Chronic Anxiety and Me

A Qualitative Study

I cannot remember a single day of my life that I’ve lived without anxiety. 

This may seem dramatic but, as far as I can remember, it’s true. I’m sure it has to do with the way our brain stores memories associated with trauma v. happy memories, but I’m not exaggerating how ever-present my anxiety has been. 

The reason this was my reality? I simply had no resources, education, or support system able to help me understand what was going on in my brain. So, every lie my brain told me, I believed was true. Because that’s what anxiety is; your brain lying to you. Tricking you into believing your life and safety are being threatened when they are not.

Every human being has anxiety to a certain extent. Anxiety really is just fear. Humans are capable of fear because it helps us stay alive. Fear (when functioning correctly) is what stops us from approaching bear cubs in the wild. It stops us from touching a hot stove. It stops us from driving too fast, eating spoiled food, and jumping between hotel room balconies. But many of us live daily lives devoid of life-risking endeavors or circumstances. So we start fearing all the things we can’t control, even if they’re not life-threatening.

This can translate into chronic anxiety. Especially if you lack an understanding of what’s going on and how to manage it (as I did for many years). Also, some people (like me) are genetically more prone to anxiety than others. And chronic anxiety can make your day-to-day life unbearable.

This post was inspired by one of my best friends. After a lifetime free of mental health issues, my friend developed chronic anxiety over night a while back, and his life has changed drastically. We were talking the other day about the ways the symptoms of our individual anxieties present themselves, and I realized certain truths that can only come with conversations like this:

  1. Anxiety is hard to control. Your brain is lying to you. Your brain, in whom you put so much faith, on whom you rely for so much. When your brain is sending you irrational messages, it is just plain difficult to unravel the truth. 
  2. Anxiety impacts you physically. When you are anxious, your body is entering a fight or flight response, and staying there. Your body and brain start producing hormones that increase your blood pressure, make your brain speed up, and your breathing shallow. All of that is great when you have to make quick decisions and movements to get out of a life-threatening situation. But what happens when nothing is actually threatening your life? What if there is nothing to fight or flee from? Your body will react to these stress hormones in a variety of ways. The physical ailments that come with anxiety are diverse and vary from human to human, but they are real.
  3. Talking about anxiety makes it easier to cope with. Chronic anxiety likes to convince you you’re alone. You’re the only person on Earth this is happening to. There is something inherently wrong with you that sets you apart from others, and therefore they’ll think you are crazy if you bring it up. All of these thoughts are just more lies. These are ways your anxiety keeps you alienated from your support system so it can continue its free rein over your life. Every human being is capable of anxiety. More people than you think battle with chronic anxiety. Since I’ve started going public with my mental health journey, I’ve become everyone’s neighborhood anxiety expert. In other words, I’ve had so many people, from close friends to strangers on the internet, open up to me about their anxiety once they realize it’s something we have in common. My friend I mentioned before is one of them. While we were on the phone the other day he apologized several times for asking me to carry the weight of his anxiety on top of mine. But, honestly, that’s not how it felt at all. The more people who open up to me about their anxiety, the more opportunities I get to talk about my own. I have found these somewhat objective conversations with people who are going through similar things to be essential to my healing. 

In the spirit of these conclusions and the conversation I had with my friend the other day, I decided to chart my anxiety. Over the course of 4 days I took notes about my anxiety. In moments of elevated anxiety I wrote down the lies my brain was telling me and the way that anxiety felt in my body at the time. Keep in mind I did this over what I consider to be “low anxiety” days for me (until Sunday). The purpose of this exercise was to provide a small snapshot of the way my chronic anxiety affects my every-day life. I’m hoping that you, dear reader, will either gain insight into a perspective different from your own or feel connected to someone going through a similar experience. Keep in mind, this is raw data. I haven’t even fully analyzed the patterns or drawn conclusions about it yet. If this strikes a chord with you, I’d love to process it through. And, as always, thank you for reading!

Chronic Anxiety Charted:

Thursday 10/15/2020, 8:30 am: 

  • Lie my brain is telling me: I’m already a failure as a writer, I don’t have the skills necessary for the new job I just got and will inevitably embarrass myself.
  • Type of cognitive distortion: overgeneralization (I assume the rejections I’ve gotten recently are evidence I will never achieve)
  • My anxiety feels like: a peach pit stuck in between my lungs, pressing on both, robbing me of my breath, forcing a bend in my spine.

Thursday 10/15/2020, 10:06 am:

  • Lie my brain is telling me: I do everything wrong
  • Type of cognitive distortion: Blaming (I think the setbacks I experienced this morning are all my fault and therefore evidence of my inherent “wrong-ness”)
  • My anxiety feels like: motion sickness

Thursday 10/15/2020, 1:18 pm:

  • Lie my brain is telling me: I am more useful than I am loveable 
  • Type of cognitive distortion: personalizing (I am taking the actions of others personally)
  • My anxiety feels like: stomach ache, nausea, cold sweats, tension in my jaw and neck

Thursday 10/15/2020 5:43 pm:

  • Lie my brain is telling me: this conversation is going to be super awkward and it will forever change this person’s opinion of you. 
  • Type of cognitive distortion: catastrophizing (I’m assuming the worst case scenario is inevitable)
  • My anxiety feels like: blood rushing to my face, I’m hot, lightheaded like I stood up too fast. It’s like I’m preemptively embarrassed, certain of my ultimate social doom. 

Friday 10/16/2020, 2:10 pm:

  • Lie my brain is telling me: I left my straightener on and it’s going to burn down my house and kill my pets 
  • Type of cognitive distortion: catastrophizing (I’m assuming the worst case scenario is inevitable)
  • My anxiety feels like: how your stomach feels when you go over the first hill on a rollercoaster. 

Saturday 10/17/2020, 2:26 am: post nightmare 

  • lie my brain is telling me: I am unsafe
  • Type of cognitive distortion: emotional reasoning (if I feel that way it must be true)
  • My anxiety feels like: my body aches all over as if I just tumbled around in a dryer for the last 3 hours I’ve been asleep. I have a headache from clenching and grinding my jaw. My breathing is shallow, I’m having cold sweats

Saturday 10/17/2020, 3:00 pm

  • lie my brain is telling me: Everyone’s going to be mad I’m late 
  • Type of cognitive distortion: mind reading (I’m assuming I know what people think)
  • My anxiety feels like: extreme impatience, chaos, anger. My face is hot, I’m sweating, my stomach hurts. 

Sunday 10/18/2020, 4:30am post nightmare:

  • lie my brain is telling me: I am unsafe
  • Type of cognitive distortion: emotional reasoning (if I feel that way it must be true)
  • My anxiety feels like: my body aches all over as if I just tumbled around in a dryer. I have a headache from clenching and grinding my jaw. My breathing is shallow, I’m having cold sweats

Sunday 10/18/2020, 5:30am post nightmare:

  • lie my brain is telling me: I am unsafe
  • Type of cognitive distortion: emotional reasoning (if I feel that way it must be true)
  • My anxiety feels like: my body aches all over as if I just tumbled around in a dryer. I have a headache from clenching and grinding my jaw. My breathing is shallow, I’m having cold sweats

Sunday 10/18/2020, I woke up three more times in the early morning hours as nightmares plagued me all night. You get the idea.

Sunday 10/18/2020, 10:07 am: 

  • lie my brain is telling me: my house is a mess and that makes me a failure as a womxn
  • Type of cognitive distortion: shoulds (I’m telling myself I should be cleaning and if I don’t I’m a failure)
  • My anxiety feels like: depression. I’m sad, pushing myself to do something I don’t want to do and staking my worth on it has me feeling worthless af. 

Sunday 10/18/2020, 10:38 am:

  • lie my brain is telling me: I am unsafe (I think this is residual anxiety from my nightmares)
  • Type of cognitive distortion: emotional reasoning (if I feel that way it must be true)
  • My anxiety feels like: I am lethargic, it doesn’t feel like I actually slept at all last night. There is a lump of tension in my lower back that feels like a knife is stuck between my vertebrae. My body aches all over, feels heavy but I can’t sit still. 

Sunday 10/18/202, 2;36 pm: still experiencing a state of elevated anxiety and general feeling of being unsafe. I know they were just nightmares, I know I’m safe now. I just cannot shake the emotional fragility and physical aches. I keep pacing circles around the house because I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve obsessively picked my acne until it’s bled. I have muscle twitches in my legs when I try to sit still. My hands are shaking, my heart rate is elevated. 

Now that I write it out I realize I’m having a panic attack. Sometimes my panic attacks feel like this: a moderate level of symptoms that never really go away… until they finally do. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes days. 

Sunday 10/18/2020, 5:40 pm: still panicking. My wrists and ankles are aching and I keep randomly bursting into tears. 

Sunday 10/18/2020, 8:31 pm: still panicking. Numbness and tingling in my limbs. Too nauseous to eat. Too agitated to sleep. 

Monday 10/19/2020, 9:40 am: After a whole lot of crying and negotiating, my partner finally convinced me to take sleeping meds and get a full night’s sleep last night. I knew actual sleep would be the reset button I needed. It is difficult to go to sleep though, when sleep leaves me vulnerable to being attacked by PTSD nightmares. But I did it! I took trazodone, slept a nightmare-less 11 hours, and woke up with my breath and body restored to their baseline. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.