5 Things People Living With Anxiety Want You to Know
Almost everyone, at one time or another, will experience anxiety. It can be right before a big test and you suddenly panic that all your studying wasn’t enough and you’re going to fail. It can be right before an important meeting and you start to question your entire project proposal. It can be when your teenage child was supposed to bring the car back thirty minutes ago and they’re running late. There are millions of scenarios that cause the average person anxiety.
While everyone will experience anxiety some time during their life, there is a huge difference between experiencing anxiety and living with it. For the average person, anxiety is a fleeting moment that is eventually overcome and left behind. The average person will have an event or something external trigger the anxiety, and the anxiety is a natural response to that trigger. For people who are diagnosed and live with anxiety, their experiences are much different.
Here are 5 things people living with anxiety want you to know:
1. Sometimes it just happens. While the average person has their anxiety triggered as a response to an external situation or stimulation (which is the normal way it is supposed to work as a survival, “fight or flight,” mechanism,) people who live with anxiety aren’t always experiencing their anxiety as a response to something. Sometimes, an anxiety attack will just happen without any external stimulation or justification. A person living with anxiety will occasionally experience the symptoms of anxiety, and even a full anxiety attack, for no reason. The reason for a non-triggered anxiety attack is similar to allergies. A person has allergies because their body thinks that every foreign substance is a potential harm and it activates unnecessary defenses to keep the allergens out. A non-triggered anxiety attack is because the brain is on the defensive and has perceived something that isn’t a problem as a potential threat and has triggered the anxious survival mechanism unnecessarily. This means that a person living with anxiety isn’t being “dramatic” or “overreacting.” They are having a survival response to an unnecessary trigger. You wouldn’t call a person struggling to breathe through a stuffy nose from allergies as being “dramatic” or “seeking attention;” a person living with anxiety having a non-triggered attack is no different. Their body is just producing an unnecessary chemical reaction to a non-threatening trigger.
2. Attacks aren’t all the same. A person living with anxiety will have a scale of anxiety responses and attacks—it is not one response fits all. This means their anxiety might be difficult to identify at times because it manifests differently depending on the situation. If they suddenly seem quiet, awkward, uncomfortable, fidgety, scatter-brained, unable to speak or unable to stop speaking—they might be having an anxiety attack that’s lower on their scale and is not as identifiable as “anxiety” as a full anxiety attack is.
3. It is constant. Living with anxiety means exactly that: they are constantly living with anxiety. The average person will experience anxiety and then it will go away until another event or circumstance triggers it. These events are typically few and far in between for the average person, so it can be difficult to understand that for a person living with anxiety it never goes away. They are constantly battling their own brain and a chemical response they have no control over. Often, the way anxiety manifests on a daily basis is in a lesser degree than a full attack. It can be overthinking, constant worrying, an on-edge feeling, or any number of other symptoms. A person living with anxiety will deal with one or more of these “minor” symptoms on a daily basis. Most of the time, you won’t even know they are dealing with their anxiety. That can be because they have learned to cope with these daily symptoms, gotten good at disguising them, or they happen so often you have just mistaken them to be part of their character.
4. There are good days and bad days. Like with many chronic health problems, there are good days and bad days. Everything is on a day-to-day basis and one good day, or even a string of good days, doesn’t mean that there won’t be another bad anxiety day at any moment. A day can even start off great and turn into a bad anxiety day for no reason. Sometimes there are external triggers for these changes, other times it is just the brain producing more of the chemical that causes anxiety without any prompting whatsoever. Good and bad days happen and it can be hard. The person living with isn’t doing any of it on purpose and they certainly can’t control which days will be which. If there’s an important event and a bad day happens to occur at the same time, it’s not the person living with anxiety trying to “ruin” it or steal the “attention.” They don’t have control over it and are probably doing everything they can to avoid having an anxiety attack.
5. There is no cure. A person living with anxiety will never get “better.” It is a medical condition that they have to live with for the rest of their life. There are medications and practices that can help treat symptoms and make living with anxiety easier, but there is no “cure.” If you think that one day they will grow out of their anxiety or wake up and not have to deal with it any more—you are wrong. It will always be there and it will always be something they need to treat and cope with. People who live with anxiety develop their own coping mechanisms, practices, and methods. What works for one person may not work for another. Some people may find great success with medication, others might feel that it doesn’t help or may suffer from side effects that are worse than the anxiety.
There are many other things a person living with anxiety wants you to know and the best way to find those out are to ask them. Be open to listening to their experiences and how they describe what living with anxiety feels like. If you want to know more before you start the conversation, read my articles on “What Living Anxiety Feels Like”.