Source: Image by Kristin Meekhof
Experiencing moments of anxiety can be good. For example, you may feel anxious you won’t make your flight, so you decide to leave at an earlier time. Or you may feel some angst regarding a big meeting, so you do a deeper dive into the research to prepare for any questions. However, for thousands of individuals, anxiety is a daily experience and impairs their functioning to the point that they aren’t able to fulfill their work or personal responsibilities or aren’t able to do them to the best of their abilities. Some people even need medical attention or seek the guidance of a mental health professional to help them cope.
One of the difficult things to understand about anxiety is that intrusive thoughts can stem from real-life traumatic events. Personally, I remember multiple medical doctors telling both myself and my (now late) husband “not to worry” about his persistent cough. And I didn’t. I trusted the diagnosis he was given was accurate and that the antibiotics would fix the problem. Less than eight weeks later, my husband died from advanced adrenal cancer, which was asymptomatic. There is about a one in a million chance anyone will be diagnosed with this type of cancer. However, when your loved one becomes that statistic it is traumatic.
While death is the extreme outcome, people with anxiety can often feel like other intense things are about to happen in any situation, from texting a colleague they don’t know well to attending a wedding. And the anxious often see the world through a lens of fear causing them to expend a lot of energy. It is as if their battery is constantly being drained causing them to expend precious resources to recharge it at a moment’s notice.
Here are seven things everyone should know and understand about anxiety (in no particular order of importance).
Highly successful, even well-to-do people suffer from anxiety. Many times, people with anxiety learn and practice discreet things to camouflage their persistent frets, and their high-level achievements leave little trace of self-doubt. Their accomplishments tell a story of success versus one of painful worry. And because they want others to focus on their outward wins, they seldom reveal their internal struggles.
Anxiety can over overwhelm someone at a joyful celebration. It isn’t unusual for someone to report feeling anxious at a wedding that isn’t even their own or at a graduation party. While others are truly celebrating, the anxious person is left dangling in mid-air by their thoughts of insecurity or a recent interaction. This vulnerable feeling can make them feel raw while everyone else is engaging in conversation.
People with anxiety can often point to a situation in which the statistics did favor a positive outcome, however, their reality wasn’t one. And this truth of having experienced first-hand an unpleasant or traumatic outcome can impact their daily experiences from work to play. And simply telling someone “Don’t worry” can amplify the anxiety because it is possible that’s what they were told just before their worst nightmare became a reality.
Anxiety can make someone feel like they are living on the edge of their seat. It is stressful to even think about relaxing when emotionally living on edge becomes their setpoint. And not being able to sit back and enjoy things means their body and brain are working overtime. This can lead to physical exhaustion and burnout.
Anxious thoughts, such as self-doubt, are in a constant loop within the anxiety-ridden mind. The anxious person can’t simply override those thoughts of self-doubt with a simple thought because fear is often their baseline. When a non-anxious person has a feeling of insecurity, a simple mantra or reassurance from a friend saying “You got this” can quickly transform them into believing they can handle the stress. However, for the anxious person, there is a fear that the mantra won’t work or the friend isn’t being truthful; it is more challenging to shift the mindset.
Anxious people can feel like they’re frauds. Since faking it until you make it has become their mode of operating in both personal and professional settings, the anxious person can feel like they’re not their authentic self. They’ve spent years covering up their angst and believe if someone knew how severe their suffering was it would eliminate them from certain career advancements or the social invitations would cease.
Anxiety can make someone feel they’re never good enough. Despite positive feedback from others or even external evidence (multiple awards, titles, raises), the anxious person can feel at any moment their deep level of insecurity will be discovered and their relationships (personal, professional, social) will end. They will often work to overcompensate for their perceived lack of not fitting in by wearing the “right outfits” or purchasing or saying things to make it look like they’re part of a community.
The anxious person’s mind isn’t eased through a simple mindset shift; they often need professional mental health services. And reaching out for this help is one of the ways to begin to calm the worried mind and body.