I'm sure we've all experienced some form of anxiety at some point in our lives. Whether it was right before a big presentation or while waiting to see if you got a promotion at work, anxiety has always had a prominent presence in our lives.
But for many of us anxiety is not just an isolated emotion, but rather a collection of fears. There's a fear of limited control and a lack of understanding, which is often accompanied by a fear of criticism and a loss of confidence.
Many of us are unaware of what causes these anxiety attacks, let alone how to prevent the onset of another one. This creates an additional fear — the fear of having another attack. This can often lead to isolation and paranoia, occasionally progressing into monophobia and/or agoraphobia.
In fact, many of the symptoms associated with an anxiety attack often mimic those of a heart attack, so fearing death by way of cardiac arrest is not uncommon in those of us who suffer with anxiety disorders.
Truth is, I'm all too familiar with those fears.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorderand it quickly took over my life. I ended up with a two year addiction to my anxiety medication, which lead to an accidental overdose. Fortunately for me it wasn't fatal.
Nonetheless, I've learned a few valuable lessons along my path of discovery. I've divulged my truth and accepted the position anxiety has in my life.
Today I view my anxiety as more of a privilege than a curse. I've been on both sides of the anxiety spectrum and understand what it's like to feel hopeless and helpless. But I've also uncovered the unconventional methods of prevention. Through a shift in perception and a change in my lifestyle, I've been able to regain control over my life and this debilitating disorder.
My aim is for you to do the same.
I have compiled a list of five things that I want everyone who feels burdened by the grips of anxiety to not only recognize, but to understand. Because if no one else understands you, find comfort in knowing that I do.
Here are five things all anxiety sufferers need to know:
1. You're not overreacting.
How many of you have been told to "just relax" during an anxiety episode? Told that you're overreacting and you need to "chill out."
But if it were that simple don't you think we would just do it?
Anxiety is the automatic response to a perceived threat, causing our fight-or-flight stress response to take over. That's why the most common reaction when anxiety is present is to flee and try to escape whatever environment we're feeling the most anxious in. So essentially you're not overreacting, you're simply reacting.
Nonetheless, I encourage you to continue whatever course of action is needed to help you get over your attack. Don't let the naive opinions of others force you to change your way of dealing with this disorder, unless you're causing harm to yourself or someone else.
2. You're not alone.
One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like no one understands you — like you're on your own.
I've experienced this before, but what I didn't realize at the time was that there are also millions of people who have felt the same.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety. This is not a battle you have to deal with alone. Today there are more resources for anxiety sufferers than there were a few years ago. Anxiety is now a main topic of discussion, so get in on the conversation.
Look for ways to connect. Whether through blogs or social media, knowing you have someone that can relate to you will help you immensely. The only way for us to beat this is to come together and share our stories and experiences.
3. It's more than mental.
Despite anxiety being classified as a mental health disorder, there are many physiological associations — dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, numbing in the arms and/or fingers and tachycardia to name a few.
People don't necessarily associate these symptoms with a mental health disorder. I made weekly hospital visits for about a month before I was officially diagnosed. So I'm sure there are countless others who are living with anxiety and aren't even aware of it.
If you're not sure, get checked out and be certain. Treatment is available, so why wait?
4. It's telling you something.
Around the time I was diagnosed, I was smoking close to a pack of cigarettes daily. I was consuming well over 300mg of caffeine and my eating habits were terrible. Plus I was drinking a lot more frequently than normal.
Despite all of these factors, I honestly thought I was healthy. My chaotic lifestyle had become my normality. But underneath it all, I was killing myself — literally.
My anxiety saved my life!
Without it, I'm not sure how much longer my body would have been able to uphold.
Anxiety has a voice — listen to it. There is an underlying issue that your anxiety is trying to make you aware of. Don't avoid it, go toward it. It could possibly save your life.
5. You CAN control it.
Anxiety can be triggered by a few things — diet, stress, lifestyle, etc. Although there are a few factors to consider, understand that there is a cause and cure.
During my journey, I realized that my diet played a large part in my ability to control my anxiety. Once I recognized those things, it was my responsibility to make adjustments as I saw fit.
In addition to changing my habits, I needed to change the conversation I was having with myself. I needed to stop allowing my anxiety to dictate the course of my life. So I stopped running. Instead, I learned to stay present, I learned to feel everything in every moment. I learned to differentiate my emotions and accept them as they were.
I learned that by running I was giving my anxiety power, but by staying present I took back control even if only a little bit. As time went on, I became better at it. Today my anxiety is no longer an issue for me. It's still there, but it's been dormant for a few years. As long as I maintain my new lifestyle, I'm not concerned about it ever becoming an issue again.
Stop letting your anxiety dictate your life. I know it's hard, but it IS possible. Your anxiety is only a small part of you. Take small steps daily and stay focused on the journey, for the destination is inevitable.
is a Tony-winning producer/writer/actor & CEO of TheDreamUnLocked: Boutique Coaching for Actors, Writers & Dreamers