Ever since I was a little girl I have always been pretty shy and reserved. Throughout my life that has never really changed. I have always dealt with some form of anxiety my entire life but it really hit me when I was in the 9th grade. However, I wasn’t officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety/social anxiety until college. At my very first meeting with the psychologist she pretty much confirmed what I had known for years. I met with her twice a week where we talked about my life, my health issues, and some of the reasons that could be behind my anxiety. I was given “assignments” to complete as well as a journal to jot down anytime I experienced anxiety (what was I doing, how did I feel, did anything make it better/worse, etc). Although my anxiety has gotten better as I have gotten older, it is still something I deal with on a daily basis and something that I constantly have to work on and probably will continue to have to work on for the rest of my life. Though most of the people in my life know I have anxiety it is still something I don’t talk much about. So, here are 7 things I wish others knew about dealing with anxiety.
- I’ts not easy to make friends. I have been hurt in the past by people who I thought were my friends and by people who I had been friends with for years and who I thought I could trust. Because of this I am much more guarded when it comes to who I choose to spend my time with. It takes a long time to gain my trust and my friendship. It’s not that I don’t want to get to know you or you to get to know me…it’s just that it takes me more time than it would someone else. If I don’t confide in you right away, please don’t take it personally. If I want to spend time just the two of us instead of in a group, please know this is because I want to get to know you, really get to know you…not just the outer layer we all wear and show. I want to get to know the real you and I can’t do this in a group. Please don’t be offended if I don’t want to be friends right away. It’s not you, it’s me. But please know, I do want to get to know you and I do want to be friends…it just might take some time.
- I might leave an event early or not come at all. Having anxiety means I am constantly on edge and constantly dealing with my own thoughts in my head. If I show up to an event, please know it took everything I had to convince myself to go. I want to be there and I want to enjoy the evening but know I might have to leave early. It’s not that I didn’t want to be there or that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Sometimes, my own thoughts get to me and get to be too much. I start second guessing everything and worrying about the tiniest of things that most people wouldn’t ever think about. But those tiny things that may seem so trivial to you, feel like mountains to me. So sometimes I have to leave early. To catch my own breath, calm myself down, and get the overwhelming amount of thoughts out of my head. So if I do show up, know that this means you are so very important to me and I care very much for you…even if I do leave early. On the other hand, there might be days where you invite me to do something and I say no. Please don’t take it personally. It just means that on that day I didn’t have enough in me to face my fears and deal with my anxiety. But please don’t stop inviting me. Even if I say no a hundred times…on a hundred and one I may say yes. So please continue asking.
- I realize how ridiculous I seem. Trust me when I say, I know how ridiculous my thoughts are sometimes. I know that despite the fact that I feel like everyone is staring at me when I walk in a room or that everyone is judging every move I make, that it is completely ridiculous. I know that no one is looking at me or talking about me or paying any attention to what I am doing. I know that when I call someone I have no reason to be nervous or worried. I know that if I am at the store, no one is paying attention to what I am doing or what I am wearing. Everyone is just trying to do their own shopping and get on with their own day. But despite knowing this, I can’t stop those thoughts. I know how silly it is to worry about some of the things I worry about. I know I have no reason to panic when I am sitting in a car at a red light and a car pulls up next to me. The people in the car next to me are just out driving like everyone else and couldn’t care less about me. But yet I find myself starting to turn red, I start to sweat, I have trouble breathing and I have to look straight ahead until the car moves. If I have the radio on or I was eating a snack, I immediately have to stop. Even as I type this I realize how absurd that all sounds. Yes I know my thoughts are often irrational and honestly that is one of the hardest parts about anxiety…knowing you are being irrational but not being able to stop it.
- I keep a small close knit group of friends. As I mentioned up above, it is difficult for me to make friends sometimes. Because of that I have a very small close group of friends. I can count my good friends on one hand. When you have anxiety you learn to place value in quality over quantity when it comes to friendships. I much prefer a small group of friends who I have taken the time to truly get to know and who I know I can confide in and rely on. I find keeping my group of friends small allows me to truly appreciate those people I have in my life. I would much prefer 3 really good friends over 10 “acquaintances.” So if you are friends with someone who has anxiety, know that this is no small thing. Please know that this means you are pretty darn special to that person.
- Forcing me to do something doesn’t help. I know many people seem to think that if you just do something that gives you anxiety it will just go away once you do it. And while we do have to practice at doing stuff that may seem scary or cause anxiety for us, we have to do it on our own terms. Forcing someone to do something can actually cause even more anxiety and make the situation worse. When you force me into a situation that I am already anxious about I feel trapped and I feel like there is no way out. This can lead to a panic attack. Encourage me to give it a try, let me know if we go and I am not OK that we can leave, give me the chance to decide if I want to try it or not that day… and if I say no, let me know that that is OK too and encourage me to try again another day. Encouragement and support helps far more than force.
- I can’t control when I have anxiety. I once read something online that said, telling someone to stop having anxiety or a panic attack is like telling someone with epilepsy to stop having a seizure. And that couldn’t be more true. I can’t just stop. I can’t help that I have anxiety and I can’t always control when it happens. Sometimes I know what will bring about my anxiety and other times it can hit out of the blue for no reason at all. Some days I wake up and I am fine. Some days I wake up and anxiety hits me like a ton of bricks. Sometimes I am anxious about something specific and other times I am anxious about nothing at all. I can’t control when it happens or why it happens. Though trust me I wish I could.
- Don’t dismiss my accomplishments. When you have anxiety sometimes the smallest things in life can be an accomplishment. Making a phone call, asking a cashier for help, attending an event where you don’t know anyone. To most people, these things are just a part of normal everyday life. But for someone with anxiety actually doing those things is often very scary and hard. So when we do those things, it is an accomplishment for us. To you it might seem silly or insignificant but please don’t dismiss how hard it was for us to accomplish those tasks. Don’t belittle us. By doing so you could potentially be setting us back in our growth and make it even harder the next time we go to take on something that gives us anxiety. Instead acknowledge and accept what we did as an accomplishment and celebrate with us. And while the things we do might not be a big deal to you they are to us and your support means everything.
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