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What I Mean When I Say 'I Suffer From Anxiety'

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ANXIOUS WOMAN
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"You have anxiety."

When I first heard those words, it was safe to say that I was completely caught off guard. I had entered therapy in order to tackle my long-term depression, however when screened for an anxiety disorder, I was startled by just how many of the questions related to my everyday life.

My anxiety is clinically diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder. My favourite way to describe it would be overthinking just about everything. In a way, you feel everything.

It is characterized by persistent worry and thus, my mind runs in a million different directions. Constantly, I find myself worrying and obsessing over the smallest, most minimal things. This leads to feelings of restlessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability and more often than not, insomnia.

Some days, I even find myself getting anxious about getting anxious. Other times, I feel detached from the world as though my mind is trying to tell me it can't handle much more. And so, I feel empty. My mind goes blank and I no longer feel mentally present. To my friends, I appear unusually quiet and they will question if I'm OK.

My anxiety is clinically diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder. My favourite way to describe it would be overthinking just about everything. In a way, you feel everything.

One wrong move or unexpected turn in events and ta da, my anxiety comes storming in. Perhaps I am out celebrating with a friend and receive an unwelcoming text message from a friend -- just like that, my anxiety smacks me right in the chest. I become restless, my heart begins to palpate and I feel shortness in my breath. Evidently, this contributes to a shift in my mood. Hence, why clinical depression and anxiety disorders are often co-morbid diseases.

Night time is the worst. I am left alone, just me and my thoughts. As I try to fall asleep, my mind begins to race:

"What went wrong today? What went wrong yesterday? What could go wrong tomorrow? Remember when that happened?"

Although there are no specific phobias associated with generalized anxiety disorder, it is suggested that the disorder is sustained by "basic fears." For example, fear of failure or fear of death. My anxiety centers around the concept of open-endedness and uncertainty specifically fear of losing control and fear of the unknown:

"Oh you're running late? OK, but how long will you be? Do I have to sit here for the next two hours? What if you never show up?"

Yes, this may seem trivial to some, but suffering from anxiety makes one a pro at overanalyzing everyday interactions. My mind is a world class expert at coming up with elaborate worst-case scenarios.

"Why haven't they replied to my text message? They must be mad at me. What did I do to upset them? How am I going to fix this? What if they never talk to me again?"

Living in the 21st century with an abundance of technology makes having an anxiety disorder all the more difficult. When it comes to our daily interactions, we are normally able to gage another person's thoughts and/or feelings. However unfortunately, this privilege does not exist over a text message or any form of social media. Thus, one is left to decipher the emotion for themselves.

In my case, everything is interpreted to the worst degree. For instance, you may simply send me a text message to say hello and next thing I know, I am overanalyzing the entire thing as I search for some deeper, hidden meaning.

Decision-making also comes with much difficulty. Instead of focusing on my own feelings, I contemplate the unknown outcome and how it may affect others "what if I make the wrong decision?" I am filled with uncertainty and indecisiveness, which often leaves others feeling quite frustrated. But all I can focus on are the possible negative outcomes of my choice. This leads to an inability to concentrate on the present moment because my mind is far too busy focusing on protecting myself from the future.

Many of my friends would label me as a perfectionist. However, few of them realize that such a trait stems directly from my anxiety disorder. With a constant feeling of impending doom, I focus my remaining energy on trying to maintain control of my own life and the current surroundings. This causes me to attempt to control my daily interactions hoping to ensure I can predict all possible outcomes. Through excessive self-criticism and planning every act down to a tee, I push away the never ending "what-if" scenarios that reside inside my head.

Anxiety is constant, it doesn't just go away. Sometimes it may be heightened... making it essential to learning self-regulation of my thoughts. This involves acknowledging my triggers, knowing what scenarios or environments may cause my anxiety or panic to heighten

One day my therapist asked to see my weekly schedule. Thinking nothing of it, I was happy to hand it over. She looked at me and said,

"Where is your free time? How do you make time for yourself?"

I laughed to myself and told her about my never-ending need to keep busy.

I learned a lot in that session. I mean, I always knew my schedule was more than hectic. My friends constantly joked about my inability to say no. Yet, I had never addressed why I behaved this way. Keeping busy keeps me distracted; it allows me to stay occupied by a task, rather than be left alone to become occupied by my own thoughts.

Living with anxiety is hard.

Anxiety is constant, it doesn't just go away. Sometimes it may be heightened -- more than usual -- making it essential to learning self-regulation of my thoughts. This involves acknowledging my triggers, knowing what scenarios or environments may cause my anxiety or panic to heighten. In my case, all of my triggers stem back to a fear of the unknown -- an inability to predict a safe and stable outcome.

Therefore, I approach academics, relationships and changes in my environment with caution as they are known to trigger a state of anxiety which results in an all-encompassing panic attack.

Trust me, I am completely aware my worries may be irrational but living and coping with anxiety isn't a simple fix. Statements such as "calm down" or, "everything will be alright" unfortunately won't change how I am feeling.

How can you be there for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder?

A few years ago, I remember stumbling across a quote that read;

"Honesty is the highest form of intimacy."

For many who suffer from anxiety, this hits the nail on the head.

Always tell them how you feel -- this prevents them from contemplating the worst case scenario in their head. If a conflict arises address it. Don't leave them to foster over open-ended scenarios.

Simply be there -- without labeling them as fragile or weak. Remind them that they are not a burden to you.

Remember that having a mental illness will never affect someone's ability to listen, if anything it will help them understand the importance of a good listener and will therefore allow them to be more empathetic towards others. Never stop confiding in them, they are always happy to return the favour by being a support system to you.

These simple gestures can make a world of a difference for someone suffering from anxiety.

Be honest. Be open.

This post originally appeared on Daily Insanity.

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Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email cablogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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