When my anxiety flares out of control, I’m in quicksand, and I desperately need you to throw me a rope.
I tend to worry – a lot. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a “control freak,” when it comes to the stuff of life, being the captain of my ship helps me keep anxiety at bay.
My mind is a veritable beehive. Whether it’s navigating a work project or making dinner plans, I’m always thinking through the what ifs, carefully curating a playbook to help me land on my feet no matter what happens.
And having anxiety comes with perks. Putting myself through mental gymnastics over somewhat trivial decisions fuels the creativity that keeps life interesting. My ability to buzz through a horde of what ifs is the superpower that allows me to be innovative in many aspects of my life, including writing, crafting and cooking. And I’m hardly alone.
Researchers have been studying the link between anxiety and creativity for decades. Ernest Hemingway possibly had anxiety, and it was a fit of anxiety that led Edvard Munch to create one of the most famous paintings of all time, The Scream.
But too much of a good thing is not good at all. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I sometimes reach a point where one too many what ifs puts my mind into overdrive.
As my sense of control slips away, so too does my ability to rationalize things. Soon there’s a full-blown storm in my head complete with gale force worry. What once felt manageable now feels completely overwhelming. My confident façade crumbles and I’m no longer running the ship. I’m being dragged by it, barely keeping my head above water.
It’s hard for me to tell people — even those closest to me — when my anxiety is raging. I’m worried you’ll think I’m “crazy.”
However, I’ve duked it out with this condition long enough to know a few things:
1. These feelings often pass in a few days.
2. I need and appreciate support from my friends, even though I’m often too consumed with my situation to ask for it.
3. Even the most well-intentioned responses sometimes miss their mark.
When my anxiety is raging, the “rope” I need you to throw me is compassion.
Here’s what I wish you knew:
1. It’s not “just stress.”
When you’re stressed, you worry about a specific problem, like a work deadline. With anxiety, you’re consumed by feelings of fear and apprehension, and you don’t know why. Because I can’t pinpoint the source, and I’m not good with lack of structure, things feel chaotic. These feelings start to snowball and get a little worse each day.
2. I don’t really want to talk about it.
When I tell you my anxiety is raging, it’s more of a status report than an invitation to kibitz (chat). I’m in a mental fog and I feel helpless. I don’t want to answer questions about what’s causing me to feel this way because it’s a mystery to me too.
3. Not worrying is not an option.
If I could figure out a way to stop worrying, trust me, I would. And before offering me any advice, please refer back to #2.
4. I’m hurting.
You may see me at the gym or running my kids to after-school activities. That’s because I refuse to let this illness run my life, but make no mistake: I am not well. Actually, I feel like total crap.
I’m on high alert, my mind won’t stop racing and I can’t relax. By the time I actually tell you how I’m feeling, I’ve been keyed up for days. My tank is empty – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
5. I don’t want you to commiserate with me.
I care deeply if you are working through a challenge, too. But at this moment, I’m not of any help.
I’m highly sensitive when my anxiety is out of control. And here’s where I start getting a little irrational: knowing other people can deal with adversity without coming unglued makes me feel inadequate. And now I’ve found one more thing to worry incessantly about.
6. I don’t want you to try and fix me.
One thing that’s really bothersome is when people try to give me advice. I have lived with this condition for more than 20 years and there’s no quick fix.
I’ve tried medications, counseling and breathing techniques, and they’re just not for me. I don’t have any interest in trying herbal supplements, aromatherapy or “being more positive.” I’d rather ride it out without any formal treatment.
7. I want to be alone.
I’m always touched when I confide in a friend and they want to do something to brighten my day, like going to lunch. But I’m a lone wolf. I just want to sit in a quiet room, pick apart the problem and find my way to calmer waters.
8. A kind gesture would make my day.
Even though I wish to fly solo, there are many ways you can show me you’re thinking of me. Text me, send me something funny to read or if you’re headed out, bring me back an iced tea. These distractions break up the unproductive thought patterns that are holding my mind captive.
9. Crying makes me feel better.
I often cry when my anxiety is raging, sometimes for no reason at all. Crying helps release some of the emotional baggage I’m carrying. Crying alone won’t snap me out of it, but it’s like a breath of fresh air.
10. I’d love a hug.
Research shows that a brief touch, such as a hug, releases oxytocin, a hormone that shuts down painful experiences and promotes healing. A hug is a quick and simple way to show me you care.
11. I am one of many.
Anxiety touches the lives of 1 in 5 Americans. Each person’s journey is different, and we could all use a little compassion along the way.