Let’s talk about anxiety.
You can Google the scientific definition, but I hope to share with you the raw truth of what anxiety looks like.
I have severe prenatal anxiety, and I am currently 30 weeks pregnant with my third pregnancy. Many days, I have felt like I was drowning in the fear of something happening to my pregnancy. Thankfully, once all of my children are past the high-risk time for SIDS and are crawling on every germ out there, my anxiety subsides so I know there is an end in sight. While I eventually phase out of my severe anxiety, my heart never stops serving as a voice to enlighten others on the reality of anxiety.
Anxiety is like the “bad angel” that sits on your shoulder and continuously leads you down the path of “what ifs.”
Anxiety is a continuous defeat in your ability to think rationally. You can step outside of your anxious thoughts and see the logical explanation for something, but anxiety conquers logic and drowns you back in irrational thoughts.
Anxiety is being able to take everyday occurrences and drill down the scenario bit by bit until you’ve convinced yourself that you are at risk.
Anxiety is something that internally exhausts you . . . it completely drains you. I was an endurance athlete in my past, and the exhaustion from cycling 60+ miles cannot compete with the exhaustion I feel from a day of consuming anxiety.
Anxiety keeps your brain unable to focus on anything but what you’re worried about. Anxiety consumes so much brain space that it can sometimes be hard to block out those thoughts and enjoy engaging in conversation with others.
Let me give you some real-life examples.
I was driving my kids to school the other day and ran over some roadkill. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that pieces of that roadkill could be on my car’s running board or on the tires.
Of course, I get out of the car, and my pant leg hits my running board. My heart starts racing and the only thing that I can think about is the fact that “I have roadkill on my pants now.”
I was nowhere near being able to go home to change my clothes, so I spun in worry for several more hours.
Next incident. My kids and I are walking out of the doctor’s office, and I accidentally drop my wallet, and it falls on my tire. Here I am faced with a hard decision. Pick up my “roadkill-infested” wallet or leave it with all of my credit cards, cash, driver license, etc. It took EVERY OUNCE of me to pick that wallet up. It’s been over a week since this happened and even though I wiped my wallet with Clorox wipes, I refuse to use it and am now carrying all of my valuables in a gallon size Ziploc bag.
If I am eating a plate of food and someone grazes a bag or any type of object over my food, I will not eat it anymore. For example, I had a coffee sitting in the car cupholder, and my husband picked up a bag off the car floorboard and raised it over my coffee. Nope. Even though I hadn’t taken my first sip of the coffee, I wasn’t going to drink it. The coffee was wasted and going in the trash.
A grocery attendant loaded my groceries in the car, and just like many moms with a young toddler, I had a portable potty seat in my trunk. The grocery attendant moved the potty seat to load the groceries, but what I saw was that he TOUCHED the dirty potty seat and then proceeded to TOUCH ALL OF MY GROCERIES. He then stuck the potty seat on top of one of the grocery bags. My brain screamed, “Contamination, contamination!” Needless to say, I could not handle the thought of his dirty hands touching the outside packaging of my grocery items, so I ended up throwing away all of the groceries on the top of each bag. Yep, a total waste of money and food. Not proud of it, but couldn’t handle keeping the food.
Some Advice for Family Members with Anxious Loved Ones
I could share an endless amount of stories, but my overall goal of writing this is to advocate for individuals who suffer from anxiety and encourage their loved ones to have as much compassion for their anxious moments as possible. Someone with anxiety knows that you can’t understand how they feel, just as much as the friend or family member can’t understand why something that seems so harmless, is such a big deal.
A lot of times the anxious thoughts felt by someone with anxiety, don’t make sense. Don’t for a second believe that they can control their mindset. The anxious person can’t control their thoughts, no matter how badly they want to. Know that individuals living with anxiety don’t want to be living this way. Shaming them for their irrational mindset only hurts them and makes them feel less safe and supported in their struggle against anxiety.
Don’t try to convince them that everything is okay or that they shouldn’t worry. While this feels like you’re helping them to see the rational side of the situation, it is actually counterproductive and can often make them feel worse because an individual with anxiety often feels silly for feeling the way they do. If you know the triggers that cause your loved one anxiety, try to eliminate these triggers for them before they have a chance to affect them.
Be patient with your loved one. If your loved one has made great strides in overcoming their anxiety, celebrate that and by all means don’t let their past sufferings with anxiety be something that you get stuck on to “explain” their present behaviors. For some, anxiety is chronic, and for others, it comes and goes throughout their lifespan; but no matter what, please don’t make someone feel as though their anxiety defines them and every action they take.
Every person is unique and we all handle things differently. Just because someone does something different than you or is more cautious about something than you are, doesn’t mean it’s their anxiety peaking up again. Remind your loved one that you’re always there for them. As hard as it can be sometimes, just recognize the anxiety as anxiety and not as a label for who your loved one is; there is much more to them than their anxiety.
And lastly, a few of the best things a family member or friend can do to help their loved one through anxiety is to just be there. Just be a listening ear when they’re struggling no matter how many times you’ve heard the worries. Decrease or eliminate, if possible, exposure to the things that cause them anxiety and just hug and love them.
If you are feeling anxious and are having a hard time coping, please reach out to loved ones. For more information and advice about asking for help, check out this Charleston Moms resource.