Tips for Living With an Anxiety Disorder
Tips From Personal Experience
There are so many articles on anxiety and depression that I almost didn’t write this. As I sat at my computer I considered removing the topic from my list completely. Then I remembered how I felt when I was first diagnosed. I remembered how easy it was to forget the terror of my life when I was symptom-less for over a decade. I also remembered how much more terrifying it was when everything came crashing back a few summers ago.
I searched and searched for ways to keep my cool in public. I scoured the internet and library for the closest thing to a cure. I drank the teas, took the supplements, drank more water, and tried my best to stick to an exercise regimen. The attacks still came. I was becoming easily winded and having extreme panic attacks during workouts. I couldn’t sit through church service, and I wasn’t able to hold down more than a few sips and a nibble.
After a week of being unable to sleep and not keeping down anything I ate, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired. I cried uncontrollably for hours at a time. The therapist told me to distract myself, and I found myself still shaking and crying while painting a room, writing a story, or sketching. I thought nothing would ever work, but here I am. Today is not one of my best days—but it is a thousand times better than some of my worst days. I can’t leave myself completely alone with my thoughts, but I’ve learned to deal with the bad ones and not “freak out."
I decided this article was worth writing because, even if there are a million more that say the same thing, my words may just be what someone needed to hear. My article just might come up high enough on a search list to reach someone before the tips they have tried over and over with no results. I am writing this because, if even one person finds relief because of anything in this article, it will be worth it.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way. Here are the things that saved me when I thought I wouldn’t make it another moment.
1. Keep a Journal
I found a little notebook that could fit in my pocket and wrote down little details that probably wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. I wrote the exact time I noticed feeling an attack coming on and then the time I felt even a little better. After a while, I noticed that the attacks were not all day long but that I was having a lot of attacks throughout the day. That meant I could try to make the best of the time in between. Eventually they became shorter, and then there were fewer every day.
I also wrote what I was thinking and feeling during attacks then compared them to how I felt when they were over. I had intrusive thoughts about death and suicide and my journal became somewhere I could look to and get my own words of comfort in response to each specific feeling.
2. Make a Visual Reminder
I was able to paint a wall in my house with chalkboard paint. I would write little notes to myself that I could see anytime I looked up. Many times I would write the logical response to the dark thoughts the anxiety was putting in my head. There was a list of people that I knew loved me and some of the things I’m good at. Family and friends started putting little notes and doodles up there for me to. It’s hard to keep crying when you look up and see a goofy drawing from your normally quiet sibling or best friend on you walls.
If you can’t paint a wall, you can put up a poster board that will serve the same purpose. I have actually placed a sheet of white poster board on my bedroom door so that everyone in the house can leave me little notes and doodles that I can later save when I replace the paper.
3. Tell People
This might sound like a broken record at this point but, you really are not alone. While there are always going to be people that just don’t get it, there are also plenty of people that completely understand and will gladly be a shoulder to cry on or even just someone who won’t stare at you when you begin to fidget.
For me, I reached a point where I just didn’t care. I was a little rude when I told people “I have anxiety disorder, I need a minute!” People were way more understanding than I expected. Strangers would bring me a cup of water because they knew what it felt like and how tiring an attack could be. People I didn’t realize even knew my name would sit and talk about whatever random topic would help me escape. I got a lot of hugs and found out that there were several people around me that were going through the same thing.
4. Get Professional Help
There are options out there for everyone. There is state funded mental health care if you don’t have the money or insurance. There are therapists out there who will work with you on payment. This is not something to play around with. It’s not all in your head and you’re not weak. It is a life-threatening illness if left untreated because the person you are during an attack is not thinking with your normal clear, conscious brain.
Yes, those thoughts don’t seem like they will ever go away but they can and will, with help. It’s amazing how different the brain works during an attack. I can think about the same things that used to trigger me and dismiss them with little effort now that I am being treated. Before I got help I wanted to literally jump out of my car as it went down the highway and I didn’t want to at the same time. I thought I was possessed by demons! Those moments seem so weird and distant to me now that I am taking medication but, at that time, I thought there was nothing in the world that would ever save me. It can get better.
5. Take Care of Your Physical Health
There are many health conditions that have depression and anxiety as a symptom. Tell your doctor about your symptoms. Again, if you do not have health care or the income for a regular visit, there are clinics that can help you. Tell someone what you are going through and don’t be ashamed to accept help.
The doctor may test your thyroid function, check for anemia, even some infections can make a person’s mind turn against them. I had low thyroid, a hormone imbalance, and anemia. I still have depression and anxiety disorder but getting those physical conditions under control made my mental health easier to manage. I am now taking a smaller dose of my meds because my health is improving. Soon I may even be medication free. Until then, I will listen to my doctors and therapist and take care of myself.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write this. I was afraid of what people would say. Now, I focus on what matters. In this moment, what matters is potentially helping someone who is feeling what I felt just a few years ago. I hope this helps many people. Writing this has helped me return to my creative self so, if nothing else, I can’t count myself as someone helped.
Oh, here’s a few random words of wisdom that would’ve really helped me so I’ve decided to add them…just in case.
- I’ve survived over 14 years of this. There have been many days throughout that I was absolutely sure I was going to die before morning. That’s another one of those symptoms that seem like it won’t go away but it really is a symptom of the disorder. When you get better, that feeling of imminent doom can go away before you know it.
- I know people who have survived for more than 20 years after suffering for over a decade.
- It’s okay to be tired after. Panic attacks can burn as much energy as if you were running the entire time.
- Look at the large scale and the days you just can’t function don’t seem so bad. A few days out of the week seem like a lot but a few days out of a lifetime is no big deal.
- A panic attack alone is not life threatening. I have a small blood pressure monitor that I use reassure me.
- Music works great for me. I put on my headphones and play my favorite songs when I feel a bit “off” and I can usually return to normal activities within a few minutes.
- You are worth the time and care you need right now.