What exactly is anxiety? What does it mean? What does it feel like?
Now of course I can’t tell you what anxiety feels like for everyone. I can only tell you what it feels like for me. Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t. Maybe if you don’t experience anxiety yourself, you just have a little bit of a better understanding of it when you hear the word…
Sometimes my anxiety is like Steven Spielberg – it produces amazing, vivid movies. Movies that don’t arrive with a warning of a release date, they just start playing with all the intensity and colour and usually are triggered by a phone call not answered, a sound from upstairs or in the garden, or totally out of the blue. You can guess that they’re not happy movies, they’re the worst end-of-the-world tragedy / trauma / disaster kind of movies.
The good news is that for me, my medication has lessened the occurance of these movie events. Also, I have learned to distract myself out of them when they do start. I basically just lalalalalalalala to myself, either silently or out loud, and breathe deeply and that usually stops the viewing before I get into organising the seating arrangements for my loved ones’ funerals.
Now another aspect of anxiety for me is totally randomly feeling like something bad is going to happen. There’s no scenario or visual images that run through head, it’s just the feeling you get when, for example, you know that you’ve done something wrong and you’re about to be busted but you don’t know just when.
When I was a kid, I did not find the strict school system we had enjoyable so my stomach hurt every day. I also picked on my cuticles and I actually still do that to this day. I no longer get a stomach ache when the feeling of something-bad-is-about–to-happen comes, I just feel massive dread and vulnerability and hypervigilance. I feel very unsafe and insecure. Like literally the ground’s going to start shaking and my world will fall apart.
It’s weird to explain. If you just think how you’d feel if you’d killed someone and you KNOW that the police is going to knock on your door at any moment – that is what I assume it feels like (having never actually murdered anyone).
It’s a BAD, BAD feeling and I can see why it drives a lot of people to drink or to do drugs – ALL you want in that stage is not to feel, to just be calm and numb.
I have found less damaging ways to deal with this though. After finding out that alcohol actually makes it all worse in the long run.
What helps me is exercise.
Immediately, if possible. The physical exertion diverts all brain activity to my muscles and my cardiovascular system. It makes me feel normal and grounded and safe again.
This is why I exercise pretty hard 6 days of the week. It just keeps me calm and makes me able to just live in the moment and not overthink the past or the future.
What helps me is sleep.
Sometimes I just ride out the wave of anxiety until the evening, knowing that I will mostly likely feel better the next morning.
What helps me is someone I trust to be near.
On some bad days I physically feel my anxiety slip off of me like a heavy blanket when I hear the key in the door and know that my husband is about to step through the door. He doesn’t have to do anything (although hugs help) or say anything but just his presence is enough for me. (of course he can drive me nuts at other times but such is marriage after almost 18 years).
What helps me is talking and writing about it.
Talking about it is not so easy for me but seeing a therapist for a few months earlier this year was definitely good for me. A neutral person who gets it is perfect for this. Friends and loved ones could be as well but if they don’t have any experience with mental health issues, they might not totally get it or might want to ‘fix’ you instead of just listening and guiding your thoughts and feelings.
Blogging and Tweeting and Instagramming are also important to me. Social media can bring together people who’re in a similar boat, it makes you feel like you’re not dealing with things alone.
Blogging is actually my safest sharing place, Twitter and Instagram need to be controlled well – I need to carefully select who I follow and what I look at. There is a lot of negativity and bullshit there but most of that can be cut out by not following or looking at it.
So this is what anxiety feels like for me – dread and vulnerability and big ass butterflies in my stomach for no logical reason.
It’s tiring and unsettling, but the good news is that there are ways to combat it and everyone who suffers hopefully finds the ways that work for them.