Ah, anxiety. It’s a big (well, perhaps medium-sized) scary word that countless people are familiar with, either because they suffer from it themselves or know somebody who does. In the hustle and bustle of the modern age, it’s easy to forget that anxiety still plagues many of us. Indeed, some might even say that it doesn’t truly exist and that certain folks are just “acting” nervous or could easily snap out of their worries if only they listened to a short pep talk and ate an ice cream cone.
The bottom line is that most people don’t really understand anxiety. It isn’t something that can be turned on or off or be consciously controlled in an effective manner. To help you get a better sense of what exactly this malicious state of mind does to a person, here’s a short little list of some of the things that anxiety does to you, which I am familiar with since I suffer from it myself…
1. You worry (excessively) about your work.
This is a big one. All throughout school and continuing into college, I had an unfortunate tendency of not really believing in myself when it came to my assignments. In some sense this was a good thing, because it pushed me to better myself so as to avoid criticism. Still, I would have preferred going through life as most people do, rather than worrying every single moment whether what I’m doing is good enough or whether I’m up to the standards of whatever I’m involved in.
For those without anxiety, this might be a difficult concept to grasp. “Why worry about your work so much to the point that it becomes painful? And why don’t you believe in yourself when it’s clear that pretty much all of your schoolwork and actual work is fairly top notch? What’s the big deal?”
Well, that’s just the thing. You’re totally accurate in your line of questioning, hypothetical person. We think our anxiety is just as preposterous as you do, except we can’t escape it. We know it doesn’t make sense, but we can’t shake it. Anxiety is like a thin layer of saran wrap encasing your brain, and when it tightens, flooding your thoughts with worry, all you can do is wait for it to loosen up on its own accord.
2. You experience the “turn-in dilemma.”
This one is similar to point #1, though it’s different enough that it deserved its own subheading. This is where I get to be frank with you: I experience anxiety when submitting the articles I write for this site. I like to call this the “turn-in dilemma” because my worries reach a peak when I send a completed article to be reviewed by my editors.
It’s a completely illogical worry, because I know I’ve done all I can to ensure that whatever I worked on was worthy of approval, and yet I still ruminate about it anyways. This extends beyond the work I do here of course, and includes essays I have to turn in, applications and e-mails I send, etc. There’s just something about giving a part of yourself over for someone else to judge that makes my anxiety flare up like Mount Vesuvius.
What can you normal folks do to help people like me? Well again, while words of encouragement help, time itself is the most effective salve. Over time, we anxiety-sufferers figure out our own coping mechanisms (usually unique to each person), and in the end these are more effective than anything most people could tell us.
3. Thinking about the long-term future freaks you out.
I admit that my anxiety doesn’t extend to this particular department, though I do know people who worry constantly about the long-term future. This type of anxiety is nearly crushing in nature. You’ll look a year ahead and literally start to panic about every single thing you need to do to get you from where you are now to where you want to be then. Suddenly, everything you do in the present has more meaning, next year becomes tomorrow, and the stability of your fragile mind literally implodes, consumed by emotions ranging from panic to rage.
To be honest, I’m not sure how one can address someone experiencing this type of anxiety. Consoling them rarely works, and telling them that “things will just fall into place, you’ll see” tends to only make it worse. Give them their space and let them work out their own solution. At best, perhaps you can buy them some of their favorite food, or send them a link to a funny video. While you can’t force the anxiety out of them, you can at least try and make the process more bearable.
4. Thinking about the short-term future freaks you out.
This is the one that afflicts me, and it’s perhaps even more illogical than #3. While the person in #3 is worried about some of the more significant things they want to get done in life, people like me are more concerned about freaking out over smaller things happening in the present and near future. That means I worried about starting this article today, planning a run for tomorrow, finding time to read a book I enjoy, etc. For me, post-it notes are essential since they allow me to map out all of these nagging thoughts, and deal with them in bullet-point fashion.
Even a minor event, like having to help my mom out at her school, or having to drive to the market, can cause fear and trepidation to pierce my soul, leaving me momentarily stunned and frazzled by having to consider all the new potentialities inserted into my life.
Yes, I know that these worries are completely ridiculous. Going back to the saran wrap analogy, however, it’s just not something you can fix with words or hugs or anything like that. When an anxiety attack strikes, there’s no point in rationalizing it, you have to deal with it head on, let it go through all of its paces, and shake it off yourself. Though you’ll never truly be rid of your worries, you can get better at dealing with them when they flare up.
5. You worry about pleasing others.
This is closely related to that whole concept of wanting everyone to like you. As you know, that’s pretty much impossible, because chances are if you can get persons A, B, and C to like you, you’ll enrage person D in some inexplicable way. When it comes to anxiety however, there’s no logic involved, and thus those who suffer from it will often try to do everything in their power to ensure that nobody dislikes them.
The monumental difficulty associated with this task is part of the reason why it induces anxiety attacks in me and others. Chances are, if somebody likes you for who you are, you wouldn’t have to bend to their will anyways. So, by trying to get everyone to enjoy your presence, you’re setting up a losing battle right from the start. This is a problem, particularly because the anxiety becomes about ten times worse when you finally run into somebody who couldn’t care less about you or your need to please them.
That’s when the worry really sets in. “Why don’t they like me? Is it something I said? Was it because I’m not good enough? Well I wouldn’t want to be friends with them either!” This continues until you convince yourself to literally hate whoever it is who showed you a perceived cold shoulder. That in itself isn’t healthy, but it’s unfortunately something that many anxiety sufferers deal with, including me. In some sense it’s almost like your anxiety forces you to find people who disapprove of you so that it can continue feeding you nefarious thoughts of self-doubt and depression.
There’s really nothing normal folks can do to snap us out of this one either. Again, pretty much everyone suffering from anxiety knows that their mindset makes absolutely zero sense. They just can’t control it, and neither can you, no matter how good your intentions are.
Let’s not end on too depressing of a note though. While you may not be able to wrangle the anxiety out of somebody you know, you can still be there for them, and lend an understanding hand when necessary. When you approach us worriers with an open mind, acknowledging the fact that we can’t help ourselves, you’ll do that much better in helping us deal with our issues.
Featured photo credit: hide_face.jpg/ hotblack via mrg.bz