- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill, according to "The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders," a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
- More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
- People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Anxiety is like an invisible broken leg. When you walk around in a cast and crutches, people are often sympathetic and concerned, “Oh, goodness, what happened? Do you need any help? When do you get the cast off?” When you suffer anxiety, people look at you like, “And? So? Get over it. What are you afraid of? Just ditch the fear and stop worrying.” Anxiety is complex in nature. Some of it is triggered by pure psychology and some of it is triggered by pure biology. Some of it is free-floating and of unknown etiology. Some individuals are fortunate enough to get help but many do not or cannot. Unfortunately today, our lives are set up for anxiety to thrive spinning our poor Autonomic Nervous System and it’s sub-process, the Sympathetic Nervous System, into over-drive with multi-tasking, taking on too much for a sense of success, peace or happiness that for some is just not achievable. If you are one of the brave ones who steps up and seeks treatment, you’re even treated ignorantly by the medical community. “Here just take these anti-depressants” (that have little effect more above cognitive behavioral therapy) “or these tranquilizers to get you through it” and oh my goodness, never tell a soul that you are in treatment with medication therapy because you will be barraged with negative judgment and not one ounce of compassion from anyone but a trained psychiatrist who knows how to truly help you.
There are so many recommendations for anxiety that are generally beneficial such as getting enough rest, exercise, eating right and well, learning coping skills, seeking treatment for triggers, supplements, yoga, meditation and a whole host of other things. For many, any number of these things is helpful and useful in minimizing the dreaded effects of anxiety. Anxiety feels horrible to those who suffer it. I know, because I am one. I have lived with anxiety since the onset at about age 27 (interestingly, not long after I suffered a concussion). Now, given the life I have lived and the things I do now, it is entirely understandable for me to suffer bouts of anxiety but it isn’t easy. What makes things so much worse is when well meaning people give you advice – do this or that. Gee wow, I’ve only tried that a hundred times already, I don’t care for SSRI’s that are supposed to be the God-send for anxiety suffers because they actually make me feel worse than the anxiety and the only thing that cuts off that anxiety for me aside from steering clear of over-stimulating activities, is a certain tranquilizer that doesn’t give me a buzz but helps control the symptoms of intense anxiety.
So, living with anxiety is the only choice we really have. Whatever we resist persists. Believe me, I’ve tried to ignore anxiety, I’ve tried conventional and non-conventional treatments and supplements and frankly, I’m sick to death of pseudo-science. All I want as a sufferer of anxiety is to prevent the episodes and get them as quickly into remission as possible before they trigger other ugly things like insomnia, depression and burn-out symptoms from just the normal activities of daily life. They don’t tell you this but anxiety hurts. No really, it physically hurts. I truly feel for those with anxiety and depression trying to find ways to get healthy and their symptoms into remission. Sometimes some never get that break. Fortunately, I do. I have sought out treatment and am unafraid to speak of my experiences. I don’t care for the backlash of judgment I get from the purely uneducated on the topic but in the end, that is really about them and not me.
So, living with anxiety. How on Earth do you do that with any measure of success? Well, it takes a lot of patience and a lot of time. If there is a specific source to your anxiety, go get help identifying it and see if you can cure it at its core. If you need medication to do that, do and think nothing of it. Do what works for you but do try, if you can to avoid self-medicating with alcohol or illegal drugs. They will put you into this death spiral of addiction that will leave you in much worse shape. I think some of the keys to living with anxiety are learning about the things that trigger you and minimizing those things to the extent practical for you. Finding the things that get the Parasympathetic Nervous System (think rest and digest) running optimally is a good thing to do. The Sympathetic Nervous System (think fight or flight) pumps out chemicals that are longer lasting. When you get the adrenaline pumping, you need a good 20 minutes of effort to cut off the thoughts or the trigger so your Parasympathetic Nervous System chemicals can return to normal and can function again by compensating and counteracting those chemicals. Your body is truly built in an amazing way to resolve its own issues. Trusting it to work as it is supposed to if even aided by medication or counseling is really important. Getting exercise and enough rest cannot be stressed enough! If work is tough, take some time off. If there are people in your life driving you crazy, set boundaries or get them out of your lives. If there are thoughts in your own mind driving you crazy, go talk to someone who can help you sort out the thoughts, reprogram your thinking in a healthier fashion and get to work focusing on the good things you do, your accomplishments and the things you are most grateful for.
Living with anxiety is tough. It’s tough at so many levels. It interferes with everything – work, relationships as well as every day living. Some like to flippantly say “You just need to get rid of the fear, relax, stop worrying so much, and you’ll be fine.” Well, see, not all of us live in fear even if we do worry about the things we must manage. We live perfectly normal lives and yet anxiety persists free-floating. So, anxiety isn’t a fun thing to deal with but you can live with it, you can have a good life and you can learn to cope if you are willing. I suffer anxiety. Sometimes it is so bad, I will flat pass out from overload. My system then acts just like an overloaded computer and reboots. I come out of it and life goes on just fine and the rest of the day is just peachy. I don’t fear panic attacks and I don’t fear my anxiety. My anxiety sometimes veers into depression but I don’t fear that either. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel and just because I cannot see it I won’t despair thinking it isn’t there. I believe half the battle of coping with anxiety is knowing the episodes won’t last. You won’t feel bad forever. The same is true for me with depression. I see depression as my body’s way of dealing with the things that it needs to deal with. When it hits, I sleep, take care of myself, be ever so kind to myself with my thoughts and well, life returns to normal within a few days or weeks. The same is true with anxiety.
The one interesting thing I’ve noticed is that as I age, my anxiety gets worse. I have the same work stress and life stress I’ve always managed with superhero effort. However, my body resists that now. My body sends me a message through anxiety that it is time to make some changes. Some can be readily made and some must be made with longer-term implementation plans…but, this is coping. This is living with anxiety. For those who don’t suffer it, we’d all appreciate it if you’d stop telling us we just need to do more of something that triggers our anxiety. This concept does not work for everyone. For me – flying and public speaking never changes from a strong escalation of anxiety. For years I have given presentations and have flown and the anxiety sucks the life out of me every time and not just for the first few moments. It takes me out for at least a day. But I still do these things. Not as often as I am all about reducing stressful things. Not avoiding but reducing to give myself space to feel calm and peaceful. It isn’t easy and requires the willingness to work at things, thoughts, behaviors and actions that contribute to an unhealthy cycle.
But it can be done. I live with anxiety every day. I do not fear death, illness, age, people or situations. I’m a happy, well-balanced and thoughtful individual that contributes to society as much as I can every single day and that feels great even if the underlying anxiety humming in the background makes me feel like I’m choking at times. I’ve been getting help since age 27 and it seems to get worse, as I said, the older I get. I won’t give in but at the same time I won’t resist it. I get anxious. I’m anxious now but I’m writing anyway and I do what I want to do, anyway. I’m letting people in on something very personal that I’ve mostly kept hidden. I decided to write about this topic so that others like me who have suffered know it isn’t a fate worse than death. I want YOU to know that you too can find ways to live with anxiety, find something that works for you with medication or DIY type healthy activities. I know that we suffer for whatever reason we suffer but we don’t have to let it define who we are. It’s our bodies and minds that are affected but our consciousness is not and we can contribute to society with our presence here anxious, depressed or both or not. If there is anything I think that helps anxiety more than anything else that exists, it’s support. Having supportive and understanding people around you make a world of difference.
I don’t care for parties, concerts, flea markets or malls. I do not fear public places or people but find the energy of it exhausting. So, my loved ones know this about me and we find ways for me to cope while I can still participate in outings with the family. I will always prefer a peaceful walk in nature rather than the mall but when I do go to these places, I focus on what I find beautiful. I look at the babies, I look at the architecture, I look at the landscapes, I look at the sky, I try to find art, I notice the smells that are wonderful and try to ignore the cacophony of too many voices chattering all at once. I’m also an energy sensitive and this may very well be what contributes the most to my anxiety. When I’m off work for a few days and can chill at home writing, painting or catching up on some documentaries, my anxiety is zero or near zero. So, for me, I truly believe it’s an energy thing. I’m an introvert because I truly love peace. I don’t need to be overly stimulated by anything to be happy. Flip on the classical music or even new age meditative stuff and life is dreamy good. The way to cope as I’m pointing out here is that you need to do what you need to do to get through your life, get trained assistance, get the right support from family and friends and find the spaces and places in life that make you feel good. If you look for them, you’ll find them. Sometimes you must take on many coping mechanisms and that’s okay. It’s okay to have anxiety. It doesn’t make you a mental monster. It just means you are human and some of us humans have to deal with things like anxiety or depression and some other disorders.
None of these things can take away the true value of your existence here and your existence here does add value to the whole. Never forget that. I don’t. Even when I am feeling at my worst, I don’t forget how much I do to try to make life better for others, to notice how magical and beautiful nature is and how truly wonderful human beings are when they are in a loving and compassionate state. I make it a point to surround myself with loving people. This has meant the most to me. God bless my partner, my children, my friends and even my little furry four-legged friend Zacky Midnight (the little black kitty we rescued 11 years ago). They bring me so much joy and peace even when I am at my wits end with stress. Enough of my rambling for now. I hope I’ve brought you some helpful food for thought with my little rant on anxiety. Anxious people deserve love and respect like everybody else. We thrive with support and wilt under labeling and callous ‘get over its,’ FYI. I hope you are having an amazing day no matter what you face. Even if anxious, have strong faith in yourself to manage and cope. You can do this and if you need help, don’t feel bad about it not one bit. Ignore the judgments of family and friends who do not understand and know above all else, you are not alone. There are plenty of us out there who know what you go through and there is hope. Faith in yourself is better for you to hold than just hope alone in my opinion but that’s just my opinion. Blessings.
© 2015 Jaie Hart