Rosemary Donahue
May 16, 2016 9:12 am

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Because I don’t really believe in the concept of “TMI,” I’ve also been talking about my anxiety for as long as I can remember, and people often give me advice about how to deal with it. While I appreciate the support and the good intentions, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety — it’s something we often have to figure out for ourselves (or with the help of a therapist and medication, if we choose to go that route). I’ve heard, “Just stop thinking about it,” and “Don’t worry so much,” as well as, “Your life is going fine, what’s there to be anxious about?” as though there’s a way to talk me out of my anxiety. But the thing is, things like anxiety and depression are not necessarily rational, and thus cannot be suppressed or cured through rationalization. Things that work for some people just aren’t guaranteed to work for everyone, and anxiety levels ebb and flow depending on a number of factors. While it’s likely something I’ll deal with forever, I’m learning how to cope with the different kinds of anxiety I feel in my own way.

My social anxiety used to be untamed and wild. I’ve felt squirrelly in situations that, to the untrained eye, I should’ve been totally calm in. My worries are usually that other people are judging me; that I don’t fit in, that I’ll say something offensive or unforgivable, or that I’m just not cool enough to be invited back. It’s hard to be an introvert with anxiety who also loves people deeply and craves connection — it feels like a constant push and pull, and I’ve often felt like a rubber-band about to snap. This anxiety has gotten better over the years, simply because I’ve gotten older and tougher and had to realize that life goes on even if people don’t like me, and I only want people in my life who do. However, part of me still desperately wants to be liked by everyone, and my anxiety still pops up in unfamiliar situations with new people. The good news is that I’ve learned to assess my energy before making plans, and I try to make friends with people who will be understanding if I need to cancel because I’ve already hit my limit for the day or the week. It’s important to surround yourself with people who love you enough that they want to be with you, but also love you in such a way that they understand if you need some time alone.

I also worry a lot about the health and safety of my loved ones, which is a particular anxiety I’ve still not been able to get much of a grip on. This is probably because it’s something over which I have no control, and I love people hard and fast — once I meet someone I like, I also love them, and when I’m not with them, I worry about them. This goes double for my family. When I was younger, I was convinced that my parents were going to get in a car accident on the way home from work, and when I was old enough to come home after school by myself, I would often sit in the bathroom quietly, waiting to hear the front door open as a sign that all was well. But I’ve found that it helps to be in contact with those that I love, and to ask for the things that I need and explain why I need it. I’ve told my partner that it helps me to know when he’s coming home if he’s going to be out late at night — it’s not because I’m keeping tabs on him or being overbearing, it’s just because I worry and want to know if I should be expecting him soon, or if he’s, yknow, lost or injured. I also check in with my brother at least once a day even though he’s 3000 miles away, because he’s my best friend in the world and I always want to make sure he’s doing well. These things help me feel secure and know that the people I love are safe.

Sometimes, I feel anxious about my work. I worry that I’m not good enough to live in New York, to be an editor, to be working with my talented coworkers, and then my breath gets constricted and I feel very, very sweaty. This work-related anxiety is also called imposter syndrome, and so many people deal with it all the time. However, I’m getting better at facing it head on — when it happens, I look at the facts. I think about my job and what I’m supposed to get done every day, and I realize that I get it done (and often more). I think about the relationships I have with my writers, and I feel really, really happy. I think about my own writing, and I feel fulfilled. I realize that there’s no real reason to feel anxious, unless it’s to keep pushing me forward in my work — but I can do that without fear. I can feel motivated all on my own without the anxiety, and I do every day.

Another type of anxiety that I deal with is unnameable. It’s the type of anxiety that just swells up in my chest like tiny knots, for no reason and with no warning, and this is harder to deal with because I never see it coming. But still, I’m getting better at helping myself through these episodes, because each time I remember that there was a last time and I made it through. I try to remember that so many strong, successful people I know deal with anxiety, too, and that I’m not alone. We’re all in this together, in some way, and I can make it through what I’m dealing with.

No matter who you are or what context you’re experiencing it in, anxiety is hard to deal with. There is also no way to deal with it that works for everyone — it’s a matter of finding what works for you, and it’s likely a combination of things. I have an arsenal of tools in my anxiety toolkit, from communication techniques I use with others to ask for what I need, to medication I take during anxiety attacks, to post-it notes I leave for myself on my mirrors, to simply reminding myself to breathe when I’m really feeling tense. I also try to remember that I have had bad, anxious days before, and no bad day has ever killed me. In fact, I’ve only become stronger each time — and I try to think that this new bad day, this new anxiety attack, will only make me stronger once more, because I’ll make it through yet again.

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