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What Does Chronic Anxiety Look Like?

What does chronic anxiety look like to you? Do you imagine sweaty palms, a rapidly beating heart, shallow breathing and a panicked expression? Could it hide behind a smile, a laugh or a confident demeanor? The answer is

yes, to both.

I’m not talking about situational anxiety. That’s something very different. That goes away. Chronic anxiety does not. And even more misleading, is the fact that chronic anxiety can look like just about anyone or manifest as just about anything. It could look like shyness. It could look like frustration or anger. It could look like the young professional who seems to have it all together who’s mood never falters. It could look like that nice gentleman behind you in line at Starbucks, the officer who just gave you a speeding ticket or the coach who always motivates you to do your best. It could look like the single mom with three children in front of you at the grocery store, the neighbor who waves at you from across the street or like the high schooler who always brings home all A’s. The truth is, chronic anxiety can look like any one of us and can manifest in many different ways.

Most of those who suffer from chronic anxiety have learned to do so in silence. They’re high functioning and very efficient in keeping it hidden.

Chronic anxiety and depression are only a couple of the most common, among a slew of other mental health conditions, that hide among and within us. It’s highly likely that you or someone you know suffers from some sort of mood, anxiety, trauma or impulse disorder, just to name a few.

And you know what? It’s NOTHING to be ashamed of. You’re not broken. You’re not damaged. You’re not abnormal. In fact, you’re very normal! And rather than suffer in silence, we should be talking about it. Maybe by talking about it, we discover the treatment that we may need, or we’re able to reach and help someone else going through the same thing. We may say the one thing that finally helps it click in someone else's mind and convinces them to at least consider getting help. We may even learn something that can help us manage our own mental health condition.

We live in a “go go go” society. We’re expected to take on the world, be everything for everybody and do it all with a smile on our face. We juggle work, kids, homelife, friends, family, school, our health, our kids wellbeing, everyday stressors and SO Much more! However, there are so many of us who barely keep our heads above the water emotionally. We suffer silently, not realizing we’re not actually alone.

Mental health is SO important, arguably even more important than physical health. Even if we don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, our mental health can still be at risk. And it’s important that we talk about it.

Most of us need to take better care of our mental health. We need to seek treatment if needed, but we also need to make sure we’re not continuing to sacrifice our mental health for the sake of our jobs, other people, our home life or our reputation. We need to put our mental health on our list of top priorities. We need to be gentle with ourselves, to take breaks when we need them, to say “no” sometimes and do what we can to lessen the stress in our lives. Stress can significantly impact our mental health. Other things we can do to help manage our stress levels is get an adequate amount of rest, to exercise regularly, make sure we're drinking enough water and getting enough vitamins in the foods that we eat. We need meaningful relationships. It's all connected. If our mental health is suffering, then it will bleed into other parts of our lives and those parts will begin to suffer as well. It can then start to very negatively affect our physical health.

It’s also important that we check in with friends who we may not realize are suffering. You never know when your reaching out could make all the difference in the world to that person. If they’re doing just fine, then at least they know you cared enough to reach out. However, if they’re not OK, then you may have just saved a life.

Most people that know me, don’t know that I suffer from chronic anxiety. They probably do know how I suffered from severe postpartum depression after the birth of my second son, which nearly cost me my life, but they don’t know that the anxiety that came on the tail of that depression never really went away.

If you don’t know me, you’d probably never guess that chronic anxiety plagues my life and is even debilitating at times. I generally always have a smile on my face, am always on the go and most of the time I seem to have it all together. I’m a happy, healthy, small business owner, with a beautiful family and an overall good life. The American dream, right? Well, appearances can be deceiving. There are times that the anxiety (surrounding the irrational fear of something bad happening to my young children) is so strong that I can’t catch my breath and can’t think clearly. Sometimes I can’t complete sentences or am so overwhelmed with fear [for my kids] that an irrational impulse to take action to protect them (from a threat that’s not really there) takes over my body. I've been known to act irrationally. Think mean mama bear to the extreme. On a lesser level, it also makes me hold them back from things they should get to experience as kids, like climbing trees, visiting with friends without me hovering over them, riding their bikes in the driveway, or even something as simple as eating grapes without me still cutting them up into tiny pieces (my boys are 7 and 9 years old).

I am also starting to see my own fears manifest in their own actions and personalities. I can see the apprehension in them that I unintentionally put there. I don’t want that for my little boys. I don’t want my chronic anxiety affecting them anymore than it already has. I also have major trauma from a past experience that still affects me every single time I get behind the wheel of a car, on any major highway. That is also chronic and even paralyzing at times.

My chronic anxiety is something I’ve sought treatment for and am still actively working towards a manageable solution. It's something I see a doctor and take medications for. It’s something I constantly struggle with, but have learned to talk about, rather than hide. It’s something that I have to deal with on a daily basis. I say all this to say that it’s really important that we talk about what we're going through, that we keep a check on our own mental health and that of those whom we care about.

Chronic anxiety and so many other mental health conditions (medically diagnosed ones and/or untreated chronic stress) often go unnoticed when it’s right in front of us. What does it look like? It looks like you…and it looks like me.


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