Over the last several years, I’ve seen the topic of mental health become more mainstream in the media and in regular conversation. While it’s been a bit worrying, it’s also been eye-opening and refreshing. The level of awareness that has surrounded mental health has been critical for people to understand the multitude of illnesses out there. I personally am so grateful for that because if it hadn’t been for this shift in society, I may have never fully acknowledged my own anxiety.
I’m not going to lie, it’s terrifying to admit to yourself that something is a little off. It’s even more terrifying to be vulnerable and publicly admit that. However, divulging deeper into my thinking and way of life over the last year is an opportunity to continue the conversation of mental health. It’s important that we as a society continue to acknowledge people who suffer from disorders like anxiety so we can create awareness, understanding and compassion.
For me personally, I believe my anxiety goes back many years, at least since college. For years I’ve lived in the fast lane, always trying to compete with myself on how much farther I can get ahead. In doing so, I’ve overwhelmed myself with an endless list of to-dos, a list that I feel like I’ll never complete. I’ve been left feeling inadequate, fearing the worst, and worrying about what others think of me.
Last year in particular is when I began to become more aware of my irrational thinking and behavior. At the time, I had personal issues going on with my father which had been built up for years, and I was completely and utterly overwhelmed with wedding planning. Those two things are what I believe triggered my anxiety to become the full-fledged chaos that it was. I was always on edge and never felt fulfilled with a day’s work, no matter how much I had accomplished that day. I was always looking toward the next day and everything else I had to do, so I’d constantly pile on things to my existing day to make me feel like I was ahead. This is my anxiety. A never-ending cycle of to-do’s and things to accomplish. I am an overachiever and an absolute perfectionist, all thanks to my anxiety.
Let me quickly divert a bit and talk about wedding planning, as that was my main trigger. I think a few things need to be said for the women out there currently planning their wedding or for those who will in the future. Listen to me: please, please, please ignore what society tells you to do for your wedding. Just do you. There is so much pressure to take your wedding over the top and I completely played in to it. While I don’t have regrets about my actual wedding day (it truly was one of the best days of my life), I do look back on that time leading up to the wedding with sadness and disappointment. That whole time, I kept comparing my upcoming wedding to those I saw in the magazines and thinking of ways I could meet and exceed those expectations. I also viewed everything that came along with a wedding as a to-do list (including my showers and bachelorette party) and couldn’t wait to check my tasks off. In hindsight, I should have ignored what society was telling me to do. I should have lived in the moment and not let myself get so caught up in the details and my checklist. Another piece of advice I have is to not be afraid to ask for help. Part of the problem with me was that I didn’t have much wedding planning help. I didn’t hire a wedding planner and people close to me assumed I didn’t need any help because I’m always “so organized and put together.” However, when I got to a point of feeling like I was drowning, I did ask for help. Unfortunately, I still didn’t always get the help I needed because people assumed I’d just figure out how to do it on my own. So, I powered through and did everything with a smile on my face, while I secretly suffered in my anxiety.
That’s the thing with anxiety. It can truly be a silent struggle. People you know may be struggling with anxiety and a lot of the times, you would never know. For example, on the outside, I am organized, proactive, and ambitious. However, my anxiety is what is usually fueling those characteristics. On the inside, I am constantly overthinking and overanalyzing, seeking approval and reassurance, and looking ahead to what I need to do next. It leaves me in a constant state of go-go-go where my mind is always racing and looking for the next to-do to accomplish. This is why I’m really actively trying to slow myself down, as I wrote about in this post a few weeks ago.
Last spring, I was officially diagnosed by a therapist with three different types of anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and high-functioning anxiety). As I began to confide in family and friends, they were baffled. One of the comments I received was “You have anxiety? I would have never known.” It just goes to show you that what you see on the surface does not always define who a person is on the inside. Everyone is facing their own battle, whether it’s explicitly known or not. Keep that in mind.
There are varying types of anxiety and some are more debilitating than others. Mine are not as severe, but they still can affect my daily life. In the last year, I’ve learned a few things to keep in mind to help me cope. If you currently suffer from anxiety or are unsure if you do, I encourage you to read on.
As I mentioned already, awareness is critical to understanding your anxiety. For years, I just assumed it was my personality and I was who I was, so I shrugged it off. But after careful reflection and talking through it with family, friends and my therapist, I realized I do live with anxiety. Be aware of how you are thinking and how you are behaving on a day to day basis. Anxiety can ebb and flow and take on many forms but it’s important to notice differences in your thinking, behavior and mood.
I recommend writing in a journal what you are noticing and how you are feeling. Sometimes seeing it on paper can be the realization and assurance you need. From there, you can determine your next step in how you approach or maintain a solution for the anxiety.
Talk It Out
This one can be a tough one. For those that aren’t as open with their feelings and like to keep things internalized, it can be extremely difficult to talk to someone about your anxiety. There’s always that little voice in your head telling you that they won’t understand or they’ll judge you. Once I realized I may have an anxiety disorder, I made the decision to begin talking about it with family and close friends. I wanted to share with them what I was going through so they could understand maybe why I was acting the way I was. I also used it as an opportunity to get their thoughts and feedback, which ended up being very therapeutic.
Through one of these conversations, I was able to connect with one of my very best friends who also suffers from anxiety, but on a completely different level. Even though we have very different types of anxiety, we were still able to talk through it and it gave me comfort in what she had to say. Sometimes being open about mental health can lead to more in-depth conversation with family and friends and you may even find someone going through the same thing. Through all of these conversations, it was clear that I needed to talk more about what I was going through, but with a licensed professional.
Seek Professional Help
If you are able and have the means, I highly recommend finding a therapist you can trust. Therapy was crucial to understanding my anxiety and learning how to cope with it. I went into therapy knowing that I didn’t want to take any medication that could alter my mood or behavior. I really wanted to learn how to cope with my anxiety on a daily basis in a natural and healthy way. It was uncomfortable and awkward at first to talk about my feelings and what I was thinking. However, knowing I was in an unbiased and nonjudgmental environment, I was able to open up more and more with each session. I believe going to those sessions and talking through my issues extremely helped me and I aim to share more about that in a future post. My point is, don’t be afraid to seek out and see a therapist. Take your mental health seriously and please take care of yourself. You can find other avenues of professional help on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) website here.
Know You’re Not Alone
I already alluded to this, but if you are suffering from anxiety, you are not alone in this. According to AADA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. That equates to over 18% of the population every year. By doing some of this simple research, it comforted me to know that there were so many others going through what I was and still am to this day.
Anxiety may be a struggle for you, but please remember that it does not define you. You are strong and you will get through the difficult aspects of it. Anxiety is something I know I will live with the rest of my life, but these things I’ve kept in mind have helped me power through the hard times. I sincerely hope they help you too.
Do you suffer from anxiety? How do you cope? Do you find these mechanisms helpful? I’d love to keep this conversation going so please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.