7 Things You Didn't Know About Anxiety (Even If You've Lived With It Forever)
Generalized anxiety disorder arrived in my life before puberty, so it's safe to say I can't remember what it's like to live without anxiety. I assumed everyone dealt with constant panic and dread, and I didn't realize my emotional state wasn't what everyone else experienced until I was in middle school. I didn't receive a diagnosis until I was 20 years old, but I've lived with an anxiety disorder for most of my life. But living with this disorder for so long has taught me that things you need to know about anxiety that you'll forget, even if you've lived with it for years. I like to think that I'm logical and analytical, but when I feel an anxiety attack coming on, it's hard to make sense of anything.
My anxiety has been devastating at different points in my life. I sometimes struggle with suicidal ideation when things get really bad — I've also been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, which can make things difficult. (According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly half of people who have an anxiety disorder also have depressive symptoms.) But thanks to medication, therapy and a strong support system, my life is fulfilling and exciting even though my brain doesn't always cooperate. These are some of the reminders I give myself on a daily basis.
1. It's Not Your Fault
Generalized anxiety disorder is caused by genetics, brain chemistry and external events like trauma and big changes, according to WebMD. Still, it's easy to blame yourself for worrying too much as an anxiety sufferer. Know that you aren't to blame for how you feel — a therapist once told me to think of anxiety as my brain hiccuping, and that's stuck with me since.
2. You've Survived Anxiety Attacks Before, & You Can Do It Again
When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, the world can feel like it's ending. Here's a mantra that my husband often repeats to me when I need reassurance: "If you have an anxiety attack, you will survive it like you have before." Even though you feel helpless and afraid in the middle of an attack, the feelings will eventually subside.
3. Just Because You Feel Something Doesn't Mean It's The Truth
Speaking of feelings, I've learned that mine aren't always to be trusted. On bad days, I'm convinced that my loved ones are all going to die in awful, tragic ways. When I can't reach someone, I immediately wonder if I should call the police to make sure they haven't perished in a car accident. It's a terrible feeling, but just because you feel something doesn't mean it's reality, even if your brain tries to convince you otherwise.
4. You Aren't Universally Hated
I criticize myself constantly, so it makes sense to my anxious mind that everyone around me views me the same way. I once told a therapist that I feared my husband married me out of pity, which would be quite the scam. Even though anxiety tells us that we don't have anyone who cares, that's rarely the case.
5. It's OK To Make Mistakes
Being a perfectionist can make you a great student and star employee, but it's also associated with anxiety, according to HealthyPlace. Years of therapy have helped me with my fear of mistakes — before I sought treatment, I'd sob if I messed up at school or work. It's OK to mess up. Everyone does.
6. There's No Shame In Taking Time Off
If you need a break, it's valid to take one. Keeping busy is a way that I stave off my anxious thoughts, but I've faced burnout more frequently than I want to admit. It's OK if you don't have the emotional energy to complete a task or get through a day.
7. You Are Still Worthy Of Good Things
This is probably the most important reminder of all: You are still worthy of good things, or as my therapist tells me, you should give yourself more credit. Anxiety may tell you that you're an awful person who deserves to die alone, but that isn't the truth. Living with an anxiety disorder sucks, but once you learn to reassure yourself, things can feel a little bit easier.