My journey with anxiety has been over the period of my 20.5 years and has always had ups and downs. Lately, I have been taking some steps to trying to improve my mentality when it comes to anxiety. With the stigma that there is around mental illness, I found myself giving me a hard time for not being 100% all the time. I realized that was not a healthy choice, and strove to make a change:
- I tend to be fairly open these days, with the fact that I have anxiety. For people that I find to be my close friends, I try to explain how anxiety feels and decided to reach actively for support or just hang around positive people to make me feel better.
- I am more readily understanding to myself when I have bad days. Just yesterday, I received some upsetting news and decided to cancel a meeting I had scheduled, to give myself some time to breathe.
- I am also working more on being aware of what is happening when I have anxiety attacks. For example, with my anxiety, I usually get usually cold, have shaky hands, a sudden onset of exhaustion, the feeling of wanting to vomit, and either a tight chest or extensive back pain. Tapping into those bodily cues and recognizing them helps me to go “Hey Bec, you need a break from the situation.”
- Finally, I try not to take things to heart as much. With the stress of the fourth year expectations, family, friendship/relationship ups and downs, etc., I usually just live in a state of perpetual high anxiety. To add some comedic relief, I have a running joke with a dear friend that we need to ‘schedule time for weeping’. It’s just a funny way of realizing the truth to our situation and the reality that breaks are good.
However, I have realized there are a few things that are still rocky, those small or large ‘hiccups’ on the road which tend not to be talked about when discussing mental illness of any form:
- “You should talk to someone about how you are feeling”: YES! I agree. But what isn’t mentioned is how hard it is for someone who is feeling mentally unwell to reach out and seek help. I got to point where I went to my family doctor, with the hope of maybe getting some anti-anxiety medication… and was scheduled for counselling instead. Now I completely see the benefits of talking to a professional and gaining coping strategies that will last for your lifetime rather than just opting for medication. However, my initial response is “Why do I want to talk to a complete stranger about how I’m feeling?” And then, there is the time when you are sitting in front of said stranger and s/he asks “so describe to me what you’re feeling.” …. ummmm – well I’m feeling a lot of things, where would you like me to start? Why do we simply talk about, rather than help encourage individuals to take steps to better mental health?
- “Find something to take your mind off of the stress”: YES! Again, wonderful thought. But, what would that be? I have tried yoga, video games, reading, stretching, exercising, watching television, breathing and meditation. All of which do not help me and even can make me more frustrated. Why do we not talk about how hard it is to find an ideal coping strategy?
- “You’re over thinking this/I think you’re putting more anxiety into the situation than is needed”: YES! but rather than telling me to stop worrying, why are we not working together, to work through the situation to help lessen the stress and anxiety for both parties?
- “Just focus on what is important”: YES! … but which anxiety evoking thought or priority is the most important? I’m overthinking because all of them to me, are important, and I cannot decisively figure out what I should do about them.
The above instances are efforts by many well-intended people to help those with anxiety/mental illness. But they are just well-meant phrases rather than actions. I know I had been feeling better when someone said, “Do you need help with reaching out for assistance?” and offered to make the phone call for counselling/offered to be a person to chat with. I recently did a presentation regarding the labeling of mental disorders. One article by Albrecht, Walker and Levy (1982) showed that mental illness is one of the most highly rejected status conditions, clustering with drug addiction, prostitution, ex-convict status and alcoholism, rather than with cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Certainly we are moving forward and have started a conversation! Those with mental illness still find the need to navigate this road of recovery by themselves. We additionally need to push towards actively stand beside and with those that have mental illness in our inner circles and help them through whatever they are feeling.
Thank you for reading!