As published in BusinessWoman magazine, March 2020
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people say this to me after hearing that I help those with anxiety and panic attacks. While it’s true that everyone experiences stress in their life, which, by the way, is normal and not always bad, the overwhelming feelings of anxiety are not the same.
When you worry to the point where it’s hard for you to function from day to day, or you begin putting limitations on your life due to fear and anxiousness, that goes beyond what we call “normal” stress. The two are in fact related; however, anxiety is the result of an overload of stress and can cause negative emotional and physical symptoms.
The emotional symptoms of anxiety include irritability, watching for signs of danger, trouble concentrating, feeling as is your mind is going blank, expecting the worst, feelings of dread, and being increasingly tense or jumpy.
The physical symptoms, known to most as a panic attacks, are a rapid heartbeat, sweating, stomach aches, dizziness, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, nausea, twitches, muscle tensions, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, hot flashes/chills, shakiness, numbness, feelings of losing control, fear of dying or passing out, feeling detached, spacey, or unreal.
If you don’t know that these are symptoms caused by anxiety, you may begin to fear that something is seriously wrong. This only adds to a person’s anxiety and creates a vicious cycle of worry, fear, and panic. I am very familiar with that cycle, as I was on it for nearly five years. The grip anxiety had on me was tight, and not something I could just turn off.
Like many who experience these symptoms, I didn’t make the connection between stress and anxiety. I didn’t know that the prolonged stress of my out-of-balance schedule was where the anxiety stemmed from.
Every day I felt as though I was being pulled in a hundred different directions, as I tried my best to keep up with the housework, help with my son’s schoolwork, volunteer, pay the bills, cook dinner, squeeze in another load of laundry, make family time, and work 40 hrs. a week at my sales job. It seemed no matter what I did, my to-do list was endless.
Looking back, I should have asked for help. I just kept thinking that things would slow down, and I’d eventually be able to handle it all, but there was always something else that popped up.
After months of feeling overwhelmed, I began to display signs of anxiety. The only problem was I didn’t know what it was or how to stop it. Back then, I wasn’t educated enough to recognize that my symptoms were related to anxiety. All I knew was that I was turning in to someone who was constantly fearful. The ongoing fear then led to panic attacks, and greatly increased my anxiety level.
These attacks were so terrifying that I became afraid to leave my home. They mainly occurred when I was out in public, making hobbies and daily routines such as driving, standing in line at the grocery store, sitting at my desk at work, going to church, socializing, shopping, and eating out with my family nearly impossible.
Here again, I wasn’t aware that these panic episodes were related to anxiety. Instead of trying to figure out what got me so anxious to begin with, I became afraid of the symptoms I felt.
Soon my anxiety worsened and the frequency of my anxiety grew. Every morning I woke up anxious, wondering how I would make it through another day. Thoughts of going crazy or dying would torment me constantly. I thought about going to see my doctor, but I was afraid he would confirm that I was losing my mind.
I didn’t tell my friends due to fear of embarrassment and rejection. I believed they would think differently of me, so other than my husband and my mom, I kept it to myself. I am convinced I suffered longer than I should have because of my lack of communication. Hiding is a very common response for many of those who suffer with anxiety, but in reality, anxiety is always most effective when kept in secret. When you try to hide your anxiety, it only adds more pressure on top of the anxiousness you already feel. Yet, most feel the need to keep their feelings to themselves because they feel ashamed to ask for help. Another reason is the belief that they’re alone, and that no one will understand.
The truth is those with anxiety are far from alone. A recent studied found that 40 million people over the age of 18 deal with some type of anxiety (social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, etc.) Keep in mind, this is only for those over the age of 18. Who knows how much higher that number would be if it included children under 18. I imagine it would be alarmingly high because I have worked with many children, as young as 7-years old, that were battling anxiety.
The good news is that anxiety can be treated very successfully. I am proof of that as I have been free of anxiety for many years, which I thank God for every day.
My path to recovery began when I realized that I wasn’t created to be anxious, and if I’m not created to be that way, I don’t have to stay that way. This revelation gave me the courage to face anxiety and research this affliction I carried for so long. Upon doing so, I found that I had the power over anxiety—not the other way around—and it changed my life.
If you or someone you know suffers from overwhelming anxiety, panic attacks, or depression that interferes with life, be sure to get help! Freedom is Possible.
Anita Southam is president and founder of Confronting Anxiety, a life-changing program dedicated to helping people just like you get back to living their lives the way they were meant to be lived. Click here to learn more about the Freedom is Possible program and how you can start living your best life.