You will often hear mental illness is an illness like any other. Well-wishers say that to try to alleviate the stigma around disorders of the brain to emphasize that sufferers are not just some hopeless ‘crazy people’.

Anxiety victims just have a health issue that can be improved and even cured in many cases with the right treatment.

However, mental illness is indeed quite a unique animal.

Because of the common prejudice, mental disorders are difficult to diagnose. A lot of self-doubt prevents us from identifying the issues and then hinders our coping mechanisms.

Victims are often subjected to ridicule or undermining. They are told they are overreacting, overplaying it, or exaggerating. That there is actually nothing wrong. They just need to… ‘calm down a little bit.’

It is crucial to have strength and a lot of information.

ANXIETY SYMPTOMS – IDENTIFY THE DISORDER

The first step is the diagnosis.

Worrying? What is normal?

There is a difference between being anxious and suffering from anxiety.

Victims of anxiety have multiple worries. Whenever they perceive threat, their thoughts immediately head in the direction of the worst thing that could happen.

Most people convince themselves that worrying about the worst will also prepare them for the worst and rationalize their thinking – they perceive their behaviors and thought process as normal, as healthy and even necessary.

Without it, they would never succeed, or they would be in danger.

What is a normal amount of worrying? How much is too much? Can you identify helpful worries from unhelpful worries?

  • Is the situation objectively threatening?
    • It is normal to fear certain factors from your life. You may fear about losing your job, not having enough money, being disliked by strangers, being under physical threat, and many others. You can easily differentiate being anxious from suffering from anxiety by asking yourself: ‘How likely is this dangerous situation to actually happen?’ Is there statistics, news, common knowledge or any sort of verifiable information that you are actually under threat?
  • Do other people validate your worrying?
    • If you worry about money, other people who are aware and/or share your financial status may be worried as well. When you talk to your spouse, do they share your concerns?
    • If you worry about your job, do your colleagues or managers agree you have a point? Is the company in a bad place? Do you get bad evaluation scores? Worse than others?
    • If you worry about having a disease – do you have medical history that would support these thoughts? What does your doctor think?
  • Do you experience worry from time to time, or constantly?
    • Anxiety victims will keep themselves in a constant level of stress and worry. You are worried about something now? Think about the same time last month. What bothered you then? How do you feel about it now?
    • Tip: keeping a journal of your thoughts will help you identify your biggest worries.
  • Do the benefits outweigh the losses?
    • When was the last time your worrying actually prepared you for anything? Do you take action? Consider the amount of time you spend worrying and compare and contrast it to your gains. Did you really save yourself from a bad situation and was all the strain on your mind worth it?

Worrying? What is NOT normal?

Let us do the same exercise, from another point of view:

  • Is the situation objectively threatening?
    • An example is social anxiety disorder, where sufferers would worry they will be judged and humiliated by others. They avoid speaking in public and meeting new people. Even if they do not have any examples of such situations happening in the recent past. Being judged by strangers has little to no consequences but anxiety victims perceive it as almost life threatening.
    • Another example of anxiety is phobia of flying. Statistically, air travel is the safest way of transportation, which makes an accident very unlikely to happen Still, sufferers are convinced they are headed towards a fiery crash.
  • Do other people validate your worrying?
    • ‘You are worrying too much!’, ‘Everything will turn out okay!’, ‘Just try to get your mind off it!’ – if you hear these ignorant and annoying comments a lot, the bad news is an ill advice like that will not magically cure your anxiety. The good news is examples like these tell you other people would dismiss effortlessly the issues you obsess over. They help you identify your thought process as abnormal.
  • Do you experience worry from time to time, or constantly?
    • Worriers experience a constant heightened level of stress, to the point where if a legitimately threatening situation comes their way, they will seemingly stay undisturbed.
  • Do the benefits outweigh the losses?
    • You know your fear of flying is completely pointless. It only causes you discomfort. You still need to get from point A to point B. It is the fastest and objectively safest and cheapest way to do it. You still need to fly. And if you worry about it, it won’t make the flight safer.

Although anxiety comes in a lot of forms and variations, the same several symptoms persist among all sufferers:

  • Heightened feelings of fear and panic
  • Feeling continuously alert
  • Having troubles sleeping
  • Cold sweat, shortness of breath, tingling fingers,
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea and dizziness

If you look deeper you may recognize one of the subtypes of your anxiety:

  • GAD – Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Sufferers are overwhelmed with irrational fears and worries. It is generally a mind’s misguided way to cope with threat. People with GAD have a constant feeling of impending doom. Diagnosis comes when sufferers report they cannot stop or control these concerns over a prolonged period of time. GAD is quite common. It affects more than 3% of the American population.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD is another subtype of anxiety. Its characteristics include inability of the victim to calm themselves down, and relying on ritualistic behaviors to achieve temporary comfort, they are otherwise strongly agitated and often suffer from insomnia.
  • Social anxiety disorder. SAD is diagnosed when a person is terrified of social interactions for fear of being judged and rejected. It is associated with high level of self-consciousness and low self-worth.
  • PTSD. The post-traumatic stress disorder is usually associated with a traumatic event in the past which has triggered the condition. The sufferer is often a victim of flashbacks that force them to relive the event in the form of memories, nightmares or even hallucinations. They would avoid putting themselves in situations that remind them of the event.
  • Phobia. Irrational fears are the most popular form of anxiety. Victims have heightened responses when they are close to the object, situation or circumstance that bother them. Phobias are also among the easiest mental disorders to treat.

Is it more than anxiety?

Symptoms, similar to anxiety are associated with other diseases:

  • When your feelings of anxiety are accompanied by rapid weight loss you might be suffering from hyperthyroidism. It is a condition where your thyroid becomes overactive, increases your metabolic rate and your heart rate. It is affects mainly women.
  • 35% of women who have suffered through a heart attack report feeling anxious and stressed for the month leading up to the event. Other symptoms, associated with anxiety, such as sleep disturbance and shortness of breath were actually reported more often than chest pain. Heart failure is often co-prevalent with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath and irregular heart beat could also be brought on by anemia.
  • Anxiety could be a symptom of deficiency of Vitamin B12 or zync.
  • There are documented cases of people receiving panic attacks, immediately before a pancreatic cancer diagnosis comes up.
  • Symptoms of anxiety are also early symptoms for psychosis.

You need to make sure you contact a specialist for your diagnosis, and that you can rule out other conditions together.

COPING WITH ANXIETY

Normal ways to cope with anxiety

Food.

As with most illnesses, you need to make sure you are providing your body with the right chemical background, so your brain can start healing itself from the abnormal behaviors.

This is, of course, only the first step, but you cannot go ahead without it.

Most importantly, do not skip meals. Do NOT eat junk food. Many people comfort eat to alleviate their anxiety symptoms and this is obviously destructive. Eat green. Avocado, Asparagus and Kale have all been discovered to contain stress relieving nutrients.

Limit alcohol and coffee. Both substances will alter your brain’s chemistry and will create peaks and lows in your moods that might result in you feeling overly happy and overly worried at times, even triggering panic attacks.

Sleep.

Do not succumb to anxiety’s attempts to keep you awake and alert. You need your beauty sleep. Eating right and exercising might keep you safe from racing thoughts and worries at night.

Pro tip: If you can’t fall asleep, do not enter the vicious circle of thoughts. Keep yourself distracted by reading a book. Avoid screens with artificial light! Your body will respond to it by keeping you more awake. Read from paper or an e-book with electronic ink at dim light.

Exercise.

It is common knowledge that exercise reduces stress, improves your mood and keeps you in top physical shape.

The threshold of exercise as a for anxiety starts at 5 minutes a day of aerobic activity.

Yoga.

Yoga is a special kind of exercise that treats the body and the mind. It does put stress on the muscles and therefore allows for the release of endorphins that improve the mood. It also promotes better blood circulation which helps raise energy levels.

But most of all, yoga turns the attention inwards and gives it focus. It is a particular, narrow state of mindfulness that will allow you to switch off that second channel at the back of your head that produces your worrying thoughts in the background.

Mindset.

Do not aim for perfection. Aim for the best you can do.

Workaholism could be considered as a form of addiction, if it is driven by the person’s expectation of rewards when they succeed. But it could also be considered a form of anxiety if it is driven by a fear of failure.

Calm yourself down and count your blessings. Know when you are doing well enough, not when you are doing perfect. If you want to tick all boxes, you will always be fearful you can’t.

If you are ready to sacrifice a few achievements, you will perceive a lesser amount of dangers to you or your wellbeing.

Get your priorities straight and the rest is welcome, but you can leave without it.

Release control.

The logic of healthy worrying is actually to identify potential danger, so you could take action to prevent damage. With anxiety, however, the victim often worries about situations out of their control.

If you have social anxiety, you can’t really do a lot to make other people like you more. If you suffer from phobia of flying, you can’t really take control of the plane.

Focus on always doing your best – improving and strengthening yourself, and not on particular dangers that you need to prevent from happening.

Shift focus.

Studies tell us people who suffer from anxiety and depression focus too much on themselves. Often, to no fault of their own. They are not egotistical or narcissistic. That is just how their brains work.

Shift your focus to thinking about others more often. Volunteer and get involved in charities. Researchers have discovered money do not make people happier. But giving away money does have a lasting effect on your mood and even your health.

Know yourself.

Be aware of what triggers your anxiety. Write down short overviews of your feelings through the day and keep track. Look for patterns.

Pro tip: Use an app. There are dozens of available apps that will track your moods and provide you with statistics.

Stay in therapy.

Therapy is not a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. It is a life long journey. The American Psychological Association has discovered that patients show significant improvements after 8 to 10 sessions of therapy.

Medication.

Medication should be your last resort when you are dealing with anxiety. When your symptoms are overwhelming and manifest in physical ways that prevent you from having a normal everyday life, you may need to consider taking medication.

Always remember, though, that medication treats your symptoms, while therapy treats the cause. Consider it as a temporary solution.

This video from Psych2Go will give you more behaviors often exhibited by anxiety victims:

Abnormal ways to cope with anxiety

Food.

Unhealthy attitudes towards food manifest in many ways that have to do with anxiety.

Some people overeat in order to mute their nervous energy and calm themselves down.

Others, unable to control their thoughts, control their food. Restriction and undereating are dangerous eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa often stems from the need to grasp back control, and is the most lethal mental disorder.

Caffeine.

Anxiety victims often tell themselves they need to be alert in order to keep everything under control.

Caffeine does the job, but could lead to an unhealthy addiction or dependency and put you into a vicious cycle of sleep problems and lack of energy.

On top of that, it does heighten the levels of nervousness.

Alcohol. 

Self-medicating with alcohol to dull out the symptoms of your disorder will work temporarily but it will make your symptoms worse in the long run.

Overspending.

Treating yourself to a shopping therapy session is tempting. A shopping spree does provide for a short term high, but afterwards you might find yourself with a more dangerous financial burden and new fears of losing control.

Distractions.

Spending hours in front of the TV or surfing the internet could be a good distraction, if you have those hours to spend.

However, if you are missing out on more productive activities because of it, you need to find a way to introduce limits.

LIFESTYLE WITH ANXIETY

Anxiety is a lifelong companion.

You need to learn to live with it and incorporate your coping mechanisms as a part of your lifestyle.

What is normal when living with anxiety?

Zac Hersh, 23, shares with the ADAA (Anxiety And Depression Association Of America) a part of his journey.

‘For most of my life, I have dealt with a significant amount of anxiety. […] I thought being in that state was the normal way of life for everyone.’

In his first year of college, Zac’s panic attacks started. So severe and scary that they nearly rendered him debilitated. He isolated himself and lost all sense of joy. He did not know how to snap back.

‘It began with physical exercise. When my anxiety came up, I would go to the gym and workout. Eventually I got into running, swimming, biking, and yoga.’

It was a temporary success. Zac was feeling better but could not go for a prolonged session of physical exercise every time he was not feeling good.

He then discovered meditation and mindfulness. He traveled the world and attended retreats in order to study different techniques.

‘[…] this led to the first week of my life that I was completely in command of my anxiety.’

Zac shares meditation turned out to not be a magical panacea, either. But he keeps on working through issues, exploring techniques and never again allowed anxiety to stand between him and his life.

Today, he is a college graduate, a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, meditation coach, a distance runner, and triathlete.

Zac’s story includes multiple elements that are to be expected when living with anxiety:

  • Discovering your anxiousness is not normal
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Temporary setbacks
  • Making a healthy way of life your ultimate treatment

Allison Kugel, today an accomplished writer, credits her mental illness with all successes in her career. Her OCD started at the fragile age of 7, with her going through rituals that were supposed to ensure her medical wellbeing.

Anxiety, panic and depression followed suit.

At one point, she experienced up to 6 panic attacks a day. She found an outlet in creative writing.

‘My highly sensitized being may have created anxiety, but it also blossomed into an ability to connect with others in a rarefied way, and to express myself as a successful journalist and writer.[…] I have turned it around from challenge to gift.’

Allison’s story includes multiple elements that are to be expected when living with anxiety:

  • Without proper treatment anxiety manifests itself in many forms
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Accepting anxiety as a part of your life

What is NOT normal when living with anxiety?

There are seven deadly sins for people with anxiety.

Any of those behaviors will be counterproductive to your physical and mental health in the long run.

  1. Do not substitute one disorder for another. Treat your anxiety by constantly improving your quality of life. Not by creating another problem. Overeating, undereating, self-medicating, or distracting yourself with unhealthy new habits is not an option. Eat right, exercise, sleep well and aim for a happy, healthy life.
  2. Do not despair. It gets better. Most victims of anxieties report feeling hopeless at least at one point of time. It is important to continue fighting and exploring your options. You cannot go back.
  3. Do not use your condition as an excuse. You cannot have your anxiety be an obstacle to your life goals, your career, or your family’s wellbeing. You can power through it, you are not fatally ill. It could feel debilitating at times, but you stay alive and kicking.
  4. Do not stop therapy. Anxiety victims could be tempted to stop their therapy if they feel it does not work, or if they feel they are cured and do not need it anymore. Anxiety is a system of thoughts, which could be influenced by therapy to shift from unhealthy to healthy thinking. Without therapy, your mind will swing back to its natural unhealthy state.
  5. Do not burden your friends and your family. You are allowed to speak of your disorder only if you are careful or if you need help. Your friends and family are your support system, not your therapy. Keep them informed, keep them assured you are OK. Do not complain, refrain from asking for help all the time, and do not overshare.
  6. Do not settle. Once you have improved, stabilized and gotten to a productive, happy place in your life, do not settle. You do not need to relentlessly look for new ways, but do not stop yourself from learning more and exploring new techniques.
  7. Do not focus on your disease. Pay it forward. Share your coping skills. Help friends and fellow sufferers.

CONCLUSION

Just because anxiety is common, that does not make it less terrifying.

It sets off unexpectedly, lingers on forever, and challenges your life in horrific, creative ways. It can be debilitating. But you do not have to allow it to slow you down.

Step 1. Speak to a therapist. Get a diagnosis.

Step 2. Make some life changes. It will be worth it.

Step 3. Pursue your best self. Be stronger.

Step 4. Identify your gains. Count your blessings.

Step 5. Pay it forward. Help others.

Dealing With Anxiety: What's Normal and What's Not - #DealingWithAnxiety #Anxiety #Cleverism

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