I want to talk about anxiety because it’s something I deal with in my life. It’s something some people around me deal with. It’s something I see talked about on Tik Tok and Twitter. And it’s something that has been popping up coincidentally in the books I’m reading.
Let’s start by saying, people don’t choose to have anxiety, just like people don’t choose to have cancer or to feel sad. We can’t just not one day stop worrying about what’s happened, what’s happening, or what’s going to happen. If it was choosable, I know I, at least, would choose not to have anxiety.
When people say “Just don’t worry. It hasn’t even happened. It’s all in your head,” things along the lines that are dismissive of the anxiety itself, they don’t genuinely understand how anxiety works. They may also not recognize their own anxiety as anxiety. And it makes me, at least, feel more shitty when other people are dismissive. Because, duh, I know the situation hasn’t happened. Or I know I have no tangible reason to feel nervous. I know I can’t control everything. And I know I can’t predict the future. I’m still going to be anxious though.
Nowadays I am able to differentiate between reality and my anxiety because I understand it more than in the past. Majority of the time, I know when I’m being unreasonable, but that doesn’t make the thoughts and feelings go away. I don’t suddenly just not have anxiety anymore when I’m aware I’m being anxious because that’s not how it works. Anxiety doesn’t always make sense, but sometimes it can convince the person who lives with it that it does. Sometimes, it’s just there even when we know there’s no reason for it to be.
Everyone feels anxious at some point in their lives. Everyone can experience anxiety, but not everyone has an anxiety disorder. Anxiety becomes a disorder when anxiety is frequent and longer term. This is most noticeable when your thoughts affect your daily life, however some people are high functioning. High functioning means it “gets less in the way,” but this could be because of how the individual is coping. Sometimes those mechanisms aren’t healthy either.
Everyone’s anxiety looks different. Some ways anxiety presents itself is as nervous ticks, impatience, irritability, trouble sleeping, shaking, and an increase in heart rate. Some people also have trouble breathing. Some people isolate. Some need routine. Some focus on a certain area of their lives. There are also different types of anxiety.
My anxiety affects my sleep most noticeably. Anxiety causes my thoughts to kind of spiral. And it’s funny because I didn’t recognize that as anxiety until I was talking to my life coach. As we were discussing something, I bounced from this which led me to think this and then I started thinking about that and when I finished she pointed out that was all anxiety. Now, I can kind of notice it when other people, who have shared with me that they have anxiety, spiral.
I’m naturally quiet and an observer, but sometimes my anxiety stops me from speaking up. It makes me impatient because waiting makes me wonder and sometimes that leads to spiraling thoughts. It makes everything take more effort because your mind always going takes energy. And on those sleepless nights, I have less energy as is. It makes me impulsive in certain situations because if I don’t just do it I’ll spend hours or days trying to talk myself into or out of it. It makes me hesitant in some situations because I think about the various outcomes before I commit. It makes me on edge when I’m being watched when completing a task. It makes me wonder who’s going to be there because it takes a while for me to warm up around new people.
It’s interesting how you’re perceived when you have anxiety, especially as a black woman. We aren’t always given the space to be given the benefit of the doubt. We’re “strong” so we are supposed to be able to handle everything effortlessly and then some. Because of all this and because of things I’ve been told, I feel like I come across shy, uninterested, and standoffish when I just have anxiety and don’t know you well enough to be comfortable. It’s funny because when I expressed that I have it recently to someone, they told me they couldn’t tell. Which is also funny because they have anxiety but are also high functioning.
Anxiety can’t be cured, but symptoms can become manageable. Some people take medications. Some change their habits. Managing anxiety is about finding ways to cope and manage your stressors. Talking to someone and writing have helped me. Doing things I enjoy and recognizing when I am experiencing high levels of anxiety also helps.
Anxiety can be triggered by certain life events. Covid, pregnancy, raising a child, a new job, and looking for a daycare are all big events I’ve experienced in the past three years. The last two have recently happened in the past couple of weeks and have admittedly triggered my anxiety once again.
Anxiety craves control, and experiencing something new or something you can’t predict innately disarms you of control. Hence why last week was an anxious week for me. I haven’t slept enough. My heart rate fluctuated throughout the days. And I’ve just been feeling on edge. It doesn’t mean I will always feel like this. It doesn’t mean the techniques don’t work.
Anxiety isn’t consistent. Sometimes, it’s subtle, a whisper in my ear. Sometimes it’s there and I’m able to do breathing exercises that dissipate the nerves. Sometimes there’s alarms blaring that I’m feeling anxious and I try reading or listening to music or talking to someone to disrupt my thoughts.
Anxiety can’t be wished or scolded away. Anxiety is no one’s fault. It’s different for everyone, but it’s helpful to find ways to manage it. If you don’t experience it, don’t tell someone how they should feel. Just be there for them in the best way you can and they want you to.