I was a young mom, in my early twenties, on my own and with a two year old. My boyfriend and I had recently broken up—but soon after I found out that I was five weeks pregnant. I knew I had to call him, but I wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.
When my son woke up from his nap, we went to Walmart and then Wendy’s. While he ate chicken nuggets and drank red Hi-C I thought about that call I needed to make. And in the Wendy’s parking lot I called my ex, only to hear him say that he wasn’t going to be there for me or the baby.
On the drive home, my two-year-old started throwing up and would not stop. He hadn’t been sick like this before. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. But in my mind all I could think was, “He’s going to puke himself to death! He’s going to get dehydrated.” I started driving to the hospital, thinking that for sure he needed to go to the emergency room NOW. When we got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, I panicked even more. So much so that I called the ambulance to come get us, right there on the side of the highway. In the ER, they told me that it was just a stomach virus.
I realize that this sounds like an extreme reaction for a stomach virus. But I have suffered from anxiety as long as I can remember, and there have been times in my life when that anxiety takes control and I do something that doesn’t seem logical in the heat of a stressful moment.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. 40 million adults, about 18 percent of the population, struggle with anxiety. But even though it’s common, I’ve learned from experience that anxiety is no joke. If it goes untreated, it can destroy almost everything in your life, like relationships, jobs, your social life. Everyday life becomes a battle.
For someone with an anxiety disorder like me, some days are better than others . At one point it was almost unbearable to live everyday life. I even thought about ending it all. I was afraid to leave my house, because I was terrified of getting sick. I was so stressed out that it caused more anxiety. That kind of anxiety made relationships seem nearly impossible at times. I’ve ruined or thrown a wedge in my relationships before because I got anxious and started overthinking and worrying about every little thing. I’d replay a certain argument or worry, going over and over it in my head until I’d finally just freak out and go off on my partner, for no reason really. Over the years though, I have come up with some ways to keep my anxiety in check for the most part.
I’m not even sure how I discovered that this helps, but when I start to feel anxious, I start counting. I’ve found that it gets your mind focused on the numbers and not so much on what’s bothering you. I’ll count to one hundred. And then I’ll count by twos, all the way up to one hundred. And then I count by fours, up to one hundred. Another exercise I do is to go through the alphabet, picking out names for every letter. And then I’ll go through the alphabet and think of an animal that starts with each letter. It’s kind of like the whole idea of counting sheep when you can’t fall asleep at night.
2.) Deep breathing.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Do it over again. For something amazingly simple, it can do a lot: it helps you to regain composure, slow your heartrate back down, and just calm you down in general.
Exercising releases endorphins, which triggers the release of positive feelings in your body. So I’ve found that walking or running helps me to take out my frustration.
There are plenty of other techniques you can learn to help you cope with anxiety. Whatever you find helpful, it is important to stick with it until you find what works. The ADAA talks about three types of treatment: therapy—which can help you learn techniques like those I mentioned above; medication; and complementary or alternative treatment.
The ADAA also points out that anxiety disorders are “highly treatable”—but that most people don’t seek out the help that they need. They might be ashamed, or not want to take the time to figure out the right treatment for them. If you need help getting started, you might find this article about how to find a therapist helpful.
I have not completely banished my anxiety but I have seen it diminish. It doesn’t control my life in the way it used to. I still have a fear of getting sick but not to the point where I don’t leave my house anymore. Anxiety is a fear that controls you. I’ve got to stay in the right frame of mind—not overthinking, not letting every little worry get to me—in order to make sure that I don’t let that fear control me. I still have bad days, but the good news I’ve learned is that every day is a new day.
Case in point—a few weeks ago I was anxious and blew up at my boyfriend in a fit of anger. But after I calmed down, I sincerely apologized, he forgave me, and we talked through things in a way that really helped us. With that spirit of forgiveness and the belief that I can get better, I welcome each new day.
Photography: Flickr/Son of Groucho