Anxiety used to rule my life. The panic attacks were unpredictable, yet reliably present throughout my day. I continuously adjusted my life to avoid triggers of any kind. It was hard to pull myself out of survival mode. Living with high anxiety feels scary, it feels hopeless, and it feels lonely, even when you have supportive people in your life.
Anxiety can be isolating
Avoidant behaviors are tempting in times of high anxiety. I would not go anywhere that required me to be in a group of people. I stopped going to movie theaters, dreaded sitting through classes, and for a while could not eat at a restaurant without becoming ill. The more that I avoided, the greater my fears grew and the smaller my world became.
Anxiety can be irrational
The best example I have to demonstrate this point is the multiple year period during which I avoided peanuts, out of an irrational and baseless fear that I had developed an allergy. If I did eat a peanut, it would immediately trigger a panic attack. I would feel my throat closing, my panic rising, and be utterly convinced that this was anaphylaxis and I was going to die. Yet, at the same time, I knew that was irrational.
The problem is, that type of fear registers on a subconscious level first. Boom – your heart is racing, you can’t catch a breath, your stomach turns, all before you have a chance to puzzle out the reason. No amount of rational thought in that moment can stop the panic in its tracks. And still, I felt guilty for being unable to use my logic to stamp it out. I felt guilty for making situations harder for others. I felt guilty that I was not healthy.
Anxiety takes a lifetime of management
It is normal in these situations to feel guilt, helplessness, and dread. It takes a lot of hard work to change your patterns of thought and train your brain to work with you. With the aid of proper medication, lots of therapy, and time, I have learned to manage both my anxiety and my reaction to it. Hands down, the most important skill that I learned was the power of reframing. How you speak to yourself about yourself truly matters. The language you use, even in your own head, can have an impact on your well-being. It is hard work and it takes consistency but it can get better.
Now, anxiety is an inconvenient reality in my life. I have learned about my triggers, I can read my body, and when the panic inevitably starts, I know it will pass. Instead of avoiding triggering activities, I am now intentional about integrating them into my life. The more times that I experience a scary situation and make it through, the more confident I become. I have learned that it is ok to be scared. It will pass. It will get better.
If you are struggling, I hope that hearing about my experience will help you. Know that you are not alone. Know that it is ok to feel the way that you do. There are resources available to you. There are people that care about you. You can get your confidence back. You can do it.