I have never realised I could actually fall onto the category of anxious people, up until recently. I don’t think I’ve ever even struggled with anxiety in my life! What I did, however, always struggled with is stress: stress to be on time for school or work, making sure I always wake up at least three hours before my shifts begin; stress to have a spotless clean house if I’m having visits; stress whenever I have to multi-task to the point where my brain stops working and I don’t know how to prioritise or plan my days because there’s too much going on… (I’m stressed just writing about this! – you get the picture.)
The problem was I never really understood stress and anxiety as being different concepts. For me, being stressed to get a job done right and within a certain time frame was the same as being anxious about the results or feedback from that same task you were asked to do. Being stressed about what grades I would get on an exam meant the same as being anxious about waiting to hear back from an interview for a job you really, really wanted.
I’ve always classed myself as a super stressed person, but I now understand that not only am I stressed, I somewhat suffer from anxiety. You may be asking yourselves how I have not come to this conclusion any sooner. Well…the reason behind this is because I was under the wrong impression that anxious people are those simply petrified of speaking in public. You know, people terrified of doing a presentation in front of a classroom or a panel of judges, people scared to perform on big stages, and so on.
So this is where it gets interesting…Even though I do get a little stressed if I have to audition for something, I don’t panic over interviews, I have absolutely no problem speaking to strangers on the street or over the phone, and presentations have never been a problem for me - Not because I always feel confident presenting in front of people, but because my few years of performance experience from extra-curricular activities growing up molded me to be able to shift those feelings, put on a brave face and ‘pretend’ to be confident, even if I have absolutely no idea of what I am talking about. But that’s a different story.
After doing some research and finding out that the physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by our brain sending messages to parts of the body to prepare them for the ‘fight’ response; where the heart and lungs function faster than normal and the brain releases adrenaline and other stress hormones to fight back, I began wondering if my constant stress episodes were actually anxiety and panic attacks.
I don’t want to be overdramatic and say I’ve had panic attacks in the past. The truth is, I don’t know. I think I’ve had them, and I can actually think of one in particular that happened pretty recently. I’m also not going to say that these episodes happen to me every day. They certainly don’t! However, I do experience some of the common indicators of anxiety, whenever these episodes decide to manifest. The most common in my case, and the one that I always associated purely with stress is the rapid heartbeat or palpitations. I even thought (a few years ago), that these were due to my caffeine intake – so I cut down on coffee, to try and fix the ‘problem’. Again, I was convinced these palpitations were due to being overly stressed.
I was still living in London when a good friend of mine was commenting with my boyfriend the fact that I am a very anxious person, and have always been this way. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it…I was still convinced that they meant stressed, and not anxious. I have never been to a doctor nor have I ever actually been diagnosed with anxiety, so don’t take my word for it. But I am pretty sure I’ve got it, in a mild form. The best way I can describe what this anxiety feels like is having a stupid fear that everything is going to go wrong with everything I do, or say, or plan, or buy. And my life is full of what if’s – ‘what if they don’t call me?’, ‘It’s already 6 pm, they said they’d be here at 5:30’, ‘I’m stuck in traffic and the supermarket closes in 10 minutes…what will I do if it actually closes and I came all this way for nothing?’. Yes, I know...I worry too much about all these silly things.
I looked up the definition of general anxiety, and this is what I came across:
GENERAL ANXIETY – often referred to as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – can be considered an almost constant worry about things that might go wrong, and the person shifts from one worrying thought to another. It’s like a permanent background level of stress; always imagining something bad is going to happen. The subconscious mind, being unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, gets the body into a state of readiness just in case.
I read this and was in shock! This is LITERALLY ME! Constantly worrying about what might go wrong. And even after that problem is out of the way, soon comes another one and the cycle is never broken. And I am living this every day, relentlessly! And what scares me the most is that I never actually sat down to think about this!
In my case, however, I don’t know if it’s worth seeing a doctor. It doesn’t happen on a worrying scale most of the times. Occasionally, yes, I do have an episode or two where I really struggle with anxiety symptoms, my heart races, I struggle to breathe and calm down, but most of the times it’s a mild form of anxiety. Plus, what would I even say to the doctor? How would they even examine me to know if I’m actually suffering from anxiety? Have any of you been through this before? And if so, how did you get over it?
I needed to share this with you today, in the hope that if some of you are going through the same thing, at least you should know that you are not alone.