Anxiety has become a hot-button issue in the news, social media, and Tumblr (I feel like Tumblr is a place where anxious people hang out and laugh about stuff). Some people blame anxiety on technology, lack of parental involvement, or vaccination (oh wait, wrong disorder). Wherever it comes from, anxiety, as a teenage girl might say, “is a thing.” It exists. And a lot of people struggle with it in varying amounts. Some people have crippling anxiety. Some get the occasional pangs of unease. However much anxiety you deal with, it’s not fun and it’s not comfortable. And you’ve probably thought these things before:
1. *at 3am* “What if all of these bad things happened?”
Your brain just loves going into overdrive in the middle of the night. “What if” statements flood your mind and you can’t sleep. For me, my brain likes to think about tragic things happening to my family.
2. *when someone doesn’t text you back* “I did something wrong and they hate me and don’t want to be my friend anymore.”
This might be typical for a lot of people. In the realm of texting, asynchronous communication causes varying levels of anxiety. You shoot someone a text, and you usually expect them to reply within a few minutes (or maybe an hour, depending on the person). But if two hours goes by, or three, or four, or a whole day, you start to panic a little. If you’re especially anxious, you try to think back and determine if you did something wrong. Then you start to worry if that person is dead. Very logical progression.
3. Brain: “Here’s something very small and nominal to worry about.”
Imagine the smallest thing ever in your life. Just the tiniest thing. (Like you just said “ok” to your mom. Literally something that small.) Now imagine all the ways that scenario could go wrong. Don’t stop. Welcome to the brain of an anxious person.
4. “Remember that stupid thing you did however many years ago?”
Ahh, yes. The old “remembering-past-stupid-things” trick your brain likes to pull on you. Even people who aren’t very anxious experience this. They remember something they did a long time ago (for me it’s usually middle school) and assume that other people still remember it too. And judge them for it. What’s even worse is when someone reminds you. “Hey, remember when you did that thing?” No. No, I don’t, Judy. Shut up. (Sorry if your name is Judy, I just used a name off the top of my head).
5. “That thing you just said to that person? That was really stupid.”
As an anxious person, you put a lot of responsibility on yourself. You blame yourself when things go wrong. And just when you think things are going okay, you feel like you mess something up again. Something “stupid” you say to someone can replay in your head for days afterward, and you think everything you are to that person hinges on that one thing you said.
6. “You screwed up. Bigtime.”
I usually think this when I notice someone isn’t talking to me, or treating me a different way. Usually, it has nothing to do with me. But I make it about me. I start to stress out and think through any possible thing I could have done wrong. Usually, I can’t think of anything – because I haven’t done anything. 99% of anxiety is all in your head. That sounds reassuring, but to an anxious person, it’s exhausting. Because anxious people live in their heads.
7. “No one wants to hear what you have to say.”
This might be what you feel like when it seems like everyone is interrupting you or talking over you. Or you say something that you thought might get a laugh, but it doesn’t. Or maybe what you said just didn’t come out the way you intended. You immediately start criticizing your words and start believing the lie that everyone else is criticizing them too. You start to see people as your enemies, your critics. Just remember – you are your own worst critic. Because everyone else is too busy criticizing themselves.
8. “That person looked at you funny. They think you’re weird.”
This is a daily thought for anxious people. One simple, deadpan look from someone can send your thoughts racing. Someone’s quick glance at you as they walk by you makes you think they despise you or think you’re weird. It’s irrational, but it’s just where our brains go. We are so self-critical that we see ourselves through other people’s eyes as being disliked or strange.
9. “You stomach hurts a little. You’re probably dying.”
In high school, one of my biggest fears was throwing up in the middle of class or an assembly. Yup. I was so afraid of it that it made my stomach hurt. And guess what you think when your stomach hurts? “I’m gonna throw up.” Anxiety is a vicious cycle. Every time I wake up in the middle of the night and something hurts, I immediately think, “That’s it. Something’s wrong. I’m about to be sick or I’m about to die. Either one.” Some people might say, “That’s crazy! Calm down! Gosh, you’re not going to die!” That’s about as helpful as telling a fish it can swim.
10. “Don’t tell people about your anxiety. They’ll think you’re a freak.”
I struggle with this a lot. I am afraid of my anxiety and how people might react to it. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m a headcase or belong in an institution or something. What I’m most terrified of is if they’ll start treating me differently, like I’m super fragile. I think that’s what I’m most afraid of. But you know what? You can’t let anxiety do that to you. The people who think it’s weird don’t understand. And the people who do understand are the ones you want in your life. It’s that simple. People are going to think what they want about you…which is a very hard thing for anxious people to come to terms with.