Things You Just Do Differently When You Have Anxiety
Pretty much everything in the world is different when you're living with an anxiety disorder. It may seem like some anxious people are just shyer than normal, but there's so much more happening beneath the surface than bashfulness. Mental illnesses such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) significantly shape the way people see and experience the environment around them, to the point that their actions may make no sense at all to those who don't grapple with anxiety. Having lived with anxiety since my teenage years, I've spent most of adulthood trying to explain this fact to my friends and family, but sometimes the message never really gets through.
Everyday tasks, like meeting new people and ordering a coffee, can evoke a flood of discomfort for people with anxiety, even though we watch our peers sail through these encounters easily time and again. Our heart races, our breath shortens, and we feel the physical tension course from head to toe. Unfortunately, out of the 40 million adults in America who have an anxiety disorder, only a third of them are receiving the treatment needed to deal with these symptoms on a regular basis. The rest are doing their very best to cope in whatever way they can. So next time you encounter a friend who's dealing with anxiety and acting out in ways that may seem strange, try your best to be patient, because they can't help how their disease shapes their world.
Here are six things you just do differently when you have anxiety.
Responding To Text Messages
Although we've all experienced a small dose of stress when it comes to the art (read: torture) of texting, people with an anxiety disorder often fight an entirely different battle when their phones light up. We know we should respond within a certain window of time, and that there are rules most people abide by when texting, but we become so worried about the tone, the length, and even the punctuation of our response that we can eventually stop ourselves from sending anything at all. The last thing we want is to come across the wrong way or upset the person on the other end. As a result, we can go days, weeks, and sometimes months without texting someone back — and during that whole time, we're stressing over it so much that we're on the verge of an anxiety attack. (Oh, and don't even get me started on actual phone calls. Those are a nightmare.)
Preparing For A Trip
The standard way to get ready for a vacation is to make a checklist of everything you need, and pack accordingly. If only this were the case for people with anxiety. We fold up a pile of clothes and neatly tuck it away in our bag. Then we have second thoughts, so we empty it all out and start from scratch. Even after everything is packed up, we scour every corner of the house four times in a row to make sure we didn't forget something remotely valuable. It's not uncommon for us to grab an extra handbag at the last minute and stuff in miscellaneous things we're sure we can use on the trip.
Meeting Friends At A New Restaurant
Whenever my friends tell me about a new trendy bar they want to go to over the weekend, my palms immediately get clammy. Going to a recently-debuted restaurant is a potentially exciting thing for most people, but if you've got anxiety, just the thought of such uncharted territory makes you worry about all sorts of things.
You fret about how to get to that part of town and whether you'll be able to find parking. You spend half an hour studying the menu online so you don't look like an idiot when the server takes your order. You even obsess over their Facebook page so you can get a sense of the atmosphere — you don't want to show up too dressy! It's a time-consuming effort that can leave you feeling drained.
Signing Up For A Fitness Class At The Gym
There are two things people consider when they're planning a gym session: what time they're available and what kind of exercise they feel like doing. People with anxiety, on the other hand, have a lot of other stuff on their mind when it comes to working out in a public setting.
They scope out the gym to see when it's most crowded, and then avoid those windows accordingly. They also think long and hard about which fitness classes require you to partner up with a complete stranger, or which classes include an instructor who comes around and adjusts or corrects you. Because the less sweaty human contact there is, the less anxiety they'll have to face.
Using Social Media
Battling anxiety means you have your own set of unique rules when it comes to using social media. You don't want to come off as too creepy to your online friends, so you try to only engage with so many of their posts before it crosses the line to stalker territory. You also spend quite a bit of time and energy deciding which times are suitable to sign on and check your newsfeed. For example, if you're feeling low on self-esteem in the slightest bit, you might avoid Facebook at all costs.
Ultimately, how you use social media can be reflective of the state of your mental health, which explains any bizarre habits people with anxiety may have, so try not to judge what they do on Instagram too harshly.
Planning What To Do For The Holidays
There's no way to completely avoid drama during the winter holidays, and people with an anxiety disorder know that all too well. But it's the planning that comes before the actual holiday that can sometimes be the most stressful part of all. You have to coordinate with all your friends and family, decide who's bringing what dish, and set up your travel plans.
Thinking about all this can send someone with anxiety down a dark road. It can feel like it's too much to handle and they can start to feel so overwhelmed that their breathing even becomes irregular. So while others may simply whine about their pushy family members, an anxious person could potentially find themselves on the cusp of a panic attack. They might even have to plan to take extra medication or pencil in additional sessions with their therapist just to cope. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
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