Thursday, October 9, 2014

How To Understand Anxiety Without Really Trying

Hello everyone!

I haven't made a blog post in awhile because real life has been kicking my ass. I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about a very important topic that not a lot of people understand. I'm referring to the little demon known as anxiety.

Now before I delve into this, I want you to understand that "anxiety" is a blanket term. There is a whole rainbow of different anxieties that someone can have. In fact, someone can even have multiple forms of anxiety. Meaning,instead of having one huge beast ravaging inside someone's mind, there can be two, three, or more! Isn't that nifty?

I'll go over a few really quick.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Yes, although most people don't realize it, OCD is a form of anxiety. OCD is a form of anxiety where a person will be compelled to repeat specific actions in order to ease the amount of tension/anxiety in their body.

Plain ol' Vanilla Anxiety: The standard variety. General Anxiety is the process of worrying about things that one has no control over/being terrified about the outcome of said events. Many people have pings here and there of general anxiety, but those with anxiety disorder are afflicted constantly.

Hypochondria/Health Anxiety: A type of anxiety where the person is constantly worrying about their health. Little injuries can be a big deal and an innocent headache could result in major stress/worry. In fact, it's quite common for health anxiety to take a toll on you physically/mentally in the vein that your mind actually can imitate what you're looking for. As in, you could be checking yourself for lumps and feel one or one could actually form. Or you could read an article about a person who had a pain in their foot and died and feel that same pain.

Social Anxiety: This type of anxiety happens when a person leaves the sanctity of their home and ventures out into the world. They can be at a grocery store, a park, or whatever - the slightest thing can trigger the anxiety. It also poses a hindrance to social interaction.

Sexual Anxiety: Where you're only hit when you're getting intimate with someone. People with sexual anxiety are typically those who have been sexually assaulted (read: post traumatic stress disorder) and have a hard time distancing themselves from the traumatic event and the present situation or those who are uncomfortable/insecure in a sexual setting because of the vulnerability.

Those are just a few. The point is, although anxiety is in the mind, it's very much real to those of us who do suffer from it. And it's important to understand that no matter of reassuring or words of encouragement will make it just go away - although, they do help. Sometimes. =)


Here is a short list of things you should NOT say when dealing with an anxietic person:

(1) "Just get over it"
Right, because it's just that easy. Pro-tip: It's not. Let me make an analogy for you. Having anxiety is like... having arachnophobia, claustrophobia, and nyctophobia and being locked in a small, dark room with thousands of spiders. AT ALL TIMES. Now ask yourself if that's something you could just get over. If it was simply that easy, everyone would do it.

(2) "Oh come on, you're faking it!"
I'll let you in on a little secret: people with anxiety don't want to have anxiety. Trust me. Having anxiety isn't fun. Having people think you're crazy isn't fun. Having people stare at you like you're some wanton mistress of the night isn't fun. So why on Earth would someone want to put themselves in that light? Seriously. I won't lie, some people DO act like they have anxiety for attention - and, there's just no explaining it. They're idiots. But for the rest of us, if you say the above - it isn't going to make things better. It's going to make things worse. Do not be an asshole because chances are if you tell me I'm faking when I'm having a panic attack, I'm going to tell you that you're faking when you're on fire and I'm holding a fire extinguisher.

(3) "If you have social anxiety, why are you having fun in public/why can you go out with certain people and be fine? You must be doing it for attention!"
First of all, see the above response. Second of all, social anxiety is a lot more complex than that. Yes, we are uncomfortable when in public, but that doesn't mean we're frozen in a corner the whole time - well, okay, some of us are. But the point is, anxiety is an affliction of the mind. It affects everyone differently. Some people who have anxiety can NEVER go out in public and have to stay home or they'll have a huge attack (agoraphobic/anthropophobia people) while some anxietic people are fine sometimes but something - it can be big, small, whatever - can trigger them and cause an attack. So if we can get our minds off of it, we can function better. One of the best things one can do is surround themselves with people they feel safe around. These people are like an anti-anxiety barrier. Another thing, as a friend of mine (J.P. Barnaby) mentioned, sometimes a bit of liquid courage helps. Just a little. The important thing to understand is that people with anxiety usually have their minds racing a thousand miles a minute. It's like grand central station is in our brains. We can't shut it off, so the best alternative is to be around people we feel safe around or do things that help distract.

(4) "See? You were freaking out for nothing. You're doing so well!"
No. Don't say this. Because then it'll remind us of exactly what we're doing well with. And that's bad. And an irate person with anxiety may stab you in the eye with a hot, salted french fry. I'm not joking. It's been done before...I should know.

(5) "Stop being such a hypochondriac. You know there's nothing wrong with you!"
Okay. And while we're at it, how about you stop breathing. Because that's essentially what you're asking a person with health anxiety to do. I'll say it again: people with anxiety disorders can NOT control what they think about or how they perceive things. Maybe to a normal person a pain is just a pain, but to someone with health anxiety their mind causes them to freak out and think something bad is going on. And telling someone with health anxiety to just get over it or that we know there isn't anything wrong with us - doesn't help! It actually makes things worse.

However, there are things you can say that actually WILL help someone with anxiety.


(1) "You're okay. I'm here for you. I won't let anything happen to you. You're safe."
Comments like this help. If you know someone with anxiety who you think is having a panic attack, it helps to ground them. Assure them that they're fine and nothing is going to hurt them. If they're the type who won't get freaked out by physical contact, a hug or light touch helps, too. Any form of reassurance, really.

(2) "Think about..." or "remember when..."
Someone once told me that depression is worry about past troubles - anxiety is worry about future troubles. So sometimes if someone is having an anxiety episode, it helps for you to bring up a positive memory or a happy event of some kind. The key is getting the person to focus on anything but what's causing their anxiety. 

(3) "That's not so weird!"
The one thing that will really hurt someone with anxiety is if attention is drawn to what they're going through. It's generally a bad idea to point out someone's OCD (unless you know them personally and they're comfortable with it) or point out that someone is pacing or having nervous ticks. What you can do is draw attention away from it. So if someone brings it up you can casually lead the conversation in a different direction. Your anxietic friend will be appreciative.

(4) "You're not alone.
Sometimes a casual reminder helps. Let them know you're there for them and that there are other people who are going through the same thing. Sometimes anxiety makes you feel like you're trapped and all alone. Nobody can hear you screaming. Be there for them.

(5) Action
Although most people with anxiety have tools they use to calm themselves down, sometimes it's not always so easy to remember when you're in the middle of an attack. So that being said, remind them of the tools. Tell them to breathe - deep, slow breaths. Take them out of the situation (if possible) make sure they took their medication, if applicable. Stuff like this.


I don't know what causes anxiety or why it has to exist at all. I wish that I could be like everyone else and not worry about things I don't have to or shut down when something gets too intense for me to handle. I'm sure most others with anxiety feel the same way.

I wrote this blog post because I think it's important to be honest and factual when dealing with such a heavy topic and the more people who understand what anxiety is, what to do and what not to do, the closer we get to lessening the effects and maybe one day finding a permanent cure.

I can dream, can't I?

As always, lots of love and applesauce <3

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