What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Words by Rebecca Rice
Anxiety, what does it feel like? For me, it feels like I'm running a marathon, except I don't know what mile marker I'm at. My chest tightens, my pulse quickens, I try to breathe deeply but usually it comes up short. At times, in my most severe anxiety attacks, I have felt like a CD or DVD that is scratched and so the same line or word keeps repeating. My whole body will take on this tempo, a single word or phrase repeating in my head and on my lips, my breath in and out, in and out, and as quickly as it can, my chest at once heaving up and down while feeling like there is a pile of stones on it. All the while tears are usually making their way from my eyes at whichever speed suits them that day, normally break-neck. I’ve written about my anxiety and panic attacks before, like this piece. For the most part, I talk about specific instances of how it has affected me. Today, I want to talk about it in broader terms and how it impacts more of the everyday details. Because it’s not every day that I feel like I’m a marathon runner. But every day I am impacted by the knowledge that I could have one of those instances. So here are four ways anxiety has influenced my life.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
My family and friends have gotten front row seats to my struggles with anxiety. Whether they wanted them or not. My mom stayed up with me as I cried and tried desperately to sleep the night before I took the SATs. My closest friends quickly shuttled me out of a mall once after I had suddenly started crying and couldn’t stop. My sister encouraged me and helped me stretch and get out of my comfort zone. I’m so grateful for the parts they have played in caring for me and helping me pursue health. They have seen me at my worst and helped me be my best. I know everyone doesn’t have a support system as I do, and it makes me sad. It is because of them that I am as healthy as I am today. It was a friend that encouraged me to finally see a counselor, even getting the number for me. My sister traded bras with me when I was convinced the pain in my chest was bra related and not anxiety. My mom researched homeopathic supplements I could take. In a way, my anxiety has shown me how wonderful the people around me truly are.
In high school, I often became fixated on having a perfect record. Which was stress- and anxiety-inducing because I wasn’t amazing in math and sciences. I would spend so much time and energy worrying and working towards perfection. Eventually, I would have a breakdown. This would happen a few times a year. I’d realize I was stressing myself out over something small, a silly letter. I’d look around at my family, friends, and the larger goals I had in life and realize I had been so focused on the grade that I’d ignored the rest. The lie anxiety told me in high school was if I could get straight A's it would all work out. But I couldn’t do that. And so I believed I wouldn’t “make it.” In college, I combated anxiety with tests and papers by working far in advance. If a paper was due on the 25th I had it done by the 18th at the latest. And that’s just how I learned to function. Another way I pursued health in college was telling myself I didn’t have to get an A in every class. I still wanted most of my grades to be A’s but to alleviate anxiety and stress I told myself one class could be a B. I graduated with a high GPA but an even higher confidence in my own ability, even with a few B’s thrown in.
When I got out of college, I knew the transition to a full-time job was going to be challenging. However, I didn’t know how challenging it would be. My breathing would shallow as my heart beat faster. I’d panic about projects and if I was good enough. Yet other times I’d be perfectly alright and excited about the work. I started taking walks on my lunch break. Getting out of the office, even though it was winter, felt really good. I could clear my head, listen to music, pray, or just walk really fast. I realized that the best way for me to combat anxiety at work was to make my lunch break a true break. If I didn’t walk, I would bring a book, make sure I left my desk, get outside in the sun, either at a picnic table we had on site or a park close by. I even took to taking naps in my car if I was really tired. No matter the stress of the day, my lunch break was my own.
For me, my anxiety has affected my dating life in that I seek security and reliability. I’ve always been cautious when it came to flirting, talking, and dating. However, it took me a while to identify the pattern. I originally thought that was just because I was shy. Later I realized that it was a safety mechanism I’ve put into place to protect myself. It wasn’t until recently though that I realized that what I have often been attracted to most in people is stability. That has translated into financial, emotional, relational, and/or spiritual stability. I’ve sought it out in a variety of ways. However, being cautious also means I’m not one to date a lot. I like having a good idea of what I’d be getting into before taking the plunge. For me, this meant I didn’t enter a serious relationship until I was 24. And I didn’t date much before that. Which makes a lot of sense when you think about what I was searching for in a relationship.
Five months after starting my full-time job I started seeing a counselor. I’d experienced anxiety for most of my life, but it escalated during those few months. Since that day three years ago I’ve worked on noticing patterns and pursuing a healthier life. However, anxiety can still take over. It’s been over a year since I’ve had a full-blown panic attack. Yet I am now aware that my past experience influences my decisions. I might not feel like I’ve run a physical marathon every day, but I do make decisions that will help me stay on that track. I am secure in knowing that it’s ok that my past experiences with anxiety educate my current decisions. We all have to use our experiences to push us forward. So, for anyone in a similar boat as myself, I want to encourage you. Breathe, make healthy choices, and keep moving forward at your pace.
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About the Author:
Rebecca is a die-hard romantic who fell in love with stories and has never quite recovered. Exploring femininity and womanhood are lifelong passions of hers. You can find her writing over at https://thehydrangeaproject.com/. She volunteers as the blog manager for Love True, a local non-profit set on ending human trafficking in our lifetime. And in her spare time, she tries to perfect her baking, badminton game, and being the best aunt to her nieces and nephews she can be.