“Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I’m wide awake and I’m in a pain
A crowded room is a burning battlefield
If I don’t move, I’ll come undone
My heart beats harder, a hammer striking steel
Will I walk now or be like “Wait and Run”?
How do you always get the best of me?
I should be living in a fantasy
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing”
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Anxiety (2017)
Songwriters: Michael Isbell / Michael Jason Isbell / Amanda Shires
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) anxiety is the leading mental health disorder in the U.S. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before age 21.
Individuals experiencing anxiety disorders may have the following symptoms:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time but not everyone has an anxiety disorder. One example I give is my first date. It was a blind date with a girl named Karen. I was quite anxious, however it didn’t interfere with our date. I was 15 and she was 14. We went roller skating. I felt incredibly awkward, but I didn’t experience the symptoms listed above. In fact, Karen and I ended up dating for a couple of years and are still connected via Facebook today.
I typically don’t experience significant episodes of anxiety. There was an instance, however, a couple of months ago when I did succumb to the condition. I was trying to fall asleep. I had already had difficulty falling asleep the previous two nights. In this particular instance, my mind wouldn’t shut down. I then went down the rabbit hole of projecting into the future and getting caught up in a downward spiral of negative self-thinking. It got so bad that I even got out of bed and took a sleep aid and then went into my living room, turned on my stereo at a low volume and fell asleep that way. It was a fitful sleep and I had already determined that I wouldn’t be able to go to work.
When I awoke, the first thing I did was to text my Executive Director, Melinda, to let her know that I needed the day off. Then I called my psychiatrist’s office and left a message describing my predicament. I received a call about an hour or so later with instructions from my psychiatrist to take two or three of my prescribed psychotropic medications. This particular med is a first generation antipsychotic and I’ve been taking this classification of drug for nearly 40 years.
I did as I was instructed that night and the next morning I felt like I was walking in molasses. I knew immediately that this was due to the increased dosage of the medication. I did go to work and even spoke to Melinda about the side effects of the medication. I work at a mental health community-based organization and Melinda has a social work background, so I count myself very fortunate to be able to be able to discuss my mental health in such a non-judgmental environment.
Well, that night I decided to go back to my original dosage of the med and managed to get a decent night’s sleep. I think I was just so exhausted that my mind shut down.
What I experienced is what some people experience regularly. It can be disabling. The unfortunate thing is that there are many in our society who do not understand what it’s like to live with anxiety and lack the empathy to try to be sensitive to those who are suffering.
There are many more resources these days for those living with anxiety in the form of “talk therapies” such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, and self-care tools such as mindfulness meditation, support groups (both in person and online), yoga, music, art and journaling. There’s also an excellent publication, Esperanza, which focuses on anxiety and depression. I use an app daily called, Insight Timer. It’s available for free with no ads and has over 100,000 guided meditations. There is a paid subscription feature that offers courses by teachers on a variety of topics.
If you are experiencing several of the symptoms I mentioned above for more than two weeks and the self-care tools aren’t effective then it’s recommended that you seek some type of professional help, whether it be your primary care physician or a behavioral health specialist. You don’t need to be in this kind of pain.