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What Living with Anxiety Actually Feels Like and How I Manage

Anxiety is far more than the basic physical symptoms; it can be utterly paralyzing. I've had to change many habits and behaviors so anxiety wasn't steering the wheel of my life and slamming on the gas pedal.

When I was fifteen, I got the diagnosis of chronic anxiety. I’ve been on every form of medication that over time, stopped working for me. At the age of twenty-five, I decided to take matters into my own hands. However, my condition is chronic. The term, ‘chronic’ used to scare me–it’s meaning so absolute. While on my journey toward healing, I gained some insights in my quest to live as close to anxiety-free as possible. 

Every day, we’re managing a lot, more so than we may realize: our health, our work, our families all while trying to balance everything out. And just because you have (chronic) anxiety, doesn’t mean you’ll have to continuously suffer until it launches you to the ‘flight’ part of the fight or flight response. That used to be me on repeat. If I felt overwhelmed, I’d flee and probably do something destructive like staying in bed all day with a bag or box of junk food and be paralyzed, watching as my plate of obligations filled up. I’d have these extended periods of freezing that might last days or weeks (years ago, not anymore). 

A large percentage of people don’t understand that anxiety is far beyond simply a rapid heartbeat, sweating, spinning or blurred vision. It has debilitated me far worse than the basics. Nervousness is a sliver of anxiety. Even everyday stressors (multiple studies reported) can quickly induce symptoms that feel like a full-blown panic attack. 

One behavior I’d slip into was internalizing everything that happened to me–talking about things until obsessing, mercilessly thinking about my misfortunes or past mistakes, and second-guessing my every move from the food I’d eat to the projects I’ve done. Internalizing stress caused many of my down-spirals.

Even the demands of everyday life stuff–simple things such as grocery shopping, running errands, appointments, cleaning, or cooking feel like laborious tasks. You run out of spoons by dinner time and think, ‘just stick a fork in me; I’m done. Everyone can starve tonight,’ and hear the angry sigh in the peanut gallery.

If I’m operating on overdrive, physically, I’m not accomplishing things and begin to feel this indescribable pressure. Then, this happens: I’ll put the cart before the horse; classic anxiety invoking behavior. I’ll be working on a project and then do something that applies pressure or a time constraint. Rushing ahead and getting through something because it’s uncomfortable or not what I’d expected strained me in every way. My anxiety would slam on the gas pedal. 

I’d want to catapult forward just to reach a destination, to get over the hardship, and when I realized how this behavior affected me, I changed it immediately. My work isn’t the only area of my life where I’ve allowed this behavior; I’ve done this in my personal life too. I was never a patient person, but racing ahead creates a magnitude of setbacks and trouble. I’ve witnessed how my choices and actions interfered with my ability to function. 

Now, though, if a project isn’t complete, I don’t talk about or publicize it as if it is complete. Life doesn’t need to be like a marathon. I’d ask myself frequently: what’s the hurry? It’s important to enjoy the process of things, even when it’s not exciting. I like to be quiet and accomplish a task until it’s my best. I schedule set blocks of time that I stick to daily to reach goals in my professional life so I can also relax, have family time, and do other stuff like exercise. 

Once I’ve identified these cart before the horse ways of functioning, I found it easier to change them. I’ve had to change a lot of behaviors and habits to attain the life I so desired, which took years of counseling and being open with people about it. Remember, this is coming from someone (me) who has dealt with chronic anxiety for more than twenty years. I’m not afraid to admit that I have anxiety or to share with others. It should be talked about more. This condition hasn’t stopped me from doing anything. Don’t allow it to keep stopping you. 

Today, I don’t get overwhelmed to the point of paralysis because I’ve established routines to keep my work and personal life separate and in proper alignment. How we manage makes a difference and living mindfully will assist in easing anxiety in the long term.

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