The Truth About Anxiety

Mental illness hinders millions of lives on a daily basis, especially the lives of college students.  Anxiety is among the most common mental illnesses that a person will encounter throughout their life, either because they were born with it, develop it, or meet someone who has it.

One thing that people struggle with, though, is the difference between being nervous and having anxiety; the two are on completely different levels.  It’s normal and healthy for people to experience and cope with nervousness. You can experience nervousness over a test, over texting the person you like to see if they want to grab dinner, or anything else that creates those butterflies in our stomachs.

Anxiety is nervousness times ten. There’s a physical component.  It leads the body to reacting to the fear, and people who experience anxiety and have anxiety attacks will encounter symptoms that are on a wide spectrum.  Some people will react with the classic fetal position, rocking back and forth, crying uncontrollably.  Others experience more deviant and dangerous symptoms like clawing at their face and skin, pacing, pulling out hair, screaming… the list could go on forever.

What people with anxiety need their friends and loved ones to understand about the condition is that they are trying their best to control it, but it can be impossible at times. It controls their lives in ways no one else will be able to understand.  As a person who has struggled with anxiety my entire life and has tried covering it up, I know as well as anyone else with anxiety that you can’t fight it alone, or it will tear you apart.  So, I’ve made this list.  This list has major pointers I personally believe that people who love or know someone with anxiety need to understand; it might even help someone with anxiety to understand their condition and keep faith in their fight. If you fall into one of these categories or are somewhere in between, keep reading; maybe you’ll learn a few things!


1. What helps one person cope may not help the next person.

This is something that I’ve learned through personal experiments and group counseling through my university.  If you search methods for coping with anxiety, you’ll find a multitude of articles, videos, and books that talk about “bullet-proof” ways of curing anxiety and halting anxiety attacks.  If only those “bullet-proof” claims were true.  I’ve tested multiple methods and found the ones that help and the ones that don’t. Just for example, I’ve learned that the best way to slow or stop my anxiety attacks is to be held tightly in a hug and spoken to.  The person talking could be talking about anything, but just to hear another voice and to listen to them talk about something else that isn’t related to what caused my attack is super soothing.

A person in my counseling group said they can’t stand to be touched during an attack and that it only makes it worse.  As we discussed coping methods such as grounding, meditation, relaxation, and list making, everyone in the group could single out which methods were most beneficial and which ones weren’t. Everyone was responding with something different.  This evidence, and all other articles that on the internet that talk about how people manage their anxiety, all bring out one true fact: coping methods are not universal and no one should expect them to be.  So, if you or someone you know is trying a new method and it just isn’t working, don’t get frustrated.  Just get back to the drawing board and research new methods that seem appealing.


2. Social settings are risky territory.

This rings true for a variety of reasons.  Some people with anxiety have social anxiety, in which they develop fears of interacting with others because they do not want to be wrongly judged or come off as inadequate.  Others with anxiety may not have the social aspect of the condition, but being in public or interacting with others may trip them up or trigger an attack based on where the root of their anxiety lies.  Loud sirens, crowds, not knowing what to order for lunch, or ruminating on the fact that their friend hasn’t texted them back can all be enough to set someone off.  And, again, speaking from personal experiences, public anxiety attacks are embarrassing and emotionally draining.  After the episode is over, the person may not want to remain in public out of shame, or may even want to stay and act like it didn’t happen and want to continue on their way.  Either way, it should be up to them.  No one, especially someone with anxiety, should be forced to stay in a situation where they are uncomfortable.


3. Small things can be world ending.

People with anxiety are the world’s overthinkers.  We can think of a million different situations, scenarios, and every way imaginable that something could go wrong many days, hours, or minutes before the situation even arises.  Festering on the worst possible outcomes is our default.  Therefore, when something does go wrong, we go internal and our thoughts about the worst possible outcome seemingly come to life, tearing our world apart.  Based on how the person copes with things not going to plan or how they handle hitting rough patches, they might wind up just making the situation worse by imploding. This can make romantic relationships and friendships with anxious people delicate if they do not know how to handle themselves and if their partner does not know how to handle it either.  This is why reassurance is KEY for people with anxiety.  Reminders that every is okay- that you’re not mad at them, that you’re not annoyed by them, that you still love them, that it’s not the end of the world.  For some it may be tiring to keep giving these reminders out, but for the anxious person, it means the world.


4. Panic attacks can take any form.  

This is a very important fact to comprehend and study if either you or someone you know and love has anxiety.  As mentioned earlier, anxiety and panic attacks fall on spectrums and can include traditional symptoms, dangerous symptoms, or even symptoms that make the person under attack look as though they’re not having an attack at all.  This is where understanding yourself or understanding the person you love becomes critical.  It may take a few attacks to be able to pick up what your trademarks are.  I’ve learned that one of my indicator traits is that I’ll develop a twitch- whether I’m shaking a foot, doing something with my fingers, or playing with my hair nervously.  These are signs that you see right before my attack.  My attacks themselves range in severity. I can be balled up crying uncontrollably, rocking back and forth.  I can be pacing, scratching at my skin.  Or I can be spaced out, frozen solid, not listening to anyone or anything, swamped by a million thoughts that are flying through my head, screaming at me.  Either way, no panic attack is pleasant, and as mentioned before, they can be emotionally draining and embarrassing if you are rendered to one in public or in front of someone that you didn’t want to see you that way.  But panic attacks are not something you should be mad at yourself for having. Instead of beating yourself up, find ways to minimize and stop them, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.


5. It gets better with time.

Trust me on this.  I know that it may seem impossible, but truly, if you work on yourself and seek help from others, your world can and will transform.  My anxiety got me to a point in my life where I couldn’t function. I wasn’t going to class, sleeping all day, and avoiding people and my responsibilities. But one day I decided to fight back and to take care of myself, and today I am the happiest that I have ever been.  But the change didn’t happen overnight. I had to expose my most vulnerable self to the people I didn’t want seeing it, I had to ask for help, and I had to make changes in my life that were scary. But taking care of yourself and putting yourself first sometimes is worth it. You can find that self-care in whichever way you like. Make changes in your life, open up to people about what you need them to do to help you, and for some people, medication helps stabilize your moods and your anxiousness.  Don’t be afraid to seek medical help if you feel it might be what you need.  And if you’re reading this article to be the helper, if you’re the one that knows someone with anxiety, be open to their words and to their thoughts and their methods.  They know themselves and their condition better than anyone else, so being willing to help however you can is the biggest help you can be.

What I hope people are able to draw from this is the importance of networks.  Networks of people that can be trusted to help you no matter what, when, where, or why.  I found that network of people for myself, and they are the best and most important people in my life.  Additionally, for those that are struggling with anxiety, I want to remind you to be kind to yourselves.  Anxiety is scary, but you’re not alone.  Be kind to yourself as you move through life, as you find ways to help yourself.  Kindness and patience are key on the road to a better life, or at least they’re key in mine.  I’ll put some links below to articles and websites that helped me, and I hope more than anything that they help you!


Understand social anxiety here

Learn how to determine the difference between anxiety and nervousness here.

Learn how to handle a panic attack here here.

Learn more on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America homepage here.  


Browser Image: source