Well, the short answer is ‘pretty terrible’ a lot of the time – but there are lots of different ways it can manifest itself. From physical symptoms, to emotionally draining thought processes, it’s different for everyone.
In this post are just some of the aspects of anxiety I’ve personally experienced (in many cases, still do experience), alongside a few practical tips for managing them.
Crisis of confidence
This isn’t just wondering whether your presentation met expectations, it’s wondering whether you’re good enough to do it at all. Anxiety can often be tangled up with self-esteem issues. Criticism might be taken professionally on the outside, but inside it eats away at you.
For me, this is also being in a perpetual state of “What did I do wrong?”. If someone rolls their eyes, or laughs when I walk in the room, or doesn’t reply to a text, or wants to talk to me about something but hasn’t specified what: hello, anxiety. See also: assuming the worst.
How to combat: Be kind to yourself. You are not the consistent let-down you think you are.
Ruminating on things
Oh boy, ruminating and anxiety are best buddies. They belong together.
Rumination is the act of dwelling on something – partner this with anxiety and it morphs into a nightmarish scenario of not being able to stop thinking about something. It’s going over and over something in your head. It’s not even really making sense of something, so much as constantly thinking about it in hundreds of different ways.
Sometimes, it’s not being able to stop talking about it, either – which is super great for everyone around you. That worries you too. What if your anxiety annoys them?
Well, fuck this.
How to combat: Try writing everything down, so it’s not ‘trapped’ in your head for you to keep thinking about. Also, literally ‘take your mind off it’ by doing something soothing. Reading, baking, Netflixing – whatever you like.
Helplessness and isolation
The feeling that no-one – not even you – understands why you feel the way you do. The inability to justify your irrational fears and reactions, even if you’re aware enough to realise they’re irrational in the first place. Wishing often that you didn’t feel this way all the time – or that you were a ‘better’ person.
How to combat: Remember that there are lots of people out there who also live with anxiety. You may want to reach out to some communities, such as AnxietyForum.net, or consider talking to a professional.
Assuming the worst
A missed call? A ‘Call me back as soon as you can’ message? A letter from a sender you don’t recognise? This must be the bit where your life changes for the worst. This is something awful.
Yesterday, for example, I had a missed call and voicemail from the doctor.
“Hi Victoria, it’s the Practice. Please can you call us back?”
NOOOOOO. They must be about to tell me it’s much worse than they feared. Or I did something wrong. Now I have to call them back.
And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know I have an irrational fear of talking on the phone. This anxiety shit just gets better and better.
Of course, as is often the case, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought. It wasn’t bad at all actually. They were letting me know I could pick up a prescription.
All that worry for nothing.
How to combat: This one is so difficult. Recall the times where you have worried incessantly about something and it was not even close to how bad you thought it might have been. Know that there are people you can reach out to in the unlikely event it is life-changing.
Feeling like an imposter
I think most of us have probably felt, at some stage or another, that everyone else has it figured out. If you haven’t, I envy you.
Similarly to that crisis of confidence I mentioned earlier, anxiety really amps this up. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a bizarre, but very real, feeling that any minute now, someone’s going to out you as a fraud. That you don’t deserve to be where you are. That your accomplishments are thanks to someone else or an external force.
It’s no fun – and you can find that you limit your own opportunities, simply by believing you’re not as talented or good as you are.
How to combat: You are enough. Remind yourself of this often.
The worst of times – the panic attack.
A tight chest where, no matter how much you try to breathe, your lungs don’t feel full. Unsteady hands. Your heart thumps ferociously in your chest. You are completely overcome with intense fear. You might die.
It’s pretty much the most debilitating physical outcome of anxiety and can leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable. It’s okay. You’re not the only one.
How to combat: A tricky one, as sometimes they seemingly come out of nowhere. Remind yourself that nothing bad can happen to you, and it will fade in a matter of minutes. Breathe as deeply and slowly as you can. Seek reassurance from someone who knows and loves you.
It’s fair to say that living with anxiety can be an enormous challenge – for us, as well as our loved ones. Still, while our brains might be wired differently, that doesn’t make them any less valid than others. It just makes them special in a really, really annoying way.
Of course, if you’re struggling, please do not be afraid to seek help: