Destigmatize Mental Health: My Anxiety Story

May is mental health awareness month. It’s a time to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, but it is rarely talked about.

Destigmatize Mental Health

I’ve sat on this post since the beginning of the month, finding it hard to find the words to express how I am feeling.

I have generalized anxiety.

I want to help destigmatize mental health, and in order to do that, I want to share my own story in hopes that you will find the space to breathe and the confidence to open up when you are ready.

My anxiety may look completely different than yours, as it is a diversely ranging psychiatric disorder. It is estimated though, that approximately 27 million Americans have an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

So if you feel lonely, know that you are not alone.

I honestly can’t tell you when my anxiety started. I feel like my entire life I’ve been living in a state of high stress and worry. Like I imagine a fight or flight button in my head to be stuck to the ON position with cobwebs and dust surrounding it.

It is important to note that stress by itself is not anxiety. Stress is caused by external factors – so if you get rid of the stressors, you can get rid of your stress. The problem is when prolonged stress becomes something more. Anxiety is the internal reaction to stress. So while you can remove the external stressors with stress, anxiety will persist even after the stressors are removed.

It’s even more of a problem when you can’t identify what the stressors (or triggers) are, and live in a constant state of anxiety.

Anxiety Symptoms

The Mayo Clinic identifies symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder to include:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
  • My mental health story

    One way that helps me to identify my triggers is to write down or talk to someone about how I am feeling. (Note: Always ask someone if they are in the right mental space to listen to you before unloading your thoughts onto them – as they may be struggling too.)

    After a lot of self-reflection, I realize that my anxiety comes from prolonged exposure (years) of self-imposed stressors and a generalized worry for situations know that I shouldn’t be worrying about. I also have a family history of anxiety.

    I really believed that the amount of anxiety I was carrying was a normal thing – until my first anxiety attack. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack you know how scary it can be. An uncontrollable shaking, inability to catch or steady my breath, cold sweat, numbness, and an out-of-body experience.

    And although after the first I knew something was not okay – it wasn’t until the second and third anxiety attacks that I decided to face my reality. I needed a serious re-evaluation of my mental health. This came with changes in how I was living my life and how I was talking to myself.

    But before this happened, I can say I had a serious decline in my mental health. The negative self-talk was (and still does) overcome me some days.

    I felt like that it was me that could “control” my anxiety – why couldn’t I shut it off? I could see how it was affecting me and the people close to me and I felt guilty about hurting those relationships.

    I shouldn’t have felt guilt or shame, and neither should you. And what can help to release that is to open up.

    Destigmatizing

    One of the ways to destigmatize mental health is not to isolate yourself and open up to others about what you are going through. I was able to open up about my anxiety, and to my surprise, I realized that there were so many of my friends (and strangers on social media) who were feeling just like me! I was shocked that I had no idea.

    But there was a strange comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. And I was able to build a community of people who are able to lift me up with encouraging words when I feel down. I was able to find resources to help me cope with my mental health.

    Coping

    Even writing this post, after a year of inner work, I still struggle with anxiety – but I do have better ways of coping. Just a few days ago I suffered from another panic attack.

    I was able to comfort myself with the following affirmations for my anxiety:

    🤍I am safe
    🤍Every breath I inhale calms me, and every breath I exhale releases tension
    🤍This feeling is a visitor and will pass
    🤍I’ve made it through before, I will make it through again

    Other things that help me to cope include:

    🤍Create routines for myself that put me in the right mental health space to take on the day.
    🤍Things like not starting the day off looking at my phone or working.
    🤍Listen to my body and taking the time if I need it.
    🤍Practice my breathing through meditation.
    🤍Limit my alcohol and caffeine intake (because they can sometimes be triggers)
    🤍Making sure I get a good night’s sleep

    All of these things make my anxiety symptoms manageable. I realize that life isn’t perfect and my anxiety will continue in cycles.

    I just can do my best and ride the wave – but now I am equipped with a metaphorical surfboard and the knowledge that it is just a wave, and I cannot drown.

    If you are suffering from mental health issues – please reach out for help. Whether that is through treatment, support groups, reaching out to close friends and family, or even social media. You are not what you are suffering through, and there is a way for you to find peace.

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