“All the best people have anxiety.” This is a quote that I think about at least once a day. I was told this sage tidbit of wisdom from a psychiatrist at Langley Porter, UCSF’s prestigious psychiatric hospital, while I was there—on a very outpatient status—attempting to get my soul-crushing anxiety under control.
I don’t just like this quote; I love this quote. I wear it proudly like a badge. It says to me that I’m not alone and that I’m in good company, and it reminds me that not all anxiety is necessarily bad; it’s just how you handle it and manage it. But here’s the thing: There is a fine line between letting your anxiety give you the moxie to take on challenges and get things done to the dark side of anxiety; going into panic mode, letting demons drag you down and ending up in various states of stress that lead to sleepless nights, hectic days and emergency rooms.
Because here’s the thing—my thing: My anxiety doesn’t just live in my head, it affects my entire body. I’ve ended up in the ER with doctors, and then myself, being concerned that I could be the victim of appendicitis, gall bladder blockage, and at one time a kidney infection. My myriad of symptoms mimicked those in the midst of one of these maladies. I had ultrasounds, CT scans, EKGs, and oodles of blood work done. I’ve been poked, prodded and analyzed in order to try to find a reason for my headaches, aches, pains, blurred vision, fatigue, changes in appetite and dizziness. And you know what was wrong with me? Nothing. Nada. I was the proud owner of a clean bill of health.
I’m lucky. I know that. My body is fine. But my mind? Not so much. Is there anything wrong with that? Hell no. Looking at my Facebook feed, talking to my friends, chatting with my fellow bloggers, I have found that (in my very unscientific way) that at least 50 percent, if not more, of my acquaintances are suffering from some sort of anxiety.
A New York Times article claims the number of anxiety suffers is far less saying, “Nearly one in five Americans suffer from anxiety.” It adds that, “For many, it is not a disorder, but a part of the human condition.” Yes, many of us have lived with anxiety for so long that it is just part of our lives, making us quirky, interesting and sometimes dizzy.
Anxiety: the Basics
Anxiety manifests in various different forms. As the Mayo Clinic notes, there is “panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder” as well as generalized anxiety disorder, which is “characterized by persistent worry about major or minor concerns.” One of the anxiety specialists I spoke to described anxiety as being our fight-or-flight instinct on overdrive. The specialist equated it to being faced with a big bear, and you get hit by a deep-seated instinct to either fight the scary bear or run from the scary bear. But we aren’t dealing with bears in our modern lives. It’s more like carpools, work deadlines or getting ready for that school bake sale.
But when we are met with these feelings of “fight or flight,” we generally neither fight nor fly. Instead, we are met with symptoms like “breathing rapidly, feeling apprehensive, feeling powerless, an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling or feeling weak or tired.” Or, one could have more subtle but powerful symptoms of dizziness, nausea and/or odd body pains.
There are certain criteria that makes one more likely to fall victim to anxiety. Being a woman increases your chances. If you are female and reading this, sorry, there is nothing you can do about those chances. The biggest factor for women seems to be hormonal changes. If you have other health issues, like, as the Huffington Post notes, “high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease and the hearing and vision problems,” those can lead to not just anxiety but depression. And big life changes, such as the loss of a job, when your children move out, when you have children and when there is a death in the family ... all those can be tickets—unavoidable tickets—to your own island of anxiety.
What Can You Do?
Now the good news. There are things you can do to try to better manage the overwhelming bouts of anxiety. Ones that are proven to help are: sleep, a good diet, exercise and eliminating stressors. But that is easier said than done. But if you don’t take the time to care for yourself you won’t be able to be there for your family or yourself. The Mayo Clinic also suggests cutting back on coffee, drinking and smoking, and also to try relaxation techniques such as meditation. Of course, many people swear by yoga. And if you need them, there is a variety of medications that help many manage issues with anxiety. A mix of any and all of those can greatly reduce the overwhelming side effects of anxiety.
Sadly, as my Facebook feed can attest, anxiety is a growing problem in our busy lives. I, for one, don’t want to let it disturb my life as much as it has. I will not fight, nor fly from, my anxiety. I am going to face it head-on and try anything and everything to make the panic stop for the sake of my family, my life and my body.
Does anxiety impact your life? What do you do to manage it?