I have anxiety disorder — here’s how it affects my daily life

This is one writer’s story about her anxiety. We recognize that not everyone with anxiety has the same experience. 

I’ve dealt with anxiety disorder for so many years that I can’t remember what life was like before constant, irrational fears became my daily companion. As is the case with many mental illnesses, some days and weeks are better than others while certain toxic environments quickly send me into a downward spiral. Triggers are different for everyone, and some of mine include public speaking (even if I only need to utter one sentence), driving, crowds, and the constant fear that I’ve humiliated myself in some random way. It’s unwise and, in fact, unhealthy to go to great lengths avoid our triggers — and I constantly strive to challenge myself and push myself out of my comfort zone.

I’m lucky enough to have amazing medical and personal support that provides me with the resources and strength I need to function professionally and socially. As a result, I’ve learned to combat anxiety disorder and to not let it rob me of amazing opportunities (for example, last year I moved across the country without knowing a soul, and it was so worth it). Although I am most definitely not defined by my illness, it would be a lie to say that anxiety disorder doesn’t affect my daily life. Here are some of the ways it does.

I’ve learned that I need to challenge myself on the days that I want to hide from the world. 

If I’m not careful, I fall into the trap of finding excuses to avoid any and all anxiety-inducing situations. On the bad days, it’s hard to find an activity that’s not anxiety-inducing — from taking public transit to attending a social gathering where I’ll be forced to make small talk (small talk is not my forte). My apartment is my sanctuary, and it’s often incredibly tempting to hide in my safe space. I don’t always succeed, but I push myself to get out and I’m almost always glad I did.

Taking care of my physical health is incredibly important.

When I first graduated college and moved to New York City, my lifestyle was beyond unhealthy. I refused to seek treatment for my eating disorder until I was hospitalized against my will, and I barely slept. Malnutrition and lack of sleep wreaked havoc on both my physical and mental health. When I was exhausted and malnourished, I was triggered incredibly easily and I was in no position to combat my anxiety. After I consciously took steps to become a physically healthier person, I found myself better able to cope with my symptoms. I used to be too exhausted to even attempt my breathing exercises or any other sort of coping skill, and I’m emotionally stronger now that I prioritize my physical health.

I take anxiety medication, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so.

Not everyone with anxiety disorder chooses to take medication, but it’s incredibly helpful for some of us. Taking medication is something I used to feel ashamed of because I thought that I should be “strong enough” to fight the disorder on my own. However, I’m a much more functional person when I take my anxiety medication — and if something can improve my health and my quality of life, I’m going to take advantage of it. One side effect of my anxiety is insomnia and my medication helps with that, too.

I get angry with myself when I “mess up.” 

I sometimes do a great job of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and confronting anxiety-inducing situations. But there are some insanely rough days, and I don’t always succeed. I inevitably feel guilty when I let my anxiety get the best of me, but the best thing to do is be gentle with myself and move on.

Making small decisions can be a nightmare.

Anxiety often has no rhyme or reason. Last year, I moved across the country to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have a job lined up. For unexplainable reasons, I’m really good at making major life decisions, but small decisions often lead to panic and a racing heart. If a friend asks me to pick a restaurant, I freeze because I’m irrationally fearful that I’ll choose somewhere no one likes and my bad decision will ruin everyone’s evening.

The physical symptoms are some of the most difficult aspects of anxiety disorder. 

In moments of extreme anxiety, I feel incredibly dizzy and breathing suddenly becomes the most difficult task in the world. Luckily, these moments are no longer a daily occurrence in my life. However, since I’m almost always dealing with some level of anxiety, I frequently experience more subtle physical side effects like headaches, nausea, and muscle tension. Feeling physically sick more often than not is a huge challenge — and it makes it even more tempting to hide from the world.

The support of my friends and family is invaluable. 

As someone who used to be incredibly secretive about my mental health problems, it’s been incredibly freeing to start #TalkingAboutIt. Although my family has always been a tremendous source of support, I tried my best to conceal my illness from the majority of my friends. I felt ashamed and I feared judgement — but I definitely did not give my friends enough credit. When I finally did open up to them, they were more than willing to listen, ask thoughtful questions, and do their best to understand what I was going through.

My parents and I live 3000 miles apart, but they’re both always just a phone call away when I need someone to hear me out or give me a reality check. On tough days, I have amazing friends who will come over for a low-key night so I’m not stuck alone with my thoughts. Ever since I stopped attempting to hide the fact that I suffer from anxiety disorder, I’ve been in a way better place because the wonderful people in my life have gone out of their way to support me.

Anxiety disorder may always be a part of my life, but I’ll continue to fight back and not let it define me or control me.

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