Anxiety. What exactly is it?
We hear people often say that they are feeling anxious, perhaps if they have a job interview, an important exam - or even a big date! It is characterised by the butterflies in our stomach, our shaking hands, the awkward laugh that we do that sounds somewhere between a cat being strangled and an angry whale. It feels uncomfortable, unnatural, unnecessary, and the word itself is sometimes tossed to the wind in such a way that it loses its meaning altogether: ‘I’m really anxious’, or ‘I suffer from anxiety’... but do you really?
Let me state from the get go that there is a huge difference between being nervous and having anxiety. For example, I, like the vast majority of people (unless you are some sort of sociopath), feel nervous from time to time. I feel nervous waiting to hear back from University, I feel nervous when I have a meeting with my boss, I feel nervous when I’m thrown into a group of people that I’ve never met before. This is normal, natural and understandable. Feeling nervous in times like these makes perfect sense.
The difference between me and someone who suffers from anxiety, is that they feel nervous and sickly and scared when there is absolutely no reason to be. This is the crux of what anxiety is: the constant drip of unwarranted fear, tension and panic. It is debilitating and it is difficult.
Let me give you an example.
When I wake up in the morning, I feel angry. I mean how dare my alarm be so rude as to wake me up! How dare the water in my shower not be the perfect temperature! How dare my housemates use up all the milk!
When a person with anxiety wakes up, they feel dread, and they have already started to count the hours until they get to crawl back into their bed, just so that they don’t have to feel worry anymore.
When I greet my colleagues in the morning, I feel happy to see them, to hear what they got up to the previous night, to catch up on any exciting events that might be happening.
When a person with anxiety greets their colleagues, they feel terrified: “What are they thinking? Why do they have that look on their face? What have I done wrong?”
When I have my lunch break, I feel recharged and ready to take on the rest of the day.
While a person with anxiety still feels worried and stressed and even more deflated than when they began. The thought of enduring the rest of the day is overwhelming.
When I go to bed, I often fall asleep pretty quickly (unless I’m watching ‘Making a murderer’ on Netflix, if that happens I’ll be up all night.)
When a person with anxiety goes to bed, they toss and turn and lie wide awake, feeling just as worried and stressed and sickly as when they woke up.
Do you see the difference? Now of course I am generalising in some cases, and everyone’s experience is different, just as it is with depression, or dysmorphia. This is just a small fraction of the thoughts and feelings that a person with anxiety encounters daily.
The question is, how can a person with anxiety cope? How can they hope to function? How can they live a normal life?
The answer is much simpler than you might think - Pick up the phone, and talk to someone. If you are reading this and you have anxiety, please be assured that there is help available, all you need to do is ask for it. Talking to someone that you love and trust is the first step to recovery, and I can assure you, they will be more than happy to help.
As a Christian, one of my favourite verses is Matthew Chapter 11:28, 30. I find so much hope for the anxious person in the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Whatever you do, do not suffer alone. Mental illness is very real. If you feel that you are showing any symptoms of anxiety, or depression, or an eating disorder, I urge you to talk to someone, and solve the problem before it escalates.
God bless you, and have a wonderful day!
Stephen McCombe, Youth Worker @ Dreamscheme NI