There are fewer things in life that can be more paralyzing than chronic anxiety. It can rob you of the simplest day to day activities- from making friends, money, memories to generally enjoying life. Anxiety can become so painful and distressing that at times a person will resort to dangerously addictive substances in exchange for some temporary relief. I know, because that is exactly what happened to me, and it affected my life tremendously.
I have been an anxious person since I can remember. I recall that when I was little my mom had to put concealer on my red cheeks before school, because I would fall into a panic and break down in tears every single morning. Once that panic attack was over, I would start freaking out about the fact that everyone in school would now be able to tell that I had been crying like a sissy, so my mom would pretend that she couldn’t tell I was wearing makeup, and I would go on my way and do my best to make it through the day.
The following morning, the whole ordeal would play over again.
Things got worse when I became a teenager and discovered the calming and confidence boosting properties of alcohol. It was like finally finding a cure to the chronic condition that had always plagued me. Of course, alcohol was not a solution at all. It was a backstabbing friend that would add to my burden by offering me temporary comfort in exchange for everything else. By the time I was in my twenties I was a full-blown alcoholic about to lose his first marriage.
By twenty-five I was divorced, unemployed and completely lost. My anxiety had gotten worse and alcohol held me ransom. I couldn’t see a life without it, and with it life was a wreck. Little did I know that things were about to get even worse.
The anxiety got so bad that when I was sober I kept convincing myself that I was ill with some type of disease that would kill me at any time. Any scratch, bug bite or light-colored stool was a cause for panic, and I kept rushing to my primary care physician, time after time, for the most trivial and insignificant matters. Once he realized that my problem was not physical, out came the script and into my life came Xanax, a wonderful medication that if used properly can successfully help with chronic anxiety. But taking Xanax properly was never in the cards for me.
If alcohol had taken a strong hold of me throughout the years, Xanax took an even stronger one. The peace and security that it brought me -one I had never experienced in my life- became my sole purpose for living, and almost overnight I was taking up to 10mg a day, a ridiculously high amount. My life after that became a blur.
I could go on about all the struggles I went through with prescription drug abuse and alcohol addiction, but this is not what this article is about. I suffered from chronic anxiety throughout my life, and not knowing how to properly deal with it almost ruined me, as you can probably tell above. Now that I am sober and successfully managing my condition, I want to offer you some basic tips that could help you avoid the hell that I went through, and allow you to manage your anxiety a lot better.
Be Honest and Open About Your Anxiety
Yes, it is probably a good idea to be honest about your anxiety with those closest to you, as it will help them to not put you in a situation that could trigger a panic attack, and understand why you may choose not to participate in certain things. But, most importantly, you have to be honest with yourself. Unrelentless fear becomes unbearable to live with, and having to tackle the issue head one might make you even more anxious and scared. But understand that not dealing with your anxiety will only allow it to get worse, so try to be honest with yourself first about the seriousness of your condition. This way you will be able to gradually find the courage to face it and treat it.
One of the biggest challenges I had with anxiety since the very beginning was that neither me or my parents knew what to do about it. A lot of times my parents even thought that I was acting out to simply get out of going to school. When I grew up the thought of getting help never crossed my mind; I just drank until I felt better, and repeated the routine again the next day. It doesn’t have to be that way for you.
A lot of times, if your anxiety is chronic or severe you may need medication. Don’t feel ashamed of this, your illness is just like any other, and taking meds for it will not automatically make you insane or certifiable, like a lot of people still unfortunately think. Consider visiting a psychiatrist and openly discussing the problem. Do remember this, however: Not all mental health professionals are created equal. If yours only wants to medicate you and not take the time to really understand you and your condition, go somewhere else. Doctors that cap the number of patients they see on a regular basis usually have more quality time to dedicate to you.
Other than meds there are many other ways to find relaxation or at least prevention for an incoming panic attack. Certain breathing techniques, regular exercise, yoga and meditation help many people deal with their anxiety. But always remember that if your condition is diagnosed as chronic, you may still need the meds. Whatever your personal situation may be, remember to be open to doing what works best for you, without taking into account the stigma that society unfortunately still has.
Understand Your Triggers and Learn to Work Through Them
There are many things that could trigger anxiety and panic attacks. For me it was waking up in the morning and having to start the routine of getting ready and out the door, battling traffic and then the stress of work. Every morning I would get sick to my stomach just thinking about it, convinced I was not going to be capable of handling the entire load.
For you it may be different. But just because something triggers your anxiety doesn’t mean you have to give up on it forever. For example, if you become anxious in social settings (I do as well) it’s important that you don’t simply opt for alienating yourself, but little by little trying to work through the issue. Easier said than done, I get it. But if you continue to work through your triggers by finding what helps you personally and putting it to good use (meds, yoga, exercise) you can gradually and successfully defeat the monster inside your mind. One day you may not feel comfortable being around more than two people at once. If another day you are able to handle being comfortable around three, that is a huge victory. Keep collecting wins and they become easier, just like everything else in life. It’s all about knowing what works for you and putting it into action.
I think that this is a very good start on this series about anxiety. These basic steps continue to help me with mine until this very day, and I believe they can greatly help you as well. In future articles, I will discuss more tools to add to your toolbox of anxiety hammers, that over time will help you grow strong and confident, more than you ever thought you could.
Until next time. See you then!