and feelings. It’s okay to be feeling this way.
It can feel like these unwanted symptoms define you. Anxiety can make you feel broken, or less of yourself. However, it is but one facet of who you are, and it does not make you unworthy or broken. Though you may perceive anxiety as a weakness, it is a battle that can give you courage and strength. Persisting in the fight against anxiety means seeing your own entire forest, and seeing that you are strong for even fighting. Acknowledging your struggle takes enormous strength, and you are winning the battle just by taking this first step.
Finding Your Strength
“Most people don’t realize the strength it takes to pull yourself out of an anxiety attack.” – Unknown
“Being vulnerable is actually a strength and not a weakness- that’s why more and more mental health is such an important thing to talk about. It’s the same as being physically sick. And when you keep all those things inside, when you bottle them up, it makes you ill.” – Cara Delevigne
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher
Being able to cope with anxiety takes enormous strength. It can feel draining and overwhelming to even just think about your anxiety! Anxiety will likely be a battle you more than likely will have to fight more than once. However, there is strength and self-knowledge to be gained in the experience.
My best advice is to take small steps. Anxiety can’t be rid of overnight. However, the battle is one that makes you stronger, and that helps you learn to appreciate the beauty in life.
The important thing to note is that your anxiety does not make you weak – it makes you strong. You are strong for surviving the pressures of your own mind, for coping as you have and for admitting you have progress yet to be made. Staying silent and not admitting your illness can make it fester more and become more severe. Speaking up and seeking help can set you free.
How to Cope with Anxiety
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t make the storm go away, but it will hold you steady until it pauses.” – Russ Harris
“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” – Walter Anderson
“Exercising is one way I deal with anxiety. Painting and writing music and expressing myself through art are others ways that I can release emotion. Meditation is another one. Whatever it is, it’s important to find whatever works for you.” – Demi Lovato
Calming your anxiety may feel impossible, but one of the best ways to begin is by simply breathing. Taking a few moments to breathe deeply and then proceeding can be one of the best ways to pause your anxiety and focus your mind. Small steps can make coping seem more manageable.
Deep-breathing techniques such as breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, and then releasing for a count of four can help you ease physical symptoms while also focusing your thoughts on the present. Some find mantras to be helpful to time your breaths: think your mantra to yourself as you breathe in, as you hold your breath, and again as you release your breath.One mantra that may be helpful if you experience a fear for your safety could be “I am calm, I am safe, I am content”. Mantras can be anything you choose, and are generally any positive phrase that helps reinforce how you want to be feeling in that moment. These techniques can help you steady yourself through the turbulence of your anxiety.
It’s important to find a cathartic release for your anxiety. No energy can be outright destroyed – you can’t simply abolish your anxiety. Instead, find ways that help you release that energy. I have found that walking helps me calm my thoughts, and the endorphin rush after helps me stay in a more stable mood throughout the day. I also like to play piano when I’m experiencing emotionally-driven anxiety, as it helps me express the feelings that are causing the anxiety for me.
Depending on what you like to do, find an outlet that helps you divert this energy. Meditation can help you learn to cope with anxiety by accepting and then releasing your thoughts, focusing entirely on being present and aware. This can be a powerful tool in understanding yourself and improving yourself, with or without anxiety. Finding an action to release your anxious feelings into can help you live with the anxiety that you experience.
It is also important to note that taking action with your anxiety can only happen with you. If you decide that you need help with your anxiety, reaching out to a doctor or a loved one can feel overwhelming. However, this action can set you free.
How to Overcome Anxiety
“Until recently, I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear of someone exposing me. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love.” – Mariah Carey
“There’s millions of people out there who suffer from crippling anxiety, whether it be from fainting or from sweating or so many [other] different ailments from anxiety. There’s so many people that have it and suffer from it, so you’re not alone. It gets so much better once you’re able to learn the tools to cope with it.” – Colton Haynes
“I still take (medications) today and I have no shame in that, because my mom had said to me, ‘If you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist, see how you want to help yourself.” – Kristen Bell
Seeking help can be terrifying. It feels like a public declaration that you are crazy – but it’s not. You are not crazy – you have an illness. One that you shouldn’t feel ashamed of, or faulty because of. Seeking help is a courageous act of self-love and self-care, and you are worth the help that treatment can bring. Understanding my illness and receiving treatment for it set me free from the confines of thinking I was defective or wrong. I gained self-acceptance and self-love, and have been able to instead focus myself on doing the things I love.
Speaking out about your anxiety and seeking help can help you greatly. This help can bring you the tools you need to be able to help you deal with your anxiety. Therapists can provide excellent coping skills, and provide an objective point of view on your triggers and how to identify your anxiety. Medications are not always right for everyone, but for others they greatly reduce symptoms. By seeking help, you are admitting your strength and beginning a courageous battle for your own self-peace.
Anxiety, in general, is a difficult illness to live with, one that suffocates you in isolation and deafens you with silence. It can feel like no one understands and like you are alone. I want you to know that this is never true. You are not alone in your battle with mental illness. You are strong, you are not faulty, and you are worthy of seeing yourself through this.