“Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder?”
Have you ever found yourself sitting in your car in the parking lot at work, school, or a social event, unable to force yourself to go in? Maybe even crying and shaking but unsure why?
Have you ever visualized every possible worst-case scenario in the book? Or planned out how you would deal with every single one of them? Before deciding whether or not you would go on a weekend vacation, work out at the gym, or make a phone call?
Have you ever been in the middle of doing something seemingly harmless, and suddenly had your heart start pounding, your hands start shaking uncontrollably, and nearly (or fully) blacked-out?
All of these things, and more that you may not suspect, can be signs of an Anxiety Disorder.
“What do I do if I suspect I may have an Anxiety Disorder?”
First, if you suspect you have a clinical Anxiety Disorder, you may want to see a specialist for a diagnosis.
Anxiety Disorders go beyond periodically feeling nervous about a test, big event, a blind date, or major change in your life. Although some Anxiety Disorders can arise out of serious life changes or trauma.
There are many ways to help manage various levels of anxiety without a doctor’s intervention, which I will touch on in this article. However, a multi-faceted approach is often the most successful and will give you the best chance at management and recovery.
If your feelings and symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your ability to work, sleep, go to school, or have healthy relationships, it may be time to seek help.
A doctor will likely run tests to ensure that your symptoms are not caused by a physical issue, and then may refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health specialist.
“I’ve been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder.- Now what?”
Any mental health diagnosis can be a difficult thing to swallow at first.
Many people feel a stigma surrounding mental health issues, that does not exist in the case of physical health issues that can be seen and understood on a simpler level.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety.
You are not alone!
Remember that your brain is part of your body, and mental health is at least as important as your overall physical health. This does not diminish you as a person!
Take a deep breath, and know that there is hope for management and recovery.
Your doctor or mental health specialist will likely suggest therapy and some type of medication to help manage your anxiety, if it is severe enough to interfere with your daily life activities.
There are many medications that are formulated to manage depression and/or anxiety for an extended period of time. Most are very useful for helping you to return to your life while learning coping techniques, attending therapy, and pinpointing what may be at the core of your anxiety.
Talk with your doctor and research thoroughly to determine what treatments would best fit your lifestyle and personal difficulties.
Don’t be afraid to speak up if one type of medication or treatment is not working! There’s no shame here, and there are many different types. Most people have to try a few before finding the “perfect fit”.
There are also medications that are meant to be used short-term or in the moment, to prevent the onset of panic attacks or to lessen the effects of them. These medications are often very strong, very effective, but create dependency very quickly, so it is wise to use caution and under close supervision.
Talk to trusted people in your support system!
Help them to understand your symptoms.
Oftentimes, anxiety and panic attacks present as irritation, short temper, “irrational” crying, “spacing out”, seeming unreliable in social situations and “flaking out”, shortness of breath and shaking, etc.
Let them know how you would like to be supported while experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, such as sitting with you quietly or helping you remember to breathe.
Guide them to helpful blogs, articles, and websites to help them understand what you are going through.
What are some ways I can learn to manage my anxiety on my own?
While some people need medication to manage anxiety for most of their lives, some are eventually able to achieve a level of management where medication is no longer needed, or is able to be reduced.
Either way, it is helpful to learn and integrate ways of managing it on your own.
Here are some methods that have been successful in partial or full management and/or recovery from anxiety:
As mentioned earlier, therapy can be very effective in helping to treat and manage anxiety. Your therapist will have many personalized ideas for helping you.
Daily Meditation/Mindfulness Practices
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
Meditation practices help us to exist in the here and now, and to be fully present in the moment.
Many spiritual practices teach the best way to have joy and peace in life. Meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression in many people.
Well-known to create endorphins (the happy hormone!) even if it’s just a 20 minute walk a day. You’ll burn calories, increase your cardiovascular health, and all-around feel better.
Embracing a Spiritual Practice/Community
We are not suggesting that you join a church, or monastery, if you’re currently atheist, unless that really speaks to you.
However, it has long been studied and proven that having a spiritual belief you can embrace, can help.
Having a community of peers who can support you in that belief, can be healing, bring peace, a sense of belonging, and reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Reducing Social Media Use
There have been numerous claims and studies lately around the effects of social media on our mental health and wellbeing.
The constant comparisons of our lives to the 10% of other people’s “perfect” lives that we see on our phone screens can be crushing.
Remind yourself that nobody has a perfect life, relationship, or family, and pick up your phone and text or call someone you trust if you are feeling disconnected.
Reduce Electronics/Screen Time before Bedtime
Chances are, if you have an Anxiety Disorder, you also have some type of insomnia.
Creating a healthy, soothing bedtime routine such as herbal tea and a hot bath, and cutting out screen time close to bedtime can make a big difference in your sleep.
As well, if you’re well rested, it’s much easier to manage difficult situations and feelings throughout the day!
Take it one day at a time. Even one BREATH at a time, if that is all you can manage.
What Not to Do When You Have An Anxiety Disorder
Here are a few “No-No’s” when dealing with and managing anxiety disorders:
Excessive Use of Caffeine, Drugs, or Alcohol
Caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, and can worsen anxiety or even trigger anxiety attacks. Cut back to one cup of coffee in the morning, or decaf. Avoid energy drinks all together.
Abuse of drugs and alcohol create physical and emotional issues that will only worsen the situation, create rifts in your important relationships, and reduce your ability to cope with difficult life situations and to reason and solve problems. And, getting in trouble with the law is certainly not going to help your anxiety.
It is easy to imagine that a few drinks will help you forget your worries, but it can actually create so many more.
Long-term coping skills are key in avoiding dangerous addictions that can arise from attempting to use drugs or alcohol to manage anxiety.
Isolating or Withdrawing
Everyone copes with hard times differently.
Some people reach out for help, some people seem to withdraw into themselves and isolate. Taking a down day to have some peace and quiet and watch Netflix can be a really healthy form of self-care.
Just be sure that you are utilizing your support system. Too much isolation during a difficult time can be damaging and create a distorted view of yourself and your situation.
Stopping any medications suddenly
This can be very dangerous. Remember that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications can be dangerous to quit suddenly, and can result in things like seizures, mood-swings, and even death in some serious cases.
It is important that you ease off of them under the approval and supervision of a doctor.
DON’T GIVE UP HOPE.
Seriously, don’t. If things seem impossible and you aren’t seeing improvement, seek out new and different avenues for help, support, and recovery.
There are medications, natural remedies (but speak to your doctor first!), treatment centers, support groups, etc.
There is always hope, but you must keep reaching for it.
Written By: Faith McCausland