This blog post was featured in the November editions of the Severna Park Voice.
Dealing with mental health issues can be hard. You often feel alone, isolated — like no one understands what you’re going through. The reality is, a lot of people struggle. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in 2014, 18.1 percent of all adults in the United States suffered from some type of mental illness. I thought that I’d share my own experience with anxiety to let you know that you are not alone.
I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Up until my late 40s, I didn’t call it anxiety. I called it stress, or I’d say I was overwhelmed. So what if the same things got me stressed and overwhelmed, over and over again? Later, as I learned more about anxiety, I understood that those things that made me anxious were called triggers.
Some of my triggers included:
- Traveling to unknown places
- Staying somewhere that wasn’t home
- When things didn’t go the way I expected
- When I felt like I was failing, or couldn’t figure something out
- Unplanned events, like being asked to go somewhere at the last minute
- Being with a group of people I didn’t know very well
- Making phone calls
I could probably think of more examples, but you get the idea. When I wasn’t in control, when things weren’t “perfect,” I got anxious. Anxiety presented itself in ways I thought were just a part of my personality. I got really cranky leading up to things that made me anxious, like those listed above. I snapped at my family. I became obsessed with the details — everything had to be “just so” to make me feel somewhat at ease. I avoided situations and events that felt threatening. I’m pretty sure I lost some friends when my kids were little, because I was happier being at home where I could handle any emergency than I was hanging out with them. Later, when the kids were older, I felt uneasy when they weren’t at home. I’d also make my husband call for pizza or answer the phone.
I realize now that anxiety had a greater impact on my life than I was willing to recognize. If someone had asked me examine how anxiety or stress was affecting my day-to-day experiences, I might have gotten help sooner!
Managing Anxiety Day-To-Day
I’ve worked with counselors on and off throughout my life, and it’s been very helpful. (Yes, lots of counselors also get counseling.) These days, my anxiety usually pops up when I have significant transitions in my life. Counseling helped me identify my triggers, so I can start paying attention and begin to relax my body before the anxiety kicks into full gear. In addition to counseling, I also read a lot and learned about anxiety — what causes it, how it presents itself both physically and emotionally, and how to manage it better.
Here are some strategies that have helped me manage my anxiety:
- Using grounding techniques to refocus myself when situations make me anxious
- Practicing mindful meditations
- Taking care of myself and recognizing my needs
- Being more present in the moment instead of worrying about the past or future
- Practicing self-compassion
My struggle with anxiety pushed me to learn about more about it — the causes, how it shows up in my clients’ lives, and how to help those who grapple with anxiety manage it more effectively. Providing a calm, non-judgmental space for my clients to share their story is the first step.
Managing Anxiety Is An Ongoing Process
Anxiety is a normal response to threats, so it doesn’t just disappear. Different situations will continue to trigger my anxiety, so I have to keep working at managing it. The good news is, I’m more aware of the impact of anxiety when I let it take control, and I recognize what is happening. Now, anxiety no longer rules my life. It’s taken a backseat, where it belongs.
If you’d like help managing your anxiety or stress, call me at 410-339-1979 for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.