I get nervous about everything, sometimes I literally don’t know why I’m anxious; I just am and no one seems to understand that.  

The above quote has appeared so many places on the web that I could not determine its original source; it’s a testament to how many people suffer from an anxiety disorder and how they feel about it.

The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) defines anxiety disorders:

Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. These feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

Estimates are that up to 40 million people in the US alone, from all demographics, experience some type of anxiety disorder. I am one of those people from the US and here are some of the things about living with an anxiety disorder that we would like people to understand:

It can be extremely debilitating.

Attacks can be very severe, causing problems ranging from physical illness to a need to get away and hide from everything. It interferes with normal functioning when at its worst.

It has many forms and levels. 

General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Phobias can all be grouped under this general heading of Anxiety. There are also varying levels of severity of the disorders that people can experience. For me, my General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is at a well-controlled level.

It is more than just worry. 

Worry is a normal human emotion that most people experience at times. An anxiety disorder goes beyond this once-in-a-while feeling to a long-term life-interfering problem.

It can cause physical symptoms. 

Extreme attacks can cause shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, and other physical problems. For me, it is digestive system problems during bad attacks.

I can not just “get over it” or turn it off at will. 

It is not some bad habit I need to break, nor an addiction to be overcome. It is an actual medically diagnosed illness, often involving brain chemistry, that can be managed.

I tend to overthink.  

Situations, actions, words – from myself or others – can be over-analyzed to the point of mental paralysis. I have to apply coping skills that short-circuit the anxiety thought loop.

I tend to overprocess outside stimuli.  

Anxiety disorders can cause or aggravate problems with sensory input. For me, it is with sounds. I have always been sound-sensitive, but now hearing too much noise or certain noises can lead to serious agitation unless I leave the area or block out the sound.

I can have attacks from a trigger situation. 

There are highs and lows with anxiety. My anxiety is well-controlled through my faith, counseling, and medication, but there are times when a situation, often socially related for me, can still trigger a mild anxiety spike.

I can have attacks for no reason at all. 

Because anxiety can be related to brain chemistry among other factors, there are times when all is going well, but I still feel an anxiety spike coming on. This is where medication – Zoloft works for me, but others need different medications for their body chemistry – most often comes into the picture, just as it would for a more classic physical disease.

I may seem antisocial at times due to an anxiety spike.

If I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I may excuse myself suddenly from a social situation. I do not dislike your company, but believe me, a full-blown attack is not a pretty thing.

I need ways to vent, cope, or otherwise deal with the anxiety.

This is where professional counseling really helps, but sometimes I need a friend to listen when I can not get to the counselor right away.  Friends who understand and calmly listen are a precious treasure indeed.

I am afraid of overwhelming those friends.

I do have friends who listen, but I am often concerned that I may overwhelm them with my needs if I am going through a prolonged period of anxiety.

I have developed a deep empathy for those facing hidden problems. 

My special education teaching experience taught me empathy for students with not so obvious learning problems. My anxiety disorder has taught me empathy for those facing emotional struggles.

I have learned to appreciate the quietly pleasant times more.  

I do not need a party or a huge group of friends to have a good time – in fact, that might cause anxiety. I do appreciate the little pleasures in life more – like my cat purring by me, a day filled with sunshine, the songs of my faith, getting the right words on a page for my writing. Most of all, I appreciate those friends who care and support and listen and understand.

Featured photo credit: Haywire by porschlinn via flickr.com

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