While all types of mental illness are stigmatized, looked down upon, and totally misunderstood, the way people think about anxiety tends to be particularly skewed. For those who don’t deal with the constant burden of anxiety, it’s easy to say that anxiety sufferers should just “grow up” or “get over it.”
I myself deal with anxiety and panic attacks can arise at the absolute worst times. A lot of the time, they are so bad that I end up having to go to the hospital because even though I know what’s going on, it really feels like my heart is going to erupt. While the people closest to me understand the struggle, I get that it can be hard for those on the outside to wrap their heads around. But trust me, if we could “just calm down,” we would.
For that reason, here are seven things that those of us with anxiety want the world to know.
1. Don’t take it personally if we cancel last minute.
Sometimes things can be going so well on a given day. We did a great job at school or work, we successfully got to and from work without incident, our doggos were excited to see us when we got home, and everything was fine. But then one anxiety trigger can send all of that tumbling down. When that happens, many of us need to practice self-care by curling up on the coach and focusing on intentional breathing to bring our physical symptoms back down.
Sadly, this means that we often have to bail on dinner or drinks last minute. Just know that it’s not personal! We love you and enjoy spending time with you, but until we’re better, we’re not in any position to spend time out and about.
2. It’s tiring.
While anxiety is a form of mental illness, the exhaustion it causes can be just as physical as it is psychological. Anxiety attacks are extremely hard on the body. Imagine how your body would feel after sprinting away from someone chasing you for an hour. That’s what it can feel like, so not only are we mentally drained, but our throats feel raw from all that hyperventilating and all of the tension in our muscles can lead to full-body pain and fatigue.
3. We’re bound to sweat the small stuff.
Plenty of people can go through life and brush off the little things. That is the goal, after all! Life is full of tiny annoyances and irritants that, while a bummer, don’t really get people without anxiety feeling too down. Fixation can be a major issue for anxiety sufferers, however, and that can cause us to be hypervigilant. Our bodies are just waiting to have a fight-or-flight response and even the tiniest triggers can get us there.
4. We’ve heard every single criticism before because we say it to ourselves.
Many anxiety sufferers deal with an ongoing internal monologue. As we try to cope with the world around us, we start creating conversations and scenarios in our heads. Basically, we overthink the heck out of everything. Sometimes this can spill out into real conversations, too; this frantic need to explain every little detail of every little thing. Which leads me to my next point…
5. We’re constantly beating ourselves up.
Because anxiety is a condition that has pretty direct social consequences, most of us grow accustomed to beating ourselves up for every single thing that goes wrong. I have been known to replay conversations over and over and over again in my head and obsess over them if I feel like I somehow messed it up. If I have to cancel plans with someone for the third time in a row, I obsess over the fact that I’ve probably hurt their feelings. It’s an endless cycle.
6. We compare ourselves to everyone else.
It can be so frustrating to know that, rationally, you should just be able to move past something, but your mind won’t let you. Watching so-called “normal” people navigate life more deftly than we do can be really upsetting, and that often leads to us belittling ourselves and wondering why we can’t just get over stuff the way other people do.
7. We don’t want you to give up on us.
All of those things I mentioned above can be so frustrating. I know. But please, if you can, just give us time. Anxiety ebbs and flows, and even when our symptoms seem to be in conflict with our relationships, just know that we’re trying as hard as we can and that we care about you just the same. If I fall off the face of the earth for two weeks, it’s not because I want to ignore you. It’s because I want to work on becoming the best version of myself, both for me and for the people I love. Many other folks with anxiety would probably say the same.
Watching someone you love struggle with mental illness can be tough, but if you can find it in your heart to encourage those people and let them know that you’re there for them, it’ll never be forgotten.