I think it’s important to take a break from writing about the more superficial things in life like travel and fashion and speak about an issue that is really close to my heart. I’ve suffered from anxiety for the last 3 years or so and at first I didn’t understand it because I thought something was physically wrong with me. However, the more anxiety and mental health awareness came into prominence, it came to the forefront of my mind that it was a psychological disorder I was facing.
Anxiety is described by experts as a fear or nervousness about what might happen. It’s the knot in your stomach that doesn’t go away. It’s also the overwhelming butterflies that makes you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster because your stomach is doing summersaults (despite the fact you’re lying in bed watching TV). If you’re fortunate enough to never have experienced it, the only other ways I can describe the feeling is that pit in your stomach that you get right before an interview, or the nerves you might feel before you get a vaccine at the doctors. Imagine having that feeling 24/7.
The feeling of anxiety is overwhelming, all consuming and incredibly hard to escape. It takes my breath away with zero effort and leaves me completely exhausted. It’s sometimes terrifying because my heart rate rapidly increases and I can hear it thumping away in my chest, my breathing speeds up and I am left with a sense of rampant energy to the point where I have (from time to time) physically shaken. I used to wear my Fitbit all the time (a watch that tracks your activity, exercise, sleep and heart rate), but it freaked me out a bit seeing that my heart rate was 120 beats per minute when I was lying in bed doing nothing.
In the past, I have had trouble with my weight as a result of anxiety. Between 2015-2016 I lost a stone despite not exercising any more than usual and not changing my diet. Although, I probably did eat a tiny bit less because I just wasn’t hungry a lot of the time due to the feelings in my stomach. I know that I already have a good metabolism, but I think I lost so much weight because of the nervous energy. I know some people will burn more calories than others and I probably don’t burn as many now as I did then, but the sympathetic nervous system (also called the Fight or Flight response, which is what prepares your body for physical activity) is activated during periods of high anxiety. This is why the body feels depleted of energy after the adrenaline rush of a panic attack or high anxiety and the individual can become incredibly irritable and tired.
Anxiety also causes sleep deprivation and insomnia. Anybody close to me knows that I barely sleep and have trouble falling asleep. I used to think this was normal until I stayed with my boyfriend and by the time I had blinked he was fast asleep. I’m awake for hours every night because I overthink, overanalyse and worry about every little thing in my life. I went through a terrible phase last year where I would only get a couple of hours sleep every night and I tried everything including kalms, spraying my pillow with herbs, watching relaxation videos on YouTube and listening to soothing sounds but nothing worked. I’ve still not figured out how to unwind and block everything out so I’ve almost just came to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be one of those people who falls asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow.
One of the most difficult things about having anxiety is that I will immediately think of the worst possible outcome. I’m an extremely positive person and I like to see the best in everything (including people). On occasion, I will have good days where I feel entirely happy, calm and carefree. Even during the best days though, it only takes a tiny trigger to cause me to overthink to the point that I can’t focus on anything else. For example, I am prone to cold sores and the other night at about 11pm I felt one coming on but couldn’t find my cream. I’m sure if I didn’t suffer from anxiety I would have brushed it off and bought a new one at the pharmacy in the morning, but instead I began frantically pulling my room apart trying to find the cream. I searched in the box that I usually keep it in 4 times, paced around the room and couldn’t settle down. I got irritable and restless because I immediately began overanalysing the situation: if I can’t find it, a cold sore will develop, it will grow, become sore and will take ages to go away. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a trigger and I will become overwhelmed by a wave of complete sadness and worry for no reason. There has been so many occasions where I have randomly burst out crying even though there’s nothing on my mind. Its a series of extremely unpredictable and confusing emotions.
People who know me might question the severity of my anxiety because I am – and have always been – a very happy, bubbly and positive person. I don’t speak about it on social media because let’s be honest, everybody only shares the best parts of their life on Facebook, Instagram etc. I would say that I’m more of a suffer in silence type of person. That’s not to say that I don’t have the best support system around me, because I can’t emphasise enough how supportive my friends, family and boyfriend are – they constantly make sure I’m okay and go out their way to do everything for me! It’s more so that I don’t like burdening people with my problems and I hate opening up about how I’m truly feeling. Nobody really even knows that I suffer from anxiety except those who are extremely close to me because it’s just something that I’ve got in the habit of not speaking about. I would rather smile, laugh and try and get on with my day rather than blurting out that I feel anxious which I always assumed would make people uncomfortable or feel a bit uneasy around me.
I think a lot of the time I’m scared that people won’t understand how bad I feel inside. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to make them feel awkward because they won’t be able to take my anxiety away, or it’s possible that they’ve never experienced anxiety so they don’t know what I’m going through. Sometimes though, the feeling is crippling and I can’t even pretend to be okay because I just can’t function, become irritable and need to be alone so I don’t take my mood out on anyone.
I wanted to write this post because there is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illnesses, but that stigma will only break down if more people talk about it and embrace it. I know those who suffer from it will probably agree with mostly everything I say, and I hope that those who have never experienced it can now somewhat comprehend what it is and the impact it can have on a person. Some of the closest people in my life are strangers to the feeling of anxiety and just don’t understand it full stop. If that’s the case for you, hopefully this will give a bit of an insight into how the mind of someone with an anxiety disorder operates.
Anxiety effects an unimaginable number of people; you probably don’t even realise how many! I can only speak from my own perspective and experience of it and other people will undoubtedly suffer from it less or more than I do. It will also isolate other people to a greater or lesser extent than it isolates me. As a young adult who somewhat has their life together, I just want to reiterate that we are all human and everyone is fighting their own battles. Everybody is going through something you don’t know about so always be kind and considerate, and remember that you are not going through this alone.
Please feel free to message me if you’re going through something similar or just want to talk!