By Teal Garth
Earlier this year, my friends and I took a road trip to New Orleans for the weekend. On Saturday morning we were in our hotel room getting ready to explore for the day. I was sitting on the floor doing my makeup, one eye in on my mascara routine when all of a sudden, I just had to stop. For some reason, everything in my body was telling me I couldn’t possibly finish applying my mascara. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t focus, and I couldn’t explain to my friends why I had to abruptly leave my spot on the floor to go lie down on the bed and stare at the ceiling.
This was not my first, but one of my worst anxiety attacks. My friends didn’t understand when I told them I just couldn’t physically make myself finish getting ready and leave our hotel room to go walk around crowded, noisy streets. They thought I was hungover from Friday night or that I was just tired and being lazy. I couldn’t put into words what it’s like to feel that sudden rush of anxiousness without warning and without anything triggering it.
Since then, I’ve gotten better at knowing when an anxiety attack is coming, and sometimes preventing it or lessening the severity, but explaining it to people who haven’t experienced it hasn’t gotten any easier. Here is what I wish I found the words to say to all the people who couldn’t and still can’t understand my anxiety:
- Anxiety really is all in your head, but it your brain is a powerful organ, and it has the ability to consume your entire body at times.
- Stressful situations do increase my anxiety, but it also doesn’t have to be triggered by anything at all. Sometimes you’re just anxious because you are.
- Imagine your brain screaming at you that something is wrong, but not telling you what it is, and instead just increasing your heartrate to the point where you feel like you can’t breathe and you might have a heart attack. That’s what an anxiety attack feels like.
- Sometimes my brain feels like it’s so full of worry and stress that it doesn’t have room to produce emotions or words. If I ever seem like I’m in a bad mood, in my own world, or just plain mean, this is why.
- Not all anxiety attacks are a dramatic scene of gasping for air and clutching your chest. I could be fighting off huge waves of anxiety with a look of complete calmness on my face, and you would never know what was going on inside my mind.
- Tons of people struggle with anxiety, and tons of people have it way worse than I do, so just be mindful next time your friend’s or family member’s or a stranger on the bus’ behavior seems a little off.
There are probably an endless amount of bullet points I could use to try to explain the unfortunate phenomenon that is anxiety, but the truth is you can’t truly understand it unless you’ve experience it firsthand. The goal of this post was not to help people fully understand, but to help them be more understanding to others when they are struggling.