What Is Anxiety? And How Can I Deal With It?

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School’s a source for anxiety of all types – it’s hard to concentrate on already-difficult work if people are gossiping. | Source: Shutterstock

Anxiety is part of life. We get it when something makes us scared or concerned: a big test, tryouts for a team, knowing you’re about to get chewed out by a parent, and sometimes even in happy cases, like if you’re about to receive an award or you know that first kiss is gonna happen any second.

Anxiety can be felt both emotionally and physically. Some of us say it feels like butterflies in our stomachs. some of us get sweaty palms, feel our hearts pounding, our fingers tremble, we can’t sit still, we even want to cry or yell. Generally, we have the anxiety for a short period of time, and although it’s annoying, we get through it and move on–it’s a normal part of life. But sometimes anxiety isn’t such a small thing.

Facts about anxiety:

* Symptoms of anxiety that are beyond what the typical person experiences can include: constantly feeling anxious for no reason, worrying about everyday things, panic to a degree where you can’t get through normal events (like a test, completing homework, or even a peaceful family dinner), or a general feeling of doom.

* When anxiety gets to a really high point, some people get panic attacks, which is a situation in which anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it temporarily, and completely, takes control. Panic attacks can be really scary, so much so that some people who experience them become afraid to go out, period. It’s most common to begin experiencing panic attacks between the ages of 15-19.

* Girls are twice as likely to experience anxiety than boys. Studies show it may be because of cultural stressors like body image and the expectation to people-please. One study revealed that of high school seniors, nearly 4 out of 10 girls (compared to fewer than 2 in 10 boys) reported being “frequently overwhelmed.” Among college students seeking mental health services on campus, 60 percent are female.

* Most of us experience social anxiety at some point – like going to a party where you barely know anyone and feel shy or awkward – but some people are so fearful of doing something embarrassing in front of others that they aren’t comfortable in public or with strangers, period. This is called Social Anxiety Disorder, and can isolate people with it because they feel too self-conscious to interact.

* Sometimes anxiety affects our bodies as well as our minds. Common physical problems stemming from anxiety include chest pain, headaches, tiredness, tight muscles, stomachaches, or vomiting. Using drugs, alcohol, or tobacco can worsen this.

* While short-term anxiety can be caused by everyday events like homework or an upcoming date, some people suffer from long-term anxiety caused by trauma in their past, like an assault, a natural disaster, or having someone important die. This anxiety, called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can last years if not dealt with.

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Supportive friends can make an enormous difference in lessening anxiety. | Source: Shutterstock

* There are tons of ways to help minimize anxiety: spend (drama-free!) time with friends, read a book, play sports, create art, meditate, do yoga, sing, snuggle with a pet, write in a journal, or do breathing exercises (you can find tons of breathing exercises on the Web; they’re also something you can do in class or in a situation where you can’t just step away).

* If you think you might have a serious problem with anxiety, TELL SOMEONE. A parent or other relative, teacher, coach, or religious figure may be able to help. See a doctor to check if the anxiety may be related to a health problem, and make sure you’re eating healthily and getting enough sleep. If using relaxation skills like the ones above don’t help, consider talking to a therapist who specializes in anxiety.

Do you ever have anxiety? When do you feel most anxious, and what do you do to calm yourself down? Tell me in the comments!

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10 Comments

  1. avatarstop anxiety says:

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  2. avatarNess says:

    Speaking as someone who has been through anxiety, I can tell you that it does get better, even if it feels as though it never will. For me, my anxiety issues started around January of grade 11. I cried, I had panic attacks, and I was terrified of being alone–which, considering I used to think how lovely it would be to live alone in a small house in a forest, was pretty annoying and a huge change. I had to know someone was there; I had trouble going to school. I actually stayed home for a month, crying frequently and either burying myself in movies and books or sticking close to one or both of my parents. Life didn’t feel real anymore. Some days I thought I could go meet up with my friends; I usually ended up cancelling. Often, if I was in a crowd (generally large) of very noisy people, I’d feel overwhelmed and panicky and have to leave.

    My parents, wonderful people that they are, were extremely supportive. My mother did some research, and found out that I was suffering from anxiety. Reading the information on one of the websites she found helped me a lot; I could at least get rid of the fear of the unknown that was making things worse. I also found out that a lot of well-known people and celebrities also had anxiety issues, such as Barbra Streisand, and one of my favorite actresses, Catherine Tate. On that same website, there was a list of things to repeat to yourself, which also helped me a lot. Some of it had to do with panic attacks: they’re caused by too much adrenaline, they feel awful but they won’t kill or hurt you, and they tend to pass in a few minutes. Hold on, try to breathe more slowly, and you’ll get through them. The adrenaline does fade, and the panic attack does stop. (This is the website: http://anxietynetwork.com/content/coping-statements-anxiety The format has changed slightly since I used it, but all the same information is there. Click around; I’m sure you can find something there that will either help, be interesting, or both. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that the information there comes from people who know what they’re talking about.)

    I refused to see a therapist, which…is a little strange, I suppose, seeing as I like to talk a lot and really wanted to get rid of the anxiety. I think I saw it as an admission of really having a problem; I think I also saw it as a potential waste of money, and I was probably–no, I was definitely–influenced by some of the portrayals of therapists in the media. I don’t know whether a therapist would have helped or not; it’s quite likely that a therapist would have helped me get rid of the anxiety faster, but…I like to be independent, and deal with my most personal matters on my own. I won’t pretend that that’s always a good thing; but that’s how I am.

    The website helped me; a book that we found through the same site also helped (it’s on all sorts of different phobias and anxiety issues, and methods for overcoming them. It was helpful in some places, and interesting in others). My parents (and my friends, to a lesser degree–most of them didn’t know exactly what was going on, and I think I still haven’t told some of them) were supportive and let me know that they were there, and helped me find ways to fight my way free. Another thing that helped was a natural remedy (my family’s big on those. They work pretty well). It’s an amino acid called GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which is found mainly in the brain and eyes, according to the bottle. People with anxiety generally have lower GABA levels; taking GABA boosts the levels, and calms you. It helped me a lot; my mother, who (as far as I know) doesn’t have serious anxiety issues, tried taking some and found it too relaxing. It helped me feel more rational while I was fighting through the worst of it, and I still take a little once in a while.

    Today I still have some issues with anxiety, but much more minor ones. The panic attacks went away before I started grade 12, if I remember correctly, although I was still feeling a bit like the world wasn’t quite real. By the time I graduated, I think I was doing pretty well, even with the added stress from exams. After that, I took a gap year. It’s April now, and I’m going to start university in December. While I don’t really like stress (although, who does?) and can be emotionally affected by it, I’m no longer using the book or the website and I hardly ever take GABA at all, unless I’m feeling particularly stressed. I haven’t had a panic attack in…wow, almost two years, I think. On the whole, I feel like I got through it, I wish it had been in the books I read as a kid so I’d have known what it was when it happened to me, and university is going to be amazing.

    So hang in there. I promise you, it really does get better, even if it feels like it never will. And as to being told you’re overreacting? I don’t remember if anyone said it to me, but…you’re not. You’re really not. To you, it’s real, and you’re not overreacting. Someone who tells you that you are doesn’t understand what’s going on in your mind, and is judging your reaction by how they would react in the same situation. That’s all. But they’re not you, and you’re not them, and that’s not just true for anxiety issues–it’s true for everything. I know people who are terrified of bugs and snakes; I also know people who love them and are fascinated by them. I fall somewhere in the middle, and once wore a snake as a loose necklace for a bit (some people were rather freaked out by that; I was fine as long as it didn’t feel like it was choking me). The people who are scared of bugs and snakes aren’t wrong; the people who love them aren’t wrong either, and me–I’m also not wrong. Each of us is perfectly in the right, even if we can’t understand the other person’s point of view. It’s just points of view, really. Admittedly, anxiety isn’t a very fun point of view to have, but *you are not overreacting*, because *it’s right from your perspective*.

    ~N~

  3. avatarTori says:

    I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, a few serious phobia’s and such, and it is one of the worst things a person could go through. If anyone is struggling, get a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend and lean on them. I have people to lean on and it makes it better, I know this get’s said all the time, but each time, push yourself a step further e.g. instead of going for a walk for 5 minutes, go for 10, etc etc. I’ve had people doubt me and say I over react, but I’ve learnt not to listen. True friends will stand by you, even if they don’t understand, they’ll believe you.

  4. avatarmj_sneaky06 says:

    I completely agree anxiety sucks. I have a really hard time at school and get togethers. I either bite my nails or my leg bounces faster thumper’s after drinking a ton of caffeine. I really do like people and i want to have a good relationship someday but I cant bring myself to speak up and I feel really faint if I don’t get out of the room quickly become distracted. My social life is suffering and I want to stop myself from going into a really dark area of life agan after working so hard to get better :/

  5. avatar4evrmileyfan13 says:

    I had anxiety in 2nd-6th grade. People would tease me about it and my own mom would call me “psyco” sometimes. Eventually, the teasing became so bad that my parents made me change schools without even a say in what school it was. (If I have to change schools, I should choose which one.) Also, my doctor signed me up 4 therapy, or counseling, as my family refers 2 it as. After a year of therapy, I finally feel like I have a better control over my emotions, and I’ve made all new friends at my new school, while keeping the one friend from my last school my mom approved of. My life has been so much easier. :)

  6. avatarLalala says:

    Anxiety?Talk about it.Lived with anxiety for a pretty long time now,it got worse during the time I was diagnosed with diabetes in the summer.When I go out to places,I hate seeing someone out of the blue and tend to get out as quick as possible.However,Im doing a lot better now…haven’t been anxious in a while except for when I have upcoming tests or for some valid reason .

  7. avatarBrightInside says:

    I’m currently suffering from anxiety. It sucks that being only 16 my whole entire life is practically on hold right now. I’m missing the exciting years of being a teen, and yet knowing this, I can’t seem to change it.

    It got really bad once I hit puberty and every year since it progressed until now. I can hardly believe the simple things I could do last year that cause me to freak out now. I rarely leave the house, I obsess about how much food I consume, I sometimes get anxious even talking online and I took up home schooling when going to public school became too stressful and terrifying. I have completely lost contact with every single friend I had, moved thirty minutes away from them all and practically wiped myself off the face of the earth.

    For awhile I’d sneak onto my Facebook to see what my old friends were doing and sometimes a message like, “Hey! Miss you. How have you been at your new place?” would be left on my wall. But eventually even those stopped.

    It makes me sad that I do this to myself yet I don’t know a way out. Despite my therapist, youth worker who works with me by taking my out and testing my limits and even my clinician, I feel as though I’m not really making progress. In the last three years my anxiety has completely taken over my life.

    It’s shattering to hear some of my unsupportive family members (Including my father) accuse me of doing this for some form of attention, or as a way to act out. I’d think someone looking for some sort of attention would make sure they had people around to see their act-outs, not shut themselves in their room for three years with no contact of peers or anyone outside their family and support-group.

    I just hope that before I’m done highschool I’m in a better place so that I’m mentally and emotionally able to go onto college like I’ve always planned. I want to be a healthy adult and be able to have friends again, go outside just to go and even explore in relationships.

    It felt good writing this out. I’m proud of myself for even doing this.

  8. avatarCassidy says:

    I have social anxiety. I can be in a store and be alright, but then I can almost feel like I look anxious. My face looks grim, and sometimes it even scares kids.
    It gets harder to breath because of tensed chest muscles and I’m miserable. I never really knew what started my anxiety, but it sucks. I feel like I’m not safe in public anymore.

  9. avatarSierra says:

    Ugh I know how anxiety feels. But during summer I just say in my room 24/7 by myself and it’s the best thing ever. I don’t actually know if i have it o.O but it feels like it x_x

  10. avatarHannah says:

    I have really bad anxiety. Around family, when im home alone, if im going to go hang out with a friend. All the time. I shake, sometimes hyperventilate, and i sweat a lot. One time i hid behind the fridge for hours because family came over. And i was thinking out loud one time and my friend said i was over reacting. It hurt.

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