#MentalHealthMonth | Anxiety: It’s Not “Just Nerves”

For the month of May, Defying Shadows will be joining the Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing a post daily on a different type of Mental Illness or “Shadow” that people commonly struggle with. Join us in creating awareness and working to end the stigma that goes with these topics! Today we have Melanie Pickett sharing on Anxiety. ~ Defying Shadows Team.

I suffer from anxiety. I have friends who suffer with it. And when I say “suffer”, I really mean it.  I’m not sure when it started for me. In retrospect, I believe I had anxiety as a child. I remember being very nervous and stressed when leaving my mom for any period of time. I had an upset stomach regularly that I now believe were the result of what my Mom called “nerves.” But I think it wasn’t just a simple case of an occasional nerves. It was a regularly anxious little girl.

There were times I’d have a hard time being away from her at school and would go home “sick.” I wasn’t faking. I had gotten so upset that I literally felt ill. As if by magic, I’d feel better the instant I arrived at home. Sometimes this can be just normal anxiety and nervousness. But when it becomes a regular occurrence that interferes in one’s life, it’s something more. I’d get anxiety and upset when I’d go to a birthday party, even fun events! I still don’t know quite why. I was raised the youngest of four children in a normal, nuclear family. We went to school, church on Sundays, family vacations in the summer, and ate dinner at the table together every night.

I don’t know what caused my anxiety then, but I can pinpoint some reasons I have it now.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety can include excessive worry. I’m a recovering worrier. My mother was an excessive worrier and that begs the question if anxiety is inherited or perhaps learned. The past year, I’ve really concentrated on getting my worrying in check and I’ve been happily successful.  Excessive worry that causes upset to your life is a symptom of anxiety.

woman portrait

Irrational fears often go hand in hand with that excessive worry…worst-case scenario worries when there’s no real reason to mentally “go there.” But these irrational fears can be quite specific like a fear of heights or confined spaces. Or they can be more diffuse. But they’re most always overwhelming.

Difficulty with sleeping or staying asleep can also be signs of anxiety. Waking in the night or not being able to fall asleep at all because your mind is reeling and you can’t shut off the racing thoughts, can mean you have anxiety.  I used to have this and I’d be in bed in full-on panic. “How is this bill is going to get paid?” “What if…?!”

I have muscle tension and it has lived for years in my neck and shoulder area. Lately, it has taken up residence in my jaw and I clench it in my sleep which leads to jaw pain and headaches in my waking hours.

I have Crohn’s disease and I can tell you without hesitation that stress and anxiety exacerbate this illness sometimes more than anything else.  When I’m anxious or emotionally upset it manifests itself in physical stomach symptoms immediately, causing gastrointestinal upset, and it can cause similar symptoms in the “regular” person who doesn’t otherwise suffer from Crohn’s or colitis. Anxiety can bring about IBS as well as diarrhea, pain, and bloating.

Anxiety and panic often occur concomitantly. Panic is similar to those middle-of-the-night feelings where your mind goes to the worst-case scenarios and you struggle to turn it off. You can feel trapped, terribly afraid and helpless, breathing hard and feeling like you just must escape the situation.

PTSD and anxiety were previously mistakenly thought to be one in the same. They are not but they can occur simultaneously: anxiety can bring about PTSD symptoms and PTSD symptoms can cause anxiety. When someone suffers from PTSD, they experience flashbacks from a prior traumatic event.

There are other symptoms someone may experience that are indicative of anxiety. But if you have some or most of those listed and they’re causing strife in your life, you may want to seek the counsel of your physician. He or she may help you with prescription medication or if you’re like me, you may manage your anxiety without medication and try other methods. That’s between you and your doctor to discover what works best for you.

As a Christian, prayer helps me tremendously.  Sometimes I feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach and I genuinely have no idea why it’s there. It’s hard to shake it. I pray. I used to wake up panic-stricken and worried over things that never came to fruition (thankfully). I would pray and the more I prayed, the calmer I would become.

Self-talk can help as well.  Traffic would sometimes be a source of anxiety for me. I don’t like driving in high traffic areas that I’m not familiar with and it would cause anxiety. When this occurred, I’d talk to myself, sometimes even out loud. I’d assess the situation something like “Okay, Melanie, this is not a big deal. If you take a wrong turn, the GPS will get you back to where you need to be.” It’s not crazy. It helps. It’s an audible voice speaking truth and calm.

Talk to a friend. Often someone else can make sense of the situation and offer some comfort and rationale. Sometimes it helps talk to a friend who also struggles with anxiety because they understand that it’s real and you’re not just overreacting. If  a person hasn’t experienced real anxiety, it’s hard for them to relate to someone who has.

Unhappy woman sitting on a bench

Don’t be afraid to seek help. There is no stigma here.  A professional counselor can provide you with tools to better manage your anxiety symptoms and get you on the path to recovery. It’s very freeing to be able to let it go quickly when the anxiety creeps in and promotes better health. Exercise: it helps with the tense muscles and promotes better sleep. Remember, if you developed pneumonia you wouldn’t hesitate to see your doctor, so don’t hesitate to take care of your mental health.

Be encouraged!

IMG_5227Melanie Pickett is a writer and blogger and is currently completing her first nonfiction book. She has battled Crohn’s disease and complications, has a now-healthy son who was born prematurely under challenging circumstances, and survived a 15-year abusive marriage and her first husband’s mental illness and eventual suicide. A wife and mother of two, she loves Red Wings hockey, reading, playing piano, and traveling adventures.

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