You know that feeling when you're going up a ladder and you almost lose your balance? You instantly get consumed by nervousness and fear. Plus, you become extremely tense, your body goes from really hot to mush, and you stop breathing. Imagine that feeling on a more frequent and intense level. That is how I feel whenever anxiety attacks and emotions start to roll in, and studies show that I'm not the only one.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. In fact, according to the ADAA, over 18.1% of the adult population, which equates to over 40 million people, are affected. However, if you're one of the remaining 285.7 million without the disorder, there are some things you should know.
Everyone gets a little anxious on occasion, especially during times of stress or change, but the distinguishing factors between disorder and simple discomfort lie in the levels of severity, extent, and control. We often times struggle to keep our anxiety levels under control and experience longer lasting effects while dwelling on anything and everything. Worries and fears are intensified and sometimes get to the point of irrational, due to the what ifs and worst case scenarios we play in our heads. Our anxiety becomes so persistent, overwhelming, and unmanageable that it has the power to interfere with our day to day functioning and health.
Anxiety disorders tend to coexist with other conditions. For example, it is not uncommon for a person that suffers with an anxiety disorder to also battle depression. Needless to say, juggling the flood emotions from not one but two conditions is very overwhelming for most people and dealing with the negative self talk and strain that accompany them affect people in different ways.
What some people judge as an over dramatic episode, pity party, or emotional meltdown is usually an anxiety attack in full swing. All it takes a is a strain of fear, stress, or uncertainty to escalate into excessive worry, shortness of breath, nausea, numbness, shaking and tension throughout our body. Aside from our mental health and emotional state, long term side effects do a number on our heart, skin, lungs, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system.
An anxiety disorder is more than an inconvenient, short lived-experience. It's chronic. It does not simply drift away with age or time, and is something that must be managed and controlled throughout life for most. It's a common misconception that anxiety disorders just disappear whenever we overcome whatever seems to be our biggest obstacle at the time. As if graduating from college, making more money, or finishing that project will be remedy to all of our ails. Unfortunately, that not how it works. There will always seem to be something. Though counseling, therapy, prayer, and medication are common means of treatment that help, there is no magical pill, cure, or expiration date.
One of the most frustrating things is when people say things like you're overreacting, you need to let it go and relax, and stop worrying about it. Though the intentions may be good, it just serves as a frustrating reminder that it is beyond difficult to get to that point and that others don't understand our feelings. Though the world is used to immediate gratification, finding a place of calm in our time of turmoil can be a time consuming process. If we could snap our fingers and enter a state of relaxation or contentment, we definitely would.
The same anxiety that pushes us to point of mental breakdown and exhaustion, if managed properly, can work as our motivator. The very nerves, fears, and obsessions that make us sick, weary, and stressed out also contribute to our attention to detail, great work ethic, and overall productivity. We alleviate the need for micromanaging because we are extremely self driven and serve as our toughest critics. It's no surprise that we often stand out for our academic and work performance.
There is a stigma and a cloud of ignorance that surrounds the mental health conversation. If someone has a physical illness, people come together to support, openly spread awareness and help those affected. However, if it is a mental illness, people label those affected as crazy, make jokes, or assume they all need to be committed. It's that insensitive reaction that makes people suffering with mental illnesses not accept their issues, refuse to get help and sometimes lose their lives. We need to change the conversation.
As for those with anxiety, we don't want special treatment or a pity party. We simply want less judgement. Instead of disregarding our fears and worries, try to imagine being in our shoes. Before telling us how we should feel, act, or react, make an effort to just listen. A little kindness and understanding not only has the power to make a difference, but also goes a long way.