How do you explain anxiety to those who don't understand?

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#1 Posted by Sombre (476 posts) -

Hey gang,

So, like many of you, I struggle with anxiety problems. I actually manage it quite well though to be fair. I'm on Sertraline, and for the most part, it's kinda saved me a lot lately. I still have a difficult time going out though. People have come to ask me on the day/night nowadays, because they know if I spend time thinking about it, I'll stew, and think of an excuse not to go. This makes me sad, because I really like going out. I don't have many friends, but I really like going out with people from work (I work in a school, and the people I work with always guarantee a terrific night out)

But I do worry while I'm out. Take last night for example. It was someone at work's birthday, and we had a night out to celebrate. The anxiety started when I was thinking about getting a taxi to go out. My mind RACES with stuff like that, and I would have been happy to shell out for an uber, which is more expensive, just to avoid talking to someone on the phone. Luckily, someone at work picked me up and dropped us both off at the club we were going to. Now, I knew 10-15 people at the party, and there were a lot of younger people there, so I knew it was a "Safe" environment (If you struggle with anxiety, you'll know what I mean by that). I had a few drinks, and for the most part was pretty much enjoying myself. But after a while, panic kinda set in. It wasn't an anxiety attack, I know what they feel like from experience. It was more of a "I need to know EXACTLY what's going on here" kind of mindset. I tend to overanalyse what's going on, start watching people intently to see what they're up to, and stuff like that. And I also was concerned with how I was going to get home after. Thankfully, my mother had just finished work and offered to pick me up. As soon as I got out of the club, I immediately felt better. I was on my way home, and the fear kinda washed away.

Now, what's kinda getting to me is how she reacted to it. For the most part, she's very supportive. She knows I have problems with anxiety and depression, which I'm medicated for, and as a rule, I handle it quite well, just through years of experience. But I got this nagging feeling like she was disappointed with me on the way home. I was explaining in the car that I started feeling anxious, and mentioned how I know it's ridiculous, but it's irrational. She agreed how daft it was, but empathized with me. But I couldn't shake this fact that she was "upset" or something with me.

Now, I try to tackle my anxiety head on. I sometimes do things out of my comfort zone to try and shock myself into doing it. I took a lot of inspiration from Dan's "Anxiety as an Ally" that I've read multiple times over the years. I've been to the biggest arcade in Europe (which happens to be in the next town over!), I've been out with a friend in town (Which might not sound like much, but I get really nervous when I'm out at night), I've spoken in front of the whole school, etc.

How do you guys cope? How do you explain it to people? I've seen lots of different explanations over the years, but I think this summarizes it best:

  • Anxiety is a liar. Your brain just wants to show you the worst case scenario. Who knows why? Maybe so you can be prepared, just in case. But anxiety doesn't know something you don't. It's not logical. It's a lie. You can't keep the liar from whispering to you, but you can choose not to believe it.

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#2 Posted by Rebel_Scum (1442 posts) -

Depends who you're trying to explain to tbh. Baby boomers might not get it so easily because in their generation they just "got on with it." For me that's an idea that works but it doesn't work for everybody.

How do you explain it? I don't know. What are some of the causes? A lack of control of a situation? Uncertainty? A confidence issue? Imagine having any one of those problems but then not having the tools to deal with them or perhaps it's having an immediate goal that you need to achieve but there's a blocker you can't deal with or your brain stops from performing what is seemingly a basic function to achieve? That's as best as I can describe it but then I don't have this problem.

I think kids have it tough today, in a way that is vastly different for those who are older thanks to the internet age and smart phones. Maybe you should ask your Mother what life was like growing up for her? What were the pressures she had to deal with? Find out what you might be able to say hey that's how I feel when "xyz" happens?

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#3 Posted by xkkzz (56 posts) -

I'm sure people experience it differently, but when I heard anxiety described more clinically as a 'fight or flight' response, it made more sense to me. I see it as an instinctual fight or flight response that gets triggered by things that aren't actually a danger. Everyone has felt that in response to danger: adrenaline rush, fast heartbeat, tunnel vision, etc. It's just that not everyone gets that response when they, say, get into an elevator with a friendly person they met last week.

I guess the part that can be frustrating is that a lot of people experience that reaction as kids but then don't as adults. So I think some people see it as an immature reaction from someone who just didn't get enough life experience or something. But unfortunately you can't just turn off or ignore an "I might die" release of hormones, our species wouldn't have survived if we could.

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#4 Edited by avantegardener (2381 posts) -

The important take away is your mother isn't upset with you, she is upset for you. Don't be too hard yourself, you did some pretty good CBT on self yourself, you felt the fear and did it anyway, so what if you left early. You just have keep pushing yourself to do a little bit more each time.

Good luck!

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#5 Edited by Sessh (3405 posts) -

I suffered from terrible anxiety with multiple panic attacks a day, just over 4 years ago, now I'm well adjusted and mostly good even without medication.

Recently my girlfriend developed a rather bad depression and even though I kinda (anxiety and depression is more similiar than one would think) know what she's going through and see a lot of her behaviour mirror mine from years ago, it's still very frustrating for me, mostly because I eventually "got over it" and thus "know" what she "should" do. Similar to that I had a friend who had dealt with anxiety before me in my worst times, who got frustrated with me.

What I'm trying to say is: people are different, situations are different, dealing with mental problems is always difficult for all involved and trying to explain things doesn't always help.

It's normal for people to get frustrated with you, they aren't trying to be mean to you at all, and you have to try and understand their perspective too, even though it will understandably be hard for you in your current situation.

Also, one last very important thing: you'll pull through in the end, don't worry. I did too.

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#6 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (7649 posts) -

Yup, I have anxiety too, and I am on Sertraline. That drug saved my life - period. Everyone is different so the Sertraline was extremely effective for getting me where I needed to be, so I all I can say if keep trying and keep and open dialogue with your doctor about what is working and what isn't. That is hard, I know that, but communicate with the PCP if you think it not getting you where you'd like to be.

As far as you mom, I think she might just have wanted this to work out for you. (I don't know you relationship, so I won't theorize more.) I will tell you that, my mother is an RN nurse and worked in critical care nursing all her life; but even she does not really understand the day vs night shutter snap of a panic attack. How you JUST HAVE TO get out of a situation. She cannot image a social situation or small things feeling like being in a shark cage with the Great White 5 ft away....there is no logic to the panic...but it is real.

You are not alone.

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#7 Edited by Narx (221 posts) -

As many others, I'm suffering from anxiety as well. My form of anxiety is anticipation, always trying to be 1000 steps ahead of anything. This led to a massive work-related burn out and I've managed to get over it just a few weeks ago. I'm running on various medication with sleeping pills for the night and Trintellix for the day and my doctor is not sure yet if I'll be using them for the rest of my life.

The way I explain it to others is that it's mostly subconscious. I want to have fun, I want to not be stressed out. Unfortunately, my body and brain don't feel the same way and this leads to some issues. I may leave a party for a good 15 minutes to get back into the right mindset, I might not show up at work for a day, I may cancel plans we had at the last minute. The important part is to talk about it with others and to find the right times to get into the thick of it.

Since my main anxiety trigger is anticipation, I tell others what I suffer from and ask to basically stop me if I try to talk about something in the future that is out of my control while using the word "if". My anticipation is easily fed and people enjoy jumping into it with me which increases my anxiety.

For your mom, there's no better way to simply ask her to research it on her own. I had a few issues with my parents as well but once they got the gist of it, they actually went to see my psychologist to simply ask for tips on how to support someone with anxiety.

The main thing to explain to others is that we'll never be free. Anxiety is a demon that will always be present. We can manage it and others can help us not fall into it but it's not some form of disease with a cure. There's no magic pill.

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#8 Posted by The_Greg (548 posts) -

Anxiety is a bastard, I totally feel you.

Mine was never crippling, but it was always there. Just made very interaction with everyone (including family and best friends) a little difficult.

I have mostly overcome mine by completely throwing myself in the deep end for years. I talk to everyone, I stand up in front of people to speak whenever possible and convince myself I'm excited and not nervous (the way your body reacts to each of those is the same, so you can kind of fool yourself). Say yes to any opportunity that will make you uncomfortable and do your best to enjoy it. In time, you'll find it easier.

I got a new job a couple of weeks ago. The interview process involved a presentation to a room full of strangers and a few group exercises. 7 or 8 years ago, I'd have cancelled that interview in the lead up.

Sorry, I'm banging on about how it's not an issue for me any more. Basically, I just wanted to say that you can overcome it. It just takes time and a lot of forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations. You will only ever regret NOT doing something. If you do it and make a fool of yourself, at least you did it, and probably moved forward in ways you can't see immediately.

I wish you all the best.