Facing the Anxiety

The end of Daylight Savings Time is the beginning of winter hell for me. The cold, short days and long, long dark nights always increase depression and anxiety.

Last week wasn’t so bad because we were on a family vacation at Disneyland. The first couple of days were rainy, but otherwise the weather was absolutely perfect. And I love being at Disneyland with my kids! It was also the first time my husband had been in a very long time, so it was fun to share with him. It was one of the best, most fun vacations I’ve ever been on. Coming home to mid-winter temperatures, cloudy skies and inversion was pretty depressing. I feel like I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack most of the week.

A few days ago I got an email from my son’s elementary school with a sign-up to help supervise kids at lunch while they signed a big Thank You banner for the teachers for Thanksgiving. I went back and forth for a long time about whether to sign up or not. I have enjoyed being able to volunteer the past year, as I stay at home now, but was worried about my anxiety. I finally forced myself to sign up, believing it would be good for me. Sometimes we have to push through the anxiety.

However, I had anxiety about that decision in the days after. I kept getting online to view my sign-up, almost canceling. I just about had a panic attack about it yesterday. Then I reminded myself how I’ve really enjoyed every time I’ve gone to the school to volunteer. I again told myself this was a time I needed to push through the anxiety.

I was nervous when I woke up this morning and got ready, but I went to the school, and everything went great! I’m glad I got to see the kids, talk with other moms and say hi to my son.

I recently posted that sometimes it’s okay to avoid things that give you anxiety. I do believe that. I also believe that sometimes it’s best to face it and push through it because you get a wonderful end result. I think it’s about doing what feels right at the time, re-evaluating and then changing or continuing on the path that is best for you. Maybe a day will come when I feel like I can always push through the anxiety. Maybe. That day is definitely not now. So I will do what I feel is best for me and my health at the time, whether it is recognizing that something is too much to handle right now or deciding that I can, and will, be okay to do it.

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Anxiety is Exhausting

Something people may not realize is how tiring it can be for those of us with anxiety, who are also introverts, to be around a group of people. It’s not that we don’t want to be around people (though admittedly sometimes we don’t), but it takes a lot out of us.

I thought about this last week when I was at band rehearsal. I recently joined a community band, and I’m loving it! Playing the flute is something that has brought me so much joy through the years. As I’ve gotten better at identifying my own symptoms of anxiety or oncoming panic attacks and have been able to think about what I can do to help I’ve played my flute more. Even if it’s just for five or ten minutes it is something that has helped calm or stop panic attacks or has helped lessen anxiety.

I have wanted to play in a group for so long, but even if the opportunity came up I was never at a place in my life where I would have been able to join. Luckily, I’m at that place now. We have had three rehearsals so far, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I really do love being with this group, but sometimes it’s hard being around a bunch of people. Last week was particularly hard. Part of it was probably that I’m feeling insecure. Even though I have played my flute through the years, I have mostly played easy, melodic pieces because that’s what I love, that’s what I connect with. I haven’t challenged myself much, and now we are playing pieces that I could have easily gotten in high school, but I’m really struggling with now. Several of the other flute players are much younger, but more recently out of high school and haven’t lost the ability, so I feel rather embarrassed at my skill level right now. Add on top of that other stresses of life, and I was absolutely exhausted after coming home from rehearsal last week. I actually broke down in tears when my husband asked how rehearsal was. I felt kind of stupid because I truly enjoy playing and being in a band again. But just being around so many people spiked my anxiety and took so much out of me.

I guess what I want people to know is that it’s perfectly normal for those of us with anxiety to get exhausted being around other people, even when we’re not expected to talk with them. I also think it goes back to the fact that anxiety can sometimes come off as snobbish or standoffish. But that’s not it. It’s just that it is so hard for us, and it can be extremely tiring and take a lot out of us. So be patient. Realize it’s not you. It’s the horrible anxiety that we have to live with. And we’re trying.

Things That Trigger My Anxiety

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was diagnosed many years ago. Anxiety and being “nervous” are not the same thing. True diagnosed anxiety can be crippling. Unlike my depression that comes and goes, anxiety is something I deal with on a daily basis. I think I’ve gotten better at coping and simply living with it, but it can still get the best of me. I’ve also decided that while there are things I can do to help and sometimes push through it, it is also okay to avoid things that cause anxiety.

Just like symptoms of anxiety can be different for everyone, things that cause anxiety can also be different. This is important to understand for those who live or work with or have any kind of relationship with those of us who have anxiety. If you don’t understand the symptoms or what causes them I understand how frustrating it might be. So I’d like to share some of the things that trigger my anxiety.

A common one, I’ve found, in many of us with anxiety is talking on the phone, especially when we have to call someone. Similarly, I also really struggle asking people to do things or sending reminders. Because of this I often put such things off until the last minute. When I even think about it I start to get physically sick to my stomach and breathing becomes labored.

Being in a crowd of people generally doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind being at the airport or a mall or a concert. It’s when I’m in a crowd of people that I know or where I’m expected to socialize and make small talk that sets my anxiety off. I generally keep to myself in these situations, not because I want to, but because it’s too terrifying to sit by someone or just go up and talk to someone. If someone sits by me or starts talking to me I may come off as the socially awkward person I feel like I am, but I’d rather that than awkwardly be by myself.

Another thing that gives me anxiety is Zoom meetings. I know a lot of people like them, especially in comparison to in-person meetings, but for whatever reason, Zoom meetings gives me horrible anxiety. I haven’t been in a lot of them, but I try to keep my camera off. I figure it’s better for everyone else not to see me having a panic attack as I sit there.

Being late is the worst! Everyone else I know who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder also hates being late. My daughter’s band teacher has this saying that goes something like, “Being early means you’re on time. Being on time means you’re late.” I love it! It is one my philosophies now! It’s not that I’m never late. Sometimes I am, but I try so hard not to be because I start to panic when I’m late.

There’s more, but I think that’s a good list for now. My anxiety can also be triggered at different times based on certain circumstances. Some of my symptoms of anxiety are difficulty breathing (sometimes leading to hyperventilating), getting physically sick to my stomach (sometimes leading to nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea), light-headedness, headaches, uncontrollable crying, becoming restless, fidgeting, pacing, feeling the need to hide and tight or painful muscles, especially in my neck and shoulders.

The reason I share this is in hopes of helping others understand anxiety better. It can be easy to judge and make assumptions about reasons why people do or don’t do certain things. Hopefully it will be easier to be more understanding now. Maybe the reason someone isn’t on a Zoom meeting is because of anxiety. Maybe someone is sitting alone or hugging a wall, keeping to themselves, is because of anxiety. Maybe when someone seems unreliable, they’re actually trying their hardest to conquer their symptoms. Maybe they’re attempting to call someone or reach out or send a reminder when they’re hit with nausea, hyperventilating, vomiting or muscle pain or all of the above. I try to push through, I try to cope, but sometimes I need to give myself grace and take the anxiety-inducers out of the equation altogether.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

I’ve been encouraged to keep writing from people who say they have learned. So I’m going to keep writing and keep attempting to teach because I believe strongly in education and especially in educating about mental illness.

Today I write about Generalized Anxiety Disorder—an actual diagnosable condition, just like COVID-19. So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines it as being “characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things”. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it also describes how sometimes with GAD “just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.” The Mayo Clinic adds that GAD is “difficult to control and (can) interfere with day-to-day activities”. It also describes how disabling GAD can be. It can:

  • Impair your ability to perform tasks quickly and efficiently because you have trouble concentrating
  • Take your time and focus from other activities
  • Sap your energy
  • Increase your risk of depression

GAD can also lead to or worsen physical conditions, as well, such as:

  • Digestive or bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Heart-health issues

GAD is bad. It is hard. It can be crippling. I have experienced it. I don’t have anxiety all the time, but it is with me all the time. Often, it is triggered or worsened by certain things. It’s important to keep in mind that those triggers are different for everyone, but I’m going to share some of mine.

waiting-410328_1280First, time. Time is a huge trigger for me. Everyone I know who has GAD is triggered by being late. Most people with GAD are pretty punctual because even just the thought of being late triggers anxiety. Waiting goes along with this. If I have to wait too long past a scheduled meeting or appointment, I become anxious. Even if I see someone else having to wait, my anxiety kicks in.

Social gatherings, such as church or work parties, are a big one. I get claustrophobic staying in my house, so I do enjoying getting out, but there have been so many times I’ve nearly canceled meeting a friend for dinner or a hike or other such get together because of anxiety. Sometimes I can push through. Other times, however, I have canceled. Sometimes I’ve skipped those parties or going to church because my anxiety won. And I know—I know—it has nothing to do with me being weak or not good enough or strong enough or having enough faith, but everything to do with my diagnosed GAD.

Calling people on the phone is something else that gives me very bad anxiety. I know several other people with GAD who get triggered by making phone calls or even thinking of making a call. That’s why I love and prefer texting. “What’s the difference?” one may ask. The difference is that one triggers my anxiety and a slew of worries in my head while the other doesn’t.

There are plenty of other things that trigger my anxiety or worries I have that are always in my head, but the last one I’m going to share is having something cover my face. Most of my adult life, as far as I can remember I’ve hated, feared and panicked at having anything covering my face or part of my face. Recently, my fiance and I were playing around and he threw something over my head and I started freaking out. I think he remembered and helped me get it off. He seemed to feel bad, but I knew he didn’t mean anything, so I didn’t say anything, and we moved on. So imagine now being told that I have to wear something all the time that covers my face. I’ve had several panic attacks while wearing, or even attempting, to wear a mask. Just the thought of it makes it harder for me to breathe. So when I go out in public without a mask on, it’s not because I’m being selfish, it’s not because I don’t care about others, and it’s certainly not because I think my freedom is being taken away. It’s because I’m trying to prevent a panic attack. GAD is already crippling enough without having a panic attack every time I leave my home. Next post I’ll write about panic attacks.

I truly hope what I have written helps others learn more about anxiety and what it is, as well as things that can trigger it. And, as always, I hope what I write helps someone out there to know they’re not alone.