Anxiety is a silent killer. For me, anxiety is something that has crept up in my life. I used to be carefree, and not have a worry in the world. Before I could even realize, within a matter of a couple of years, anxiety ruled my life. Anxiety to me is the constant state of worrying, the mindless panic attacks about absolutely nothing and everything, the pained sense of my throat closing, cold sweats, and a lots of other crap. Why am I telling you this? It’s my hope to connect with someone else that experiences anxiety, to let them know that they’re not alone, and maybe we can all make it through this one day at a time.
I can’t really pin point a single instance when I started to have anxiety. This is my favorite question I am asked by the doctors constantly. If I knew the answer, then I probably wouldn’t have so many conflicting questions about my anxiety. I can remember starting to feel panic attacks around the age of 16. This was a time when, I wasn’t quite sure what would bring these attacks on.
I do, however, remember my first attack. It was just a simple bad grade on a test. I look back and think how irrational it was for me to go into a full-blown attack over a poor grade. These made me have the sweats, the rapid shortness of breath, my face even looked like a tomato. I couldn’t tell you why this happened, but the bottom line is, panic attacks are irrational, and we can’t think about how insane the reason is to have one. I can remember events that started to intensify my anxiety however.
The First Events:
The first was transitioning into college. I was excited at first to go somewhere new, somewhere that I could be my own person without any previous stigmas or assumptions. My first day I stepped out of my 99’ red Taurus with a fresh new backpack, then realizing I was completely lost. I had absolutely no idea where any of my classes were. I had this pain staking feeling in my stomach that I would be totally and utterly late to my first class. Well I was right. I showed up about twenty minutes late into an hour-long class. Even better, all eyes looked at me when I entered the door.
Now let’s back up a few minutes. Standing outside of my car, I felt this urge of emotions cross over me. I felt nervous, I worried I would be judged for not wearing the right outfit? Ridiculous right? I had a massive attack. The feeling like everyone was staring at me (which no one was). I had to ask at least a dozen people to figure out where my class was. Sitting in class, I succumbed to my normal antics of anxiety. I sat picking my nails until they bled, I kept moving constantly in the chair. I was so worried that I couldn’t even concentrate on what the lecture was about. Anxiety won this time, right after class, I immediately changed into an online version to spare myself further embarrassment.
This even was more recent, I was in a small car accident. Really minor but it has caused me crippling anxiety. The accident was not my fault. I was rear-ended in heavy traffic, and then someone rear-ended the person who rear-ended me causing me to get hit twice. I can’t even begin to describe the fear that overwhelmed me at this point. My worst fear driving has always been getting into an accident, whether its big or small. So, I am shaking so badly at this time, my husband touches me to hear his words. The anxiety that it caused seemed deadlier to me than the actual accident. It took me a few days just to process what had happened. I couldn’t drive.
It was torture to even get into a car, even if someone else was driving. I couldn’t even go to the store by myself, for weeks. While driving I am gasping for air as I am looking in the rear-view mirror. Gripping my seat so hard you could see the spots where my nails dug in. Clinching so hard, I actually hurt my back from the small short car rides. Feeling like I am getting off an airplane every time I reached my destination. That feeling that I was so happy to be on solid land that wasn’t moving again. To some people this seems so completely and utterly irrational. To me, this is something that has consumed my life for the last 2 years.
The Worst of the Worst:
After the car accident I fell into the deepest and darkest area of anxiety I have ever experienced. I continued to feel the pain and stress every time I got in the car. After a few months, I felt so much stress each time I needed to leave the house. I started planning my trips around when I could go with my husband. My anxiety makes the decisions about my classes. Taking all online classes to avoid driving to campus.
I would plan my day around when and where I had to drive, only making the smallest trips possible to the grocery store. Keeping myself awake at night. I worry about which routes to take, and whether or not they would be busy, or really “safe.” My anxiety peaked so badly that every time I got my keys out to get into my car, my heart would race twice as fast. My palms would be sweaty by the time I reached my car, and when I got into the car my fists were so tightly clenched around the steering wheel you couldn’t even fit a piece of paper between me and the wheel. That was my lowest point.
I ask myself why I am sharing my story? It feels slightly embarrassing to tell people about my level of anxiety. However, like I stated at the beginning I want to help someone else who might be feeling this way. Maybe it’s not driving that causes you anxiety, but I hope that you can relate with your irrational feelings of anxiety. I also want to let you know there is a light at the tunnel, no matter how far away it seems or small, it’s there.
When I reached these points of totally crippling anxiety I had a moment to come to terms with it. I first had to realize, that yes, I have anxiety, but that’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The first step to conquering and moving forward is not letting your anxiety have power over you. I recently learned in psychology some different tactics. One is to accept the problem and take away the negative thought surrounding the emotion. So, say yes, I have anxiety, but that is just fine.
The Take Back:
Now I will be the first to say it’s not an overnight process recovering from anxiety. It’s not a thought process of just telling yourself you won’t be anxious anymore. Trust me, I wish it was that easy. What I did start to do, was take small steps. I started to drive more frequently. These trips are short, but I did it every day. I got up and make my way to the grocery store to get ingredients we needed for dinner. My husband patiently would drive with me and encourage me. We would go to Denver and he would talk the whole time to keep my mind off my stress, but don’t worry, I kept focused on driving.
Once I was more comfortable with more daily driving, I applied for classes on campus. I even took a job I really wanted to that required me to drive frequently, this was a really big win for me! Saying that I finally did something that I wanted to do, was a proud moment for me. I didn’t let my stress stop me this time.
Tactics to Help Fight Stress:
Although I was finally fighting my anxiety and acknowledging it, it still comes back frequently. I have learned some tactics that work to help me feel better in times of need. One specific strategy that has helped me when I start to feel a panic attack coming along, or that I can’t breathe is to start counting. I start with 10 and work my way towards 0. When I am doing this, I tell myself I need to find 10 items in the room that are red, or whatever color, then I move to 9, maybe I need to find 9 things that are shiny and silver. By the time I am at zero I am so focused on counting and finding items that I forget about why I was panicking in the first place. It may seem like something small, and even easy but it works. It’s one of the few things that repeatedly works for me over and over.
Wish I could say I was totally free from my anxiety but that would be a lie. I can say that I am not letting it have control over my life anymore. That I am working every day to acknowledge my stress, and work through it. I hope you know that you are not alone, and you are more powerful than you think you are. With this post, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments about anxiety. Also, I would love to know what works for you, I am always looking for a new way to manage anxiety. If you are interested in more power pieces of writing, please check out The We Spot Instagram!