When it comes to anxiety, there’s no one-size-fits-all description of what it looks or feels like. Yet, as humans tend to do, society will label it, unofficially deciding what it means to have anxiety and putting the experience into a neat box.
Well, if you’ve dealt with anxiety, as I have, you know there’s nothing neat or predictable about it. Your journey with it will continually look different itself and can be quite distinct when compared to someone else’s.
When the different experiences we each have with anxiety are acknowledged, the ability for each of us to cope in a way that’s most helpful for us becomes that much more attainable.
So, how do we do that? By identifying stereotypes of anxiety that don’t apply to everyone and explaining why these distinctions matter. Let’s get to it.
1. It stems from trauma
While anxiety can come from a traumatic life event for many people, this isn’t always the case. A big, bad thing didn’t have to happen for someone to struggle with anxiety.
“Your anxiety can be simply triggered by having too much to do, changing routines, or even watching the news,” Grace Suh, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Healthline.
“The reasons for that may not be your past traumatic events. It is something that you and your mental health professional can discover together during the treatment process to identify why you are triggered.”
Personally, working with a therapist allowed me to dig deep and uncover issues from the past and present that were igniting my anxiety. Sometimes, the cause is deep in your history, and other times, it’s a result of the now. Uncovering the underlying triggers can go a long way toward better managing your anxiety.
2. Peace and quiet is calming
While getting away from it all is always a nice reprieve, I find that my anxiety tends to spike when I’m in a quiet, slow-paced area. In those places, I often have more time alone with my thoughts while also feeling almost less productive, unable to accomplish as much in such a slow surrounding. On top of that, I can often feel isolated or trapped in quiet areas, stuck in the slowness.
Yet, in cities, the speed at which things move feels aligned with how fast my thoughts generally seem to move.
This provides me with the feeling of my own pace being aligned with the world around me, giving me a greater sense of ease. As a result, my anxiety is more often at bay while I’m in cities than when I visit small towns or the countryside.
3. Triggers are universal
“Your current and past experiences are unique, your perceptions are unique, and this is why your anxiety is unique. There are misconceptions that anxiety comes from common factors, specific experience, or fear, like phobias fear of flying or fear of height,” Suh says. “The narratives of anxiety cannot be generalized, as triggering factors are different from one person to another.”
Triggers can be anything from a song to someone canceling plans with you to a storyline on a TV show. Just because something triggers you personally, that doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on another person’s anxiety and vice versa.
4. The same things will always trigger you
As you cope with your anxiety and identify how certain triggers affect you, you may notice that your triggers change.
For instance, I used to get extremely anxious anytime I was alone in an elevator. I immediately felt trapped and convinced the elevator would stall. Then, one day, I noticed I had been getting into elevators for a while without this tension bubbling up. Yet, as I’ve entered new phases of my life and had additional experiences, certain things that used to not bother me, now do.
This is often done through exposure. This a large component of ERP, or exposure and response prevention. The idea is that, while being exposed to triggers may be anxiety-inducing in the short term, your mind slowly begins to acclimate to what’s triggering you.
I continued to get into elevators until one day the trigger was gone. That alarm which would always go off in my head finally understood that it could be silent as I actually wasn’t in danger.
My relationship with anxiety is constantly evolving as I continue to bob and weave within its developments. While this can be frustrating, when I get to experience things without a trigger where there once was, it’s a truly amazing feeling.
5. Therapy and medicine will manage it
While therapy and medicine are both great options to pursue when treating anxiety, they aren’t a guaranteed fix. For some people, therapy will help, others medicine, some people both, and for others, sadly, neither will.
“There are no instant cures or one-size-fits-all treatments in treating anxiety. It is a process of endurance and patience that needs proper insight and care to address appropriately to your distinctive experience and perceptions,” Suh says.
The key is to determine what works best for you. Personally, taking medicine allows me to manage my anxiety, with occasional flare-ups still occurring. Going to therapy helps as well, but isn’t always an option due to insurance and relocations. Taking the time to explore each option, as well as coping techniques allows for a better coexistence with anxiety.
Things that can help anxiety besides therapy and medicine:
- Exercise regularly.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Write down your thoughts.
- Change your diet.
- Repeat a mantra.
- Engage in stretching.
- Use grounding techniques.
6. Only introverts have it
In high school, I earned the superlative of most talkative in my senior class — and I had horrible, undiagnosed anxiety the entire time I was in school.
My point being, there’s no one type of person who has anxiety. It’s a medical condition, and people of all personalities and backgrounds deal with it. Yes, it can present as someone staying subdued and quiet, but then there’s people like me who are often putting sound into the world, almost as if it’s possible to create a noise that drowns it out.
So, the next time someone tries to talk to you about being anxious, don’t respond with a, “But you’re so bubbly!” or “Really, you?” Instead ask them what they need, even if it’s just an ear to listen.
7. It makes you weak
While there are days in which anxiety can feel like it’s tearing you down — I know I’ve had my share of them — it’s not a weakening condition.
In fact, it’s thanks to my anxiety that I’ve gone after so many things I wanted, taken extra steps, and been prepared for countless situations.
On top of that, there’s this idea that having anxiety in the first place means a person is weak. In reality, anxiety is a mental condition that some people face and others don’t, same as any other bodily issue.
There’s nothing weak about acknowledging that it’s something you have and, if anything, it shows even greater strength.
Facing anxiety forces a person to become more in tune with themselves and continually overcome internal trials. To do that requires finding a deep and powerful inner strength to turn to again and again, as far from weak as it gets.
Sarah Fielding is a New York City–based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion, and food.