Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
What is anxiety?
By: Brittany Borg
The leading causes of death in the world today are fairly well known, a quick web search will turn up many of the things that we’re all quite aware of; heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, and death by road injury amongst other things all top the list. I’m sure if you ask anyone what they believe that the majority of people die of in the world they will come up with at least one of these, and of course they would be correct. By definition death is “the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism”, and I’m sure most would completely agree with the accuracy of this definition: except some people diagnosed with anxiety.
Death is claimed once you stop living, but if you ask anyone who suffers with anxiety they will likely admit to you that it is certainly possible to be alive without truly living.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 10 years old, however I’ve suffered with anxiety throughout my entire life. While medical and scientific research varies there are many theories as to how one develops anxiety. Is anxiety learned? Something we observe and then manifest into ourselves? Or is anxiety a genetic predisposition? Something we have absolutely no control over and are simply born with. I will be the first to admit that I am not a scientist, nor am I a doctor, and there a very few things I know for sure, but I remain unconvinced that any doctor or scientist knows anything in regards to anxiety for sure either.
Anxiety has been around since the dawn of time and although we’ve made groundbreaking advancements in research, treatment, and the overall public knowledge and understanding of anxiety it seems to me that still in the 21st century nobody can give you a rock solid explanation as to why millions of people suffer on a daily basis with debilitating and life altering anxiety.
While I was trying to write this post I asked ten random people in my life – “what is anxiety?” none of whom are diagnosed with anxiety and none of whom have a science or medical degree. All ten people shared an identical word in their explanation, and that one word was stress. The definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”, and of course stress is a synonym of anxiety so it makes sense that most people would conjure up the idea that stress equalizes anxiety and that anxiety ultimately must equal stress. That however is all quite technical and if we were willingly to accept something on the basis of a definition then we would all be relatively confused.
I’m sure that a majority of people will admit to experiencing stress at one point or another in their lives, however of all those people – how many would admit to experiencing anxiety? In the simplest terms and the most convenient definition, stress versus anxiety all comes down to one word – rationality. Stress is rational, it’s experienced while studying for a big test or approaching an important work deadline, it’s not knowing whether you will have enough money to pay this month's rent or mortgage. Stress is losing your job, being struck by a major illness, and experiencing the death of a loved one. Anxiety however, is not going outside when it’s overcast because you’re afraid of being struck by lightening. Anxiety is running to the emergency room with the common cold because you swear you are suffering with pneumonia or bronchitis. Anxiety is calling someone you love and when they don’t pick up immediately assuming they’ve been murdered or kidnapped. Anxiety is not being able to take a shower when you’re home alone because obviously something terrible will happen. Anxiety is not swimming in lakes, ponds or rivers because you’re sure you will develop a rare brain-eating amoeba. Rationality plays no part in anxiety, all rational thoughts and actions seem to escape you when you’re experiencing anxiety.
Like many who suffer with anxiety I experience generalized anxiety disorder or G.A.D as some know it on a daily basis and I also experience moments of extreme heightened anxiety commonly referred to as panic. Panic attacks occur often without obvious triggers or warnings. They will strike at the most inconvenient and absurd times, they will cause your heart to race, sweat to build on your forehead, and your extremities to shake. Panic attacks will leave you gasping for air, nauseous, and feeling utterly detached from your surroundings. There are over one hundred physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, no two people will experience their symptoms identically and nobody will be able to predict how their next panic attack will vary from the one before.
I’m sure to anyone suffering with anxiety this all sounds too familiar for your liking, to anyone coping with anxiety vicariously through a friend or family member I’m sure you know all too well what it’s like to experience watching someone you love suffer with something they have zero control over. And to those lucky few not suffering with anxiety nor coping with someone else’s anxiety I want you to know one thing – anxiety is not chosen, it’s not a ploy for attention or a dramatic avoidable breakdown it’s your entire body and mind reacting to something far beyond your control and I want you to know that it’s single handily the most terrifying occurrence a human being can experience in their lifetime.
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Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.