By unveiling how anxiety affects people’s lives, we hope to spread empathy, ideas for coping, and a more open conversation on mental health. This is a powerful perspective.
G, a Canadian aesthetician in her 30s, has lived with anxiety since she was a toddler. Diagnosed with both generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), she struggles to turn off the anxious thoughts that constantly fill her mind.
The fear that her anxiety is too overwhelming for others has also affected her relationships.
Here’s her story.
When did you first realize you had anxiety?
I knew something was wrong with me growing up. I would cry so much and just feel so overwhelmed. It always worried my parents. My mother even brought me to a pediatrician as a child.
But all he said to her was, “What do you want me to do? She’s healthy.”
In high school, my anxiety continued, and in university, it reached its peak (I hope). Finally, I was diagnosed with GAD and OCD.
How does your anxiety manifest itself physically?
My main symptoms are nausea, stomach cramping, and feeling dizzy or lightheaded. I’ll even make myself sick to the point that I can’t keep any food down.
Sometimes, I’ll also feel something in my chest — this strange “pulling” feeling. I also cry a lot and struggle to fall asleep.
How does your anxiety manifest itself mentally?
It feels like it’s just a matter of time before something terrible will happen and that it will all be my fault. I can’t stop focusing on thoughts that aren’t helpful, which just makes everything worse.
It’s like I’m continually adding fuel to the fire. I tell myself that everyone hates me and that I’m an idiot. It’s absolutely exhausting.
What kinds of things trigger your anxiety?
Life, really. It can be something small — the tiniest of events — that I will obsess over, and it will snowball into a giant panic attack.
I overanalyze everything. I also tend to take on other peoples’ emotions. If I’m with someone who’s sad or depressed, it will deeply affect me. It’s like my brain is always looking for a fun and creative way to sabotage myself.
How do you manage your anxiety?
I’ve done therapy, taken medication, and tried mindfulness training. Therapy, in more recent years, has helped, and finding a therapist who truly understood anxiety on more than just a textbook level was great.
I also took a mindfulness course that was about eight weeks. I’ve watched Jon Kabat-Zinn videos and have relaxation apps on my phone.
I’m open about my anxiety as much as possible, and I try to accept it. I try to avoid situations or people that I know might make me anxious too.
I tried taking CBD oil and, to my surprise, it helped. I also try to limit my caffeine intake and drink chamomile tea instead. I started knitting, and I’ve gotten more involved in art. Quite honestly, video games have also helped a lot.
What would your life look like if your anxiety was under control?
I’m not sure. It’s strange to think about because, unfortunately, it has been such a big part of my life for so many years.
I feel like there would be this huge weight off of my chest. I’d feel less nervous about the future, and I might even put myself out there more. There wouldn’t be all these wasted days or months.
It’s so hard to even imagine, because I don’t know if it could happen.
Do you have any habits or behaviors associated with anxiety that are unique to you?
I’m told I apologize more than the average Canadian, and that I worry about people too much or get stressed about situations no one else cares about.
When I was 15, my parents went to visit friends, and when they weren’t back by a certain time, I panicked and called (much to the amusement of their friends) because I was convinced something terrible had happened to them.
If people go out and are gone for a while, I will worry. I try to keep this hidden, because I know no one wants to deal with that. I’ve even checked police scanners and Twitter to make sure there were no accidents.
What’s something you wish other people knew about being anxious?
How hard anxiety can be to “turn off.” If there were an off switch, I’d be delighted.
You can know that, logically, many of the things you’re anxious about won’t happen, but your brain is still screaming “Yes, but what if it does — oh god, it’s already happening.” That can be hard for people to understand.
Sometimes, looking back on things that made me anxious is almost embarrassing. I wonder why it preoccupied me so much and whether I humiliated myself in front of others by being anxious. It’s a horrible spiral that can be hard to explain to someone without sounding crazy.
A part of you can say, “Yes, I realize that I might sound ridiculous,” but this fear — these thoughts and feelings — are so heavy, and I’m doing my best to manage them. But it’s like herding cats. I wish people got that.
How has anxiety affected your relationships?
I’m scared of forcing my anxiety onto someone else. I know my anxiety is overwhelming for me, so I worry about it being overwhelming for someone else.
No one wants to be a burden on anyone. I definitely feel like I’ve ended relationships, at least partially, because I didn’t want to become a burden.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health. Her work has appeared in The Cut, Chicago Tribune, Racked, Business Insider, and Success Magazine. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found traveling, drinking copious amounts of green tea, or surfing Etsy. You can see more samples of her work on her website. Follow her on Twitter.