3 Things People With Anxiety Do That People With Anxiety Should Never Do

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic attacks, and depression can be a real mine field for people who suffer with them. Often times, the very things we want to do and feel an irresistible urge to do are the very worst things to do. That’s what is so insidious about these illnesses–they become a vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviors that only make them worse.

I’ve engaged in those self-defeating behaviors many times over the years. When I first began having the types of panic attacks that have dramatically impacted my life at age 19 (my history with panic attacks is complicated and goes much further back — you can read about it by clicking here), I had no idea what was going on, and I did everything you’re not supposed to do.

I ran. I convinced myself that everything was hopeless. I failed to recognize the need and reach out for help.

In short, I sabotaged myself before I ever knew what I was doing. That has continued for almost thirty years, and I’m only just now recognizing the mistakes I made.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did; so, to that end, here are…

3 Things People With Anxiety Do That People With Anxiety Should Never Do

1. Engage in avoidance coping.

woman with worried look resting head in handAvoidance coping refers to refers to choosing your behavior based on trying to avoid or escape particular thoughts or feelings (Psychology Today). Often times, people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks choose to avoid potential triggers for their anxiety.

I am an absolute PRO at avoidance coping. When I am in what I refer to as a “malignant period” with my anxiety (a period of time where my anxiety and panic attacks prevent me from living my life fully), my go-to reaction is to avoid going anywhere or doing anything that might possibly cause anxiety or a panic attack.

However, while this may sound like good common sense, it is, in fact, a means of self-sabotage. Avoiding those triggers, or potential triggers, often causes people with anxiety and panic attacks to walk away from things (and sometimes people) that are important to them. This becomes a form of negative reinforcement. While avoiding those triggers can stave off unwanted feelings, it is self-perpetuating. In other words, once it starts it never stops.

It is vitally important for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to overcome avoidance coping and to face our fears in order to lead and full and happy life. You can read more about avoidance coping by clicking here.

2. Engaging in negative self-talk.

This one is HUGE for me!

Negative self-talk is the act of, consciously or sub-consciously, focusing on potential hazards or dangers and convincing oneself that every possible bad scenario will be what happens.

Studies have shown strong links between negative self-talk and anxiety. According to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Mental Wellbeing and Counselling Services, “Anxiety can easily and quickly be generated by repeatedly making statements to yourself that begin “what if”, which make you anticipate several scary scenarios that make you want to avoid the situation all together” (RMIT).

Oftentimes, I don’t even realize that I am engaging in this negative self-talk until I have “talked” myself into a panic attack. It very often occurs on a completely sub-conscious level. That is why it is so important to learn to recognize it and to replace the negative dialog with positive, self-affirming statements.

I will be addressing negative self-talk in more detail in a later post, but in the meantime, I encourage you to take a look at this PowerPoint put together by the RMIT Mental Wellbeing and Counselling Service.

3. Failing to recognize when it’s time to seek help.

man with worried look with hands on sides of headWhen I first began having really bad panic attacks, I didn’t tell anyone. What would I have told them, anyway? I had no idea what was going on, and I was scared to death that I was either dying or going insane. I kept my problem hidden for years, until it finally boiled over in 2002. That was the first time I ever sought help for the problem, and by then, it had dramatically impacted my life and the lives of many people I cared for.

Recognizing when it is time to seek help, and then seeking that help is absolutely imperative in overcoming anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

According to Tammy Heilemann, LCSW,  and Therapist at Memorial Care Center for Mental Health & Wellness, Community Hospital Long Beach, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America – affecting close to 20 percent of the population.” That means that, chances are, either you or someone close to you suffers from one or more of the 11 recognized anxiety disorders (Heilemann/Memorial Care Center).

Unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to mental health treatment, about 1/3 of people who suffer from these disorders never seek treatment. If you are experiencing the symptoms of anxiety disorder, and especially if anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression are having an impact or your ability to cope with everyday life, seeking help is vital.

Some symptoms of anxiety disorder/panic attacks are:

Emotional Symptoms:

Feelings of apprehension or dread
Feeling tense and jumpy
Restlessness or irritability
Trouble concentrating
Anticipation that something bad is going to happen (looking for signs of danger)

Physical Symptoms:

Pounding or racing heart
Shortness of breath
Upset or tightness of the stomach
Muscle tension
Dizziness
Fatigue
Insomnia

There are numerous avenues of assistance available. I have listed some of those resources below. If you are suffering, or if you know someone who is, please seek help immediately! There is help, and there is hope!

So, tell me what you think. I want to hear from you! Please leave your thoughts, questions, experiences, or words of encouragement in the comments section blow. Simply click on “Leave a Reply,” enter your name and email address (I promise I won’t spam you), and write away. Also, please remember to like and share this post!

Until next time…

Much love!
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Resources to Get Help!

I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression, there is hope and there is help! You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Are you, or someone love headed back to school? Be sure to check out…

man sitting at a desk biting his nails and looking anxious5 (+1) Tips to Reduce Anxiety on the First Day of School

Written from an educator’s perspective, but these tips are helpful for teachers, students, and parents alike!

You might also enjoy…

a meme of darth vader and c-3po Lessons from Star Wars–“You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned”: How Self-Perception Can Change Everything

The way we see ourselves can have a dramatic impact on our reactions and responses, and especially on our relationships with others. Learning to change your perception can help relieve anxiety!

5 (+1) Tips To Reduce Anxiety on the First Day of School (with COVID-era upate)

It’s that time again…

Back to School!

The first day of school is just around the corner (already here in some places), and for students, parents, and teachers alike, knowing that first day of school is coming can produce a lot anxiety and sometimes enough stress to make you sick!

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

jason walker wearing shirt and tie standing in front of projector screen

Mr. Walker on his very first first day of school as a teacher!

When I was still in the classroom teaching, I dreaded the first day of school. I never felt prepared and I always felt like I was going to crash and burn as soon as the first bell rang!

No matter what I did, the first day of school always seemed to be the most daunting day of the entire school year.

I remember my first day teaching in my first year teaching. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and when I finally got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to go, I thought the world was going to end. I had major anxiety: dizziness, upset stomach, cold sweats, headache, racing heart, shortness of breath…

You name the symptom and I had it!!

But, somehow I got through that first day, and the other 175 days that came after it. Somehow, I always got through the first day of school every year, and I was always glad I did.

And, believe me when I tell you that if I did it, YOU CAN, TOO!

Here are 5 Tips to Reduce Anxiety on the 1st Day of School:

1. Don’t stress about being prepared — you won’t be!

It didn’t matter how much time I spent on lesson plans, setting up my classroom, gathering materials, cleaning, making copies….I never had everything done on the morning of the first day of school. And, guess what? You won’t either!

But, the great part about that is that, it’s OK! Your students will probably be too worn out from summer and overwhelmed themselves to notice. Not being 100% prepared on the first day will not permanently damage any of your students. So, give yourself a break. You will get it done…another day!

2. Make sure that you are well-rested.

Notice I didn’t say, “get plenty of sleep the night before”…right?

If you’re anything like me, you just can’t sleep when you’re nervous. And, if you’re like me, you’re going to be nervous the night before the first day of school. If you don’t sleep 8 hours, DON’T PANIC! There are ways to mitigate the damage.

Take a good nap during the afternoon before. Hey, who doesn’t love a nap? At least your body will get some rest that day.

Don’t do anything major on the day before the first day of school. I once had a colleague who ran a charity 5K every year right before school started. Several of them happened on the day before. I really don’t recommend this.

Use the day before the first day to let your body rest. Don’t do anything stressful–especially anything like preparing for the next day. Take it easy. Watch a good movie. Have a good meal. Spend time with your family.

RELAX!

3. Give yourself plenty of time.

One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make, not just teachers, is not giving themselves enough time in the morning. Being in a rush, even if you’re not running late, creates more even more anxiety.

If it normally takes you an hour to get ready in the mornings, give yourself an hour and a half on the first day.

If your commute is 30 minutes, give yourself 45.

If you know there will be a line at the copy machine–do your copying several days ahead, or better yet, do an activity on the first day that doesn’t require making a bunch of copies.

Whatever you need to do, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get there and get down to work. No one ever made a difference by being in a rush!

4. Eat something–ANYTHING, even if you don’t feel like it.

You remember what grandma used to say: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Well, guess what? She was right!

There have been numerous studies that have shown students who don’t eat a good breakfast in the morning before school don’t perform as well. The same thing is true for teachers.

If you go to school hungry, even if you don’t realize you’re hungry because your nerves are on edge, you simply won’t perform well. You know what I’m talking about. You’ll end up with a headache, upset stomach, lethargy, and you’ll be a bear to your students in the class period before lunch!

Even if you don’t feel like it, be sure to eat something. Some crackers and cheese, or peanut butter; a piece of toast and cheese…eat something with some protein and carbs so that you’re full and have plenty of energy.

5. Remember, there is only ONE first day of school!

This is maybe my favorite one of all!

Whatever happens; however terrible (or terrific) the first day of school is, remember: there is, and will ever be, ONLY ONE first day of school. You will get through it. The last bell will ring. The students will go home, and you will, too.

Yes, the first day is stressful. Yes, you will be nervous and anxious and excited and worried and thrilled and all of the other emotions at the same time. And, yes, at the end of it you will be exhausted…but, it will be over, and it will be the only one of the year.

Remember that while you read the note little Johnny’s mom wrote to you complaining that she has to spend her money on “school supplies for other kids.” She’ll only write it once!

And, just for you, my readers….

BONUS TIP…..BREATHE!!!

That’s right. Whatever you do, don’t forget to breath.

In through the nose for four seconds. Hold two seconds. Out through the mouth four seconds.

Purposely slowing your breathing accomplishes three things:
1. It lowers the heart rate.
2. It lowers the blood pressure.
3. It ensures that your brain and body are getting enough oxygen.

All of those things reduce anxiety.

2020 Update: The First Day in the COVID-19 Era

If you had told me last year at this time that in one year’s time I’d not only be teaching fully online, but also taking classes fully online; and if you would have told me that almost six months would have passed since I would’ve eaten inside a restaurant; and if you would have told me that millions of people around the world would be dead from a virus that, until February, I (like most other Americans) had never hear of — I would have probably laughed in your face and told you that you were crazy.

But, I am, it has been, there are, and that’s the way we begin school in the COVID-19 era…

I wish I had a magic wand to fix this. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when it would all end. But, I don’t have either of those things. In fact, since transparency is the name of the game here on the Anxiety Diaries, I’m going to be complete transparent and tell you that I’m not handling this well at all. I’ve taken some major steps back in my battle with depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I’m attending school and teaching at a university that has seen fit to allow students and professors to decide what works best for them and I can do everything online for now. But, if that weren’t the case, I don’t know if I’d still be teaching or going to school at all.

For millions of teachers and students around the country, the first day of school is just around the corner, or has already started, and they’re back, in the buildings, in some Twilight Zone existence featuring masks, keeping six feet apart, not touching, constantly washing or sanatizing hands, and in some cases separated by plexiglass bariers attached to their desks. Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have written it better for a movie. If that’s you, and if you’re anxious and nervous and not sure about any of it, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Educate yourself. Make sure that you are up to date on the latest information about and recommendations for staying healthy in the midst of a pandemic.
  2. Enforce boundaries. You know what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let people guilt you into doing something you don’t feel safe doing: if you don’t want to hug, don’t; if you don’t want to shake hands, don’t; if you don’t want to eat lunch at a full table, don’t. Do what you need to do to be calm.
  3. Take time for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get inundated like you normally do during the school year. Leave some free time in your schedule to decompress–you’ll need it.
  4. BREATHE! This is always most important. Don’t forget to breathe!!!

As cliched and trite as it sounds right now, we will get through this. It’s going to take time, but we will. And, I firmly believe that when we do we will be better for it.

So, those are my tips for getting through the anxiety and stress of the first day of school, even in this COVID-19 era. Be well. Be safe. Be happy.


Tell me what you think. In the comments below leave your thoughts, share your experiences, offer other tips that have helped you. Or, just offer a word of encouragement for all the teachers and students heading back to school in the next few days! Click on “Leave a reply,” enter your name and email (don’t worry, I’m not going to spam you or sell your email address), and then write away.

And, as always, if you’ve found this post helpful, please be sure to like and share!!

Have a great year, everyone!

Much love!
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Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, part 5: A Road to Wellness (Here We Go)

In my last post, I wrote that I would be starting an intensive outpatient treatment program for anxiety and depression soon.

Soon has come!

I began the program on Monday, and completed the third day yesterday. One of the rules of the program is that I not discuss treatment outside of the group–with anyone. So, for the last couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about my experiences while staying true to that requirement–I want to work the program exactly as designed. I think I’ve figured it out.

In the journal that I keep (it’s true, I don’t write EVERYTHING here!), I write down takeaways each day. Most of them don’t relate specifically to treatment, but instead are my own thoughts and impressions. I will be sharing some of those with you, and I’ll also try to give you a general sense of my personal progression. I think that’s fair, and it honors the spirit of the rule.


First: Why am I writing anything at all about what I’m doing?

When I first started this blog, it was a place for me to keep my thoughts and feelings during a particularly dark time in my life. I was, at that time, nearly housebound with anxiety. I rarely went anywhere, and when I did, I stayed away from as many people as possible.

TAKE AWAY #1: ISOLATING BEHAVIORS ARE VERY COMMON WITH PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM ANXIETY AND/OR DEPRESSION. I’VE BECOME VERY GOOD AT ISOLATING AND AT JUSTIFYING THAT ISOLATION.

It was only a very short time before I discovered that there are many more people out in the world like me than I ever would have believed. People who suffer like me, or people who love and care for people who suffer like me began reading my blog and commenting. Just knowing that there were other people who felt the things I felt helped me more than you can imagine.

So, I write about this because of that! Maybe there is someone reading who is suffering; and maybe that someone who is suffering will feel just a little better knowing that they are not alone.


Stepping out of the tiny world-box I had created for myself…

I’m not going to lie–this week has been TOUGH!

When I arrived on Monday, the first day, I was a wreck. On a scale of 1 to 10, my anxiety was at about 412! I was experiencing every, single physical symptom that come with my anxiety and panic attacks all at once!

Dizziness
Feeling like I was outside myself
Rapid heart rate
Weakness
Trembling and shaking
Stomach cramps and nausea
Headache
Muscle tension
The desire to get up and run away

Yes, for real…all of those AT ONCE!!

I didn’t think I was going to make it through the intake process, much less the entire four hour treatment time. But, with the help of some really good and caring folks, I did. It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t feel good. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but I stayed.

Day 2, Wednesday, didn’t go so well…

I don’t know why Wednesday was such a bad day, but it was. All of those symptoms you see above…yeah, they were magnified by a factor of about 100. I only made it through about an hour and then I left–I had to go. I wasn’t doing myself any good being there…

Or, at least that’s what I told myself as I was leaving.

I came home, got in bed, and slept for about four hours Wednesday afternoon.

TAKE AWAY #2: FLEEING/RUNNING AWAY FROM SITUATIONS THAT CAUSE ANXIETY (AVOIDANCE) IS MY GO-TO REACTION. THE MINUTE THINGS BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE, I RUN. THAT IS NOT ON THE ROAD TO WELLNESS–AVOIDANCE IS AN EXIT RAMP OFF THAT ROAD!

Day 3, Thursday, was a better day…

On the way to Tyler I was doing some serious rationalization–talking myself into quitting and “trying to get better another way” (because that has worked so well up until now). Twice I turned on my left blinked ready to make a u-turn and go home.

Twice I turned it off and stayed on the road.

It wasn’t an easy day. But, I stayed. I wanted to leave. I came up with some pretty good reasons to leave. But, I stayed. I left the group twice. Once I even picked up my stuff and took it with me. But, I stayed. I stayed and I finished the day. I didn’t feel good. It was difficult. I was exhausted…

But, I stayed.

TAKE AWAY #3: EVENTUALLY THE TERROR PASSES. MAYBE I DON’T FEEL GREAT ONCE IT DOES, BUT THE TERROR OF THE PANIC ATTACK PASSES AND I CAN KEEP GOING. LEARNING TO RIDE IT OUT; TO BE PATIENT AND WAIT FOR IT TO PASS WILL BE A BIG KEY TO GETTING WELL.


I learned a lot in a short amount of time–mostly about myself…

TAKE AWAY #4: MINDFULNESS. LEARNING TO HAVE THE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS THAT COME, WITHOUT JUDGING, IS VITAL TO WELLNESS. THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ARE WHAT THEY ARE. THE ONLY SIGNIFICANCE THEY HAVE IS THE SIGNIFICANCE I (WE) GIVE THEM. LEARN NOT TO JUDGE AND ANALYZE EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT AND FEELING.

TAKE AWAY #5: FILTERS. LIFE AND REALITY AREN’T ALWAYS PLEASANT. THINGS HAPPEN, EVENTS TAKE PLACE THAT CAN SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACT OUR LIVES. BUT, HOW WE REACT TO THEM DEPEND LARGELY ON HOW I (WE) FILTER THEM THROUGH MY (OUR) OWN THOUGHTS AND BELIEFS ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES). THE THINGS I (WE) TELL MYSELF (OURSELVES) ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES) PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN HOW I (WE) REACT. CHANGING THAT FILTER IS WHERE WELLNESS BEGINS.

There is room for change in every area (except reality), but before thoughts, emotions, symptoms, or reactions change, we MUST change the filter. We can’t continue to believe the same things about ourselves and expect change anywhere else!

TAKE AWAY #6: FEARS. HUMANS COME INTO THE WORLD WITH ONLY TWO FEARS–FALLING AND LOUD NOISES. ALL OF THE REST OF THEM ARE LEARNED


The whole truth and nothing but…

It’s only week one. I’m not going to boast about breakthroughs because, as yet, there hasn’t been what I’d consider a breakthrough. But, I have learned some important things, mostly about myself. The theme for week one: I STAYED.

I’m going to try a couple of more “adventures” — you know, like going to Wal-Mart and not bolting out after ten minutes — this weekend. I’ll post about those on Instagram. Do you follow me there? You should….I am unclenobody (don’t ask, I don’t remember why…click the name and then click “follow”).


As always…

If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov

Even Princes Panic

Photo courtesy of Hello magazine.

He is, officially, Prince Henry of Wales. Currently fifth in line to the British Throne; the youngest son of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Heir Apparent to the Crown, and the late Diana, Princess of Wales; grandson of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history. He is known more commonly as Prince Harry, the sometimes “playboy” prince who, during his twenties, had more than one run in with the press and paparazzi during nights of partying with friends. But now, at 32, the Prince’s partying days are behind him and he devotes his energy to numerous Royal engagements and work with multiple charities, including Heads Together, a mental health charity in which he joins his brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Princess Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as spokespersons. Their work on this campaign has spurred the beginnings of a national conversation about mental illness in Great Britain; a conversation which has, sadly, not yet been engaged in the States.

Photo courtesy of Heads Together.

Why after a two month absence from my blog have I chosen to make my first post back about Prince Harry? Well, the answer is simple–Prince Harry knows something about the pain and agony of anxiety and panic attacks. In a recent interview with Bryony Gordon on her “Mad World” podcast, he shared his experiences with anxiety and panic. He recalled being thrust before the eyes of millions of people around the world on what must have been the worst day of his life–the day his mother was buried. We all remember seeing him there, aged just 12, walking behind his mother’s coffin, head bowed, stoic, looking lost. He admitted that after his mother’s death, he pushed all of the emotion surrounding the loss deep down inside and didn’t deal with it for almost 20 years. Finally, when at the encouragement of many people, including his brother, he decided to confront those emotions for the first time, his life was plunged into what he called “total chaos.” He began having panic attacks. Prince Harry described a feeling I know all too well–being at an event, or in a situation where getting up and leaving is impossible, when suddenly panic sets in. Your brain and body react as millions of years of evolution has trained them to do: they go into “flight or fight” mode. Because “flight” is impossible, they begin to “fight” and produce the agonizing symptoms many people experience with panic attacks. Listening to him describe those feelings was terribly cathartic for me. I know them all too well, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to suffer like that with the entire world watching your every move. It’s a wonder, and Prince Harry says this himself, that he (that any of them) has been able to stay sane. In fact, he confesses that there have been many times when he has felt on the edge of a “complete breakdown.”

So, there he is, a Royal Highness, prince of the realm. He can have anything and everything he wants. The whole world is, quite literally, available to him on a wish or whim. Yet, he suffers just like all the rest of us. Mental illness, in this case anxiety and panic attacks, is as some say, “no respecter of persons.” It can and does effect princes and paupers alike. Thankfully, Princes Harry and William, and Princess Catherine have lent their considerable clout to the goal of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, and bringing attention to it as only people of their renown can do. Would that we had people with such clout (and courage) here in the United States. Maybe then we could work toward ending the stigma here, too.

I took some comfort in knowing that even the “greatest” among us can share in this same pain. If you suffer, or know someone who does, I encourage you to take about 30 minutes and listen to Prince Harry talk about his own struggles and how he has dealt with and is dealing with them. Who knows, it might be just the encouragement you need to seek help or to help someone else. You can listen to the entire podcast with Prince Harry by clicking here.

 

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: Things People Say That I Wish They Didn’t Say

For the last two weeks, I’ve been writing about my experiences with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and panic attacks. On week 1, I shared with you a brief outline of the progression of these disorders over the course of my life, and last week, I wrote about the things I think people need to know about those of us who suffer from them. It’s important that I clarify again the point that, while each person’s experiences with these disorders is different, we do share many experiences, feelings and thoughts. That is why I feel comfortable speaking broadly on the topic and speaking “for” all of us as a whole. Of course, I always welcome input from readers who agree or disagree.

This weeks’ post has been a little tougher to write. Why? Because this week I’m writing about the things that people say to and about those of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks that I wish people didn’t say to and about us. Frankly, there are too many to include in one post. The tough part about this week has been narrowing those things down to a manageable number–five seems to be the magical one in this case. So, without further ado, here are…

Five Things People Say To People Who Suffer With GAD and Panic Attacks That I Wish They Didn’t Say

“You’re okay.” or…”You’re going to be okay.” or…”Everything is okay.”

Actually, no. We’re not okay. Everything is not okay. And, when we’re in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious day, it’s next to impossible for us to believe that we’re going to be okay. We know that you think you’re saying something that will help, and honestly, we want it to be true. But, remember that by nature, our panic attacks and anxieties are not rational. During the throes of one, thinking rationally is virtually impossible. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline in the most massive “fight or flight” response you could ever imagine. Think of it this way: when someone is having a panic attack, their body is reacting in the most primal way it can. It is reacting in the way that has kept the human species alive over hundreds of thousands of years in the face of other animals far stronger than we, and cataclysmic events that rendered other species extinct. It is as if we are being chased by an animal capable of devouring us and shredding our bodies limb from limb. If we don’t run far and fast, we will die. Only…there is no REAL danger present at that moment. We know that in our rational minds, but our bodies cannot respond accordingly. It is frightening…no, it is terrifying. We just don’t feel like we will be okay.

“Just relax.”

If only! Most people who suffer with GAD, panic attacks, and panic disorder find relaxation to be, at best, difficult to attain. We would love to lie on a sun-drenched beach, eyes closed, listening to the waves roll ashore; forgetting all the cares of the world for at least a little while. But, as we lie there, we worry. We worry about skin cancer from sun exposure. We worry about the kids playing in the ocean whose parents don’t seem to be paying close attention. We worry that while we lie there and relax, something back home is going dreadfully, terribly wrong and we’re not there to stop it (as if we could). Believe it or not, sometimes just the act of TRYING to relax makes us more anxious than we already were. Speaking personally, the more still and quiet I am, the more time I have to think; and thinking is rarely relaxing. As much as we want to, and as much as we know we should, most of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks simply cannot “just relax.”

“Take some deep breaths.”

I don’t know about you, but I breathe constantly. Okay, that was a little sarcastic, but you get my point. Yes, taking deep breaths does work to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and to some extent, calm the nerves. But, just like the act of trying to relax, focusing on breathing makes some of us (myself included) even more nervous and anxious than we already are; and being reminded to breathe deeply makes it that much worse. We are breathing, and we are taking as many deep breaths as possible, as often as possible. Give us time. Our breathing will slow, even if you don’t remind us that it needs to.

“Pray about it.” or…”God doesn’t give us anything we can’t bear.”

I have many well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ who have said these things to me so many times. If you only knew how many times I’ve prayed about it. If you only knew how many times I’ve asked God to deliver me from this panic, anxiety, worry, and fear. I dare say that I’ve prayed about this more than I’ve prayed about anything else in my entire life. As far as God not giving us anything more than we are able to bear: respectfully, that is a terrible misconstruction and misinterpretation of that particular passage of Scripture. What the Bible actually says is:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV

This has nothing to do with the situations and circumstances in life that befall us. What Paul refers to in this passage specifically deals with righteous living; with not being able to withstand the temptations that come to us–those which are common to us all. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are not temptations. They are very real conditions which affect millions of people–Christians and non-Christians alike.

“You’re not trying to get better.”

This one really gets to me. How do you know I’m not trying? Furthermore, if you think I’m not trying, what exactly would “trying” look like to you? The problem with GAD and panic attacks, just like the problem with many illnesses and disorders, is that not all treatments work for everyone. Some treatments work better than others. Some treatments don’t work at all, and some treatments work a little, but not a lot. For some of us, trying is what we’ve been doing the entire time we’ve been suffering, and we still haven’t found what works best. There are even some of us who have tried everything known to help without any results at all. “Trying to get better” looks different for all of us, and to folks who don’t suffer, our best efforts might not looks like any effort at all. But, we really are trying. I don’t know anyone with either GAD, panic attacks, or both who WANTS to continue having them.

I’m not a big believer in policing the things that people say and I am a big believer in free speech and the free exchange of ideas. But, I would caution folks to be careful in choosing their words when talking to people who suffer with GAD and panic attacks. Sometimes even the most innocent words hurt the most because they call into question our ability to control our own lives even more than we already question it ourselves. All I ask, all any of us ask, is that you just be there for us; to support us, to comfort us. Sometimes–most of the time, actually–no words are required for that.

Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where do we go from here?

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2: The Things You Need to Know About GAD & Panic Attacks

Last week, I posted Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic. In it, I gave a brief description of how and when I began experiencing the crippling effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks. If you have not yet read part 1, reading it before you read this post might help with context.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

The Mayo Clinic defines GAD as “. . .excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities.” People may develop “generalized anxiety disorder as a child or an adult. Generalized anxiety disorder has symptoms that are similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they are all different conditions.”

Symptoms of GAD include:

Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Worrying about excessively worrying
Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness
Fatigue
Irritability
Muscle tension or muscle aches
Trembling, feeling twitchy
Being easily startled
Trouble sleeping
Sweating
Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Headaches

Symptoms in children and teens can manifest differently than adults and may include:

Performance at school or sporting events suffering
Difficulty being on time (punctuality)
Fear of earthquakes, nuclear war or other catastrophic events
Feeling overly anxious to fit in
Being a perfectionist
Tendency to redo tasks because they aren’t perfect the first time
Spending excessive time doing homework
Lacking confidence
Striving for approval
Requiring a lot of reassurance about performance

What are Panic Attacks?

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as ” a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” Further, they note that “Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder. . .Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life.”

Panic attack symptoms vary widely from person to person, but they almost always come on suddenly and without warning, even at times when there does not seem to be anything that would trigger a panic attack. Many people, myself included, have been awakened in the middle of the night from a sound sleep having a panic attack. While symptoms are not the same from one person to the next, they can include:

Sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Sweating
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Chills
Hot flashes
Nausea
Abdominal cramping
Chest pain
Headache
Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation
Feeling of unreality or detachment

I have experienced all of those symptoms over the years. Most of the time, my panic attacks have multiple symptoms at a time. They are incredibly frightening, embarrassing, and create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that someone who doesn’t experience them simply cannot understand. They are exhausting, and after they end, I feel as though I could sleep for days. But, the worst part about panic attacks and panic disorder is the fear that they will happen again. That is why I, and so many other people who suffer from them, avoid situations where they might occur. That leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression. As I said in part 1, relationships with family, friends, significant others, and co-workers can be dramatically impacted by these conditions.

But, the symptoms of GAD, panic attacks (panic disorder) are not the only things you need to know. There are several more that those of us who suffer want those of you who don’t to know–not about the conditions, but about US!

We Are Not Crazy
People who suffer from GAD and panic attacks are not insane. In fact, on the whole, we are among the most sane, intelligent, and creative people you’ll ever meet. Leann Rimes, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Emma Stone, Joey Votto, Kim Basinger, Scarlett Johansson, and Adele are just a few of the people known to suffer from GAD, panic attacks, or both. Some psychologists and psychiatrists who’ve studied his writings believe that Abraham Lincoln also likely suffered from GAD. (from CalmClinic.com) While GAD and panic disorder are classified as mental/emotional in nature, the people who suffer from them are most certainly not mentally disturbed or insane. You don’t need to be afraid of us.

We Don’t Have A Switch To Turn It Off
Oh, that there were a switch that would allow us to turn off the worry, the fear, the panic, the racing thoughts–I don’t know that there is a price we wouldn’t be willing to pay. Unfortunately, that switch doesn’t exist. As much as we want to (as much as YOU may want us to), and as hard as we try, we can’t just turn it off. Many people with GAD and panic disorder have suffered with it since childhood; and while there may be times when we are perfectly fine, we always know that the panic could hit at any time. There are effective treatments for GAD and panic disorder which help many people who suffer with them, but they are just treatments, not cures. We will most likely always “have it.”

We Probably Can’t Tell You What We Are Afraid Of
I have a fairly sizeable list of phobias: heights, closed spaces, large crowds, etc. But, ask me during a panic attack what it is that I’m afraid of at that moment, and I probably won’t be able to tell you. The vast majority of my panic attacks are not triggered by any of the phobias I have. I can’t tell you what most of them are triggered by, and most of the people who I’ve talked to who suffer like me say the same thing. We can’t tell you what we are afraid of during a panic attack. All we know is that the fear is very real.

We Need You To Be Our Friend Even Though We Can’t Always Be Yours
This is, maybe, the hardest truth about GAD and panic attacks that I know of. Those of us who suffer need people around who care about us. We need people around who know what we’re going through and who still love us anyway. We need people around us who will continue to be our friends even though we are not always very good at being yours. This flies in the face of everything we’re ever told about friendships. You know–they’re a “two-way street.” That is true. Unfortunately for those of us who suffer from these disorders, we’re not always able to travel down the other side. We know we need to. We know we should. But, just at that moment, we can’t make the trip.

We Haven’t “Given Up” On Life
One of the things that I dread most when I talk to people about GAD and panic attacks are the looks of pity on people’s faces. You know the look–furrowed brow, eyebrows raised, head tilted to the side, weepy eyes. It’s a look that suggests the thought: “Oh, you poor, hopeless thing. You’ve given up on having a happy life.” But, we haven’t. Most sufferers of GAD and panic attacks may have some level of depression accompanying the disorders, but we don’t often just give up and go to bed. Even during the times when I’ve been housebound, I’ve been busy about trying to get better. It may just be that my “busy” doesn’t look the same as yours. But, trust me, I (we) haven’t given up.

Lastly, and the most important thing we want you to know…

If you know someone who you think may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or panic attacks, please talk to them. Let them know that there is help available and that they don’t have to suffer alone. This is especially important for little kids who might be suffering. The earlier GAD and panic attacks are caught, the easier they seem to be to treat. Please don’t let someone you know suffer alone. There is hope and there is help.

If you think you may know someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder, check out the resources available through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

And, don’t forget to be a friend!
Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This