My Journey With Anxiety: Symptoms + How to Overcome
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month I wanted to share more about my journey with anxiety and how I have learned to cope with it. First and foremost, while I have a Bachelors in Psychology I am not qualified to offer professional advice. If you want to hurt yourself or are experiencing physical pain please talk to somebody you trust and/or seek professional help as soon as possible. I'm going to be talking about personal experiences that I believe are beneficial for everyone who feels like their anxiety is taking over their life. However, one thing that I have come to understand is that our mental health is a personal journey and while we're able to relate with one another we all have our own unique journey. I say this because it really takes getting to know yourself and going deep within yourself in order to truly deal with anxiety and depression. With all of that said I hope you enjoy this post and that it brings some positivity into your life :)
My mental health journey has been very much interconnected with my spiritual journey. It is impossible for me to talk about my experience with anxiety and depression without mentioning Jesus and my faith. In truth, it is because of God that I even started paying attention to my mental health. Before God came along I knew something was wrong but I would never confront my emotions and would rather just numb the pain and anxiety with my relationships, alcohol, drugs and parties (I was a basic college girl aight). Not that I regret anything or that I judge people who have that kind of lifestyle (do you boo). The problem for me was that I was hiding behind those things. I was dealing with a lot of trauma from my childhood and I just wanted to have as much fun as possible and forget about my problems. Which is pretty much what I did for most of my teenage and college years.
Jesus came into my life when I was 21-years-old in 2014, that is when I became a born again Christian. At that time I had been dealing with severe depression but have been fighting it on my own and had really only told my mentor and a few other close friends how bad things really were. I didn't want to seek professional help because of the fear of being medicated so I was reading a bunch of self-help books and was kinda obsessed with psychology and self-improvement (I ended up changing my major to psychology after). And while those things did give me a lot of helpful insights that brought a lot of positivity into my life, I never felt like I was truly healing. After God came into my life everything changed. Once I started bringing my pain to God it was as if my recovery started accelerating at a super fast speed. After I started opening my heart to God, and after many tears and prayers, I began to heal from my depression. In a few months my chronic depression had completely healed.
While at that time I thought that was the end of my mental health journey it turns out that it was just the beginning. Fast forward to four years later and I now have a Psychology degree and a blog. I have focused a lot of my work on sharing my healing process with others and helping others deal with their emotions through group facilitation and through my writing. It is through this work that God has given me my purpose and so I'm very grateful for all my struggles.
photo by Alexandra Elle (insta: allex_elle)
I also learned recently that I struggle with some form of an anxiety disorder. Last year I started noticing that what I thought was just me freaking out about basic things in life (like speaking in public or starting something new) that I was actually experiencing what is called a panic attack. I also started noticing how during challenging or stressful times I would have random moments when I would feel very low (physically and emotionally) and would have no desire to do anything. Eventually, the lack of activity would cause my mind to go on a downward spiral of negative thinking. Mostly about my life and about myself, to the point of feeling so hopeless that I would start to think that my life was not worth living. I started relying on bad habits and eventually it started affecting my family and my marriage. That's when I realized I needed help. I didn't want to keep living like that, I wanted to treat myself and the people around me right. I started opening up with my husband about what I was going through and I also started learning more about how to cope with my anxiety. Since then I can say that things have improved greatly and I'm here to tell you that chronic anxiety is completely curable and that you can overcome it and live a better life. I'm going to share with you how to recognize the symptoms and the lessons I have learned along the way that have helped me cope and overcomed a great deal.
Recognizing the symptoms of anxiety has been one of the most important elements of my recovery. Before I knew the symptoms of chronic anxiety I used to think that constant worry and fear was part of my personality, that it was "normal" and that there was something inherently wrong with me.
Knowing the symptoms of chronic anxiety made me realize how the anxiety, and the negative thoughts and feelings that come with it
do not define who I am or my worth. Being able to recognize the symptoms has also helped me separate the anxiety from myself. I am now better prepared and aware of the moments of fear and panic and so I'm able to manage it better (or trying at least).
The following are some symptoms that I have learned are associated with anxiety disorders.
1. Excessive Worry;
Everybody worries from time to time but when it gets to the point of having persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week for a consistent period then that's when it becomes a problem.
Having constant anxiety uses so much of our mental energy that eventually it causes our body to feel extremely tired (even after a good nigh rest). Hence all the times I didn't even want to get out of bed. Knowing that fatigue was a symptom of anxiety released me from the belief that I was just a lazy person.
This is not something that I personally struggle with but this is a very common symptom of an anxiety disorder. If you struggle with this on the regular I would suggest looking into it.
4. Muscle Tension;
Mostly around the shoulders, neck and back. I often wondered why my neck and shoulders were constantly hurting and had no idea it was related to my anxiety.
5. Chronic Indigestion;
Another very common physical symptom of chronic anxiety.
6. Stage Fright;
It is normal to get nervous before addressing a group of people or being in the spotlight. But if the fear is so strong that no amount of practice will make things better, or if you spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about it, that is when it becomes a symptom of an anxiety disorder. I used to think that I just wasn't good at speaking in public and would get panic attacks each time before I had to give a presentation.
Constantly judging yourself or having a lot of anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of your standards is also another sign of an anxiety disorder. I struggled with this a lot and it was one of my biggest causes of anxiety.
Persistent self-doubt and second-guessing is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. In fact people with anxiety experience
"doubt attacks" which is when your mind is flooded with doubts about your worth, your existence or just constantly rethinking a problem in your mind. Eventually if you start doubting the well-being of your future it can lead to suicidal thoughts. This is something that I struggled with a lot and it really helped me to know that having "doubt attacks" was just a symptom that is manageable. What I learned to do is that when I start experiencing a "doubt attack", which usually comes with feelings of fear or panic about my future, I focus my mind on the people who love me and appreciate me, and on the people that I love. It also helps to focus on the things that you are proud of accomplishing in your life and the activities you enjoy doing. Doing this brings me a sense of well-being and helps me to focus on the present.