Over the weekend, I saw #My1stExperienceWithAnxiety trending on Twitter and I was intrigued to see the responses. What I saw was a wide array of ages and experiences that were different from my experience, yet somehow made me feel less alone. Everyone’s story with anxiety is unique. Everyone has different triggers. Everyone experiences different symptoms. And yet, as I was reading people’s stories, I felt connected to these strangers. I knew what they were talking about. I realized there was a large community of people who understood what I felt like. The link to the hashtag is below in case you want to see what I’m referring to.
So what was my first experience with anxiety? Like some people said, it is hard to pinpoint. First instinct tells me seventh grade after our car accident. That was the first time that my anxiety was overwhelming, but I don’t think that was the first time I experienced it. I started moving around every two or three years when I was seven after my dad joined the army. I was already a kid who worried. But worry is different than having anxiety. I think the first time I actually experienced anxiety was the year my dad deployed. I was in third grade. It was the first time I really thought about what war meant. My dad is a chaplain, so he isn’t allowed to carry a gun and he wasn’t in the midst of fighting every day, but I still knew he was in more danger than he would be in at home. The worry that I felt had a new weight to it. It felt bigger. The period between my third-grade year and my seventh-grade year was sprinkled with moments that were greater than worry. But the first time I felt like I was truly not in control was after that car accident. That’s when the feeling in my chest started to become too much. That’s when tears happened before every school day. That’s when my social anxiety started to take shape. That’s the year that holds the most significance in my anxiety journey. The ebb and flow of it all, and the little moments before big moments were highlighted in a lot of the stories in that hashtag. Anxiety is something that forms in the back of your mind and often grows bigger until you finally notice it for what it is. Knowing that others felt the same was encouraging. Of course, I don’t like that there are so many people having to deal with anxiety, but it is nice to know that I’m not alone.
A big thing I took from the hashtag is that there is no one way that anxiety comes about. Some people were eight years old, while some people were in their mid-thirties. Some people had panic attacks, while some only struggled mentally. Some people went to therapy, while some tried to work it out on their own. Some people can pinpoint an exact day, while some people feel like they have had it forever. No one story was exactly the same. There were elements that were similar, but no one had an identical experience. I think it is important to listen to other people’s stories. Not only to help you feel less alone, but also to get a better idea of what anxiety can look like as a whole. I think learning more about the community can only make it stronger. Supporting others who also struggle with anxiety is so important. Listening to people when they open up will go a long way. I haven’t met the people who tweeted under that hashtag, but I feel connected to them now that I’ve read their stories. Making those connections in person is just as important and something that I want to work on cultivating in the future.
I wish that there were no tweets under that hashtag. I wish no one had a story to share. I wish no one had to experience anxiety. But since there are enough of us to make that hashtag trend, I think it is also important to think about what we’ve learned from our experiences. In therapy, we talk a lot about how I’ve learned resiliency. I’ve learned how to be more emotionally aware. I’ve become a better listener, and therefore a better friend. I’ve started a blog where I actually share my own feelings and experiences which is a huge step for me. Without my experience with anxiety, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Of course, I still have a long way to go and I still struggle but I think it is important to look at your anxiety from all angles. You may learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t have found out otherwise.
I went to Europe. That is a true statement and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. The trip was incredible! It was also difficult. Flying to a different country by myself, changing environments every few days, and not having a true plan was a real test for my anxiety. I’m really proud of myself for doing it. There were moments in the weeks leading up to the trip where I was starting to want to back out. But, I didn’t and I’m so glad I didn’t let my anxiety hold me back. Also a PSA: this post will definitely be longer than my others because I have so much to talk about, so make sure you are comfortable.
The flight was the first big test. I’ve flown by myself before, but only short flights to other places in the U.S. This was a nine and a half hour journey to a different country. Sleep escaped me on my plane ride, but I made it through. I navigated out of the airport in Brussels and took a taxi to our hotel on my own without too much trouble. My anxiety was a little worse than usual that day most likely because I was exhausted. I got 12 hours of sleep that first night in Belgium. I have no idea when the last time I had that many hours of rest was, but man, did it feel great.
Belgium is a great country! Amazing food (frites and waffles, I’m looking at you), incredible beer, and beautiful buildings. We spent our first full day in Brussels and really made the most of our time. We went to an amazing cafe called Askum Coffee Shop, where we ate fresh quiche and crescents. I also got an iced latte that came cold but without the ice that melts and just waters it down. Truly genius! We got the city pass so that we could go to a bunch of museums. We went to Mini Europe, a display of miniature versions of all the biggest landmarks in each European country. Next up was the Comic Strip Museum showing how the Smurfs and TinTin got started in Belgium (who knew!), followed by a chocolate museum. It is important to note that Belgium LOVED audio tours. Almost every museum we went to had an audio component where the people doing the voices got incredibly in character while talking about facts. There were storylines woven throughout. It was truly something special. A little cheesy, but honestly made the whole experience more enjoyable. We ended our Brussels day with pizza and beer (a classic combo).
The next two days were both day trips to other cities in Belgium: Bruges and Ghent. These days were filled with boat tours and wandering around. Bruges was by far my favorite place we visited in Belgium. We had amazing pancakes at a cafe called Cafune, embraced our love of fries at the Frite museum, and walked through a flea market. We also took a brewery tour that ended with a free house beer and introduced me to strawberry beer; a true delight to the taste buds. We got another audio tour in the books at Gravensteen castle in Ghent, which was the best one by far. The voice actor really committed to the role. Half of the tour was spent making eye contact with my friend and rolling our eyes/laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. My favorite part of Ghent was the street covered in street art all the way through. It was cool to see all of that creativity and artistic expression in one place. If you are ever in Belgium, these two cities are a must!
Our last night in Belgium was spent at Delirium, a bar holding the World Record for most beers offered at 2,004. We had to give it a try and boy was it worth it. You tell the bartender the kinds of things you usually like, and they tell you what to order. A great place for someone who is often indecisive, such as myself. The next morning we took one last walk through the main square and said goodbye to that incredible country. My anxiety in Belgium was higher than it usually is on a day to day here, which was expected since I was in unfamiliar territory. We didn’t have any real plans so there was always uncertainty; something that I don’t deal well with. I’m extremely proud of myself for going with the flow throughout the trip. All of these feelings carried over to our next stop as well.
We spent less time in Cologne, Germany than the other two legs on our trip, but it was just as fun! We got a city card just like in Brussels and were able to see the chocolate museum (yes another one) where they made Lindt chocolates, the Ludwig art museum where I questioned whether or not I could be a contemporary artist (one of the pieces was a rectangle of Post-It notes cut in half), Rheinpark (voted the most beautiful park in Germany) after riding a cable car to get to it, and the lock bridge that holds so many locks that there is literally no space left. After that jam-packed day, we relaxed for a while and ate ice cream by the Rhine River. Quiet moments like that were when the idea of actually being in Europe felt particularly surreal. The next day, we took a walking tour around the city with a really funny guide. We learned all about the history of the city and took in all of the amazing architecture. We ate doner for lunch (a delicious kebab sandwich) and went to a local restaurant for dinner where I drank Cologne’s prized type of beer, Kolsch. They just keep bringing them to you until you put your coaster on top of your glass to signal that you don’t want anymore. It was fun to embrace the culture in each city we went to.
Cologne was also my first hostel experience. We were in a mixed 4 person room. The nice thing was that there were curtains on your beds so you could make your bed area private at the end of the night. The facilities were really nice and the people were really helpful with suggestions of places to go and places to eat. It felt safe as well, which was important for me. It had no air conditioning (like most places in Europe) which was a little difficult because it was unusually hot, but I was still able to get to sleep, which is really all I needed. If you ever go to Cologne, I would definitely recommend staying here: Die Wohngenmeinschaft. I found that a hostel added another level of uncertainty that caused me to feel a little more anxious. My anxiety was worse at night because I had time to think while I was trying to fall asleep. I found myself feeling anxious and wanting to go home some nights, but in the morning I would try to refocus on enjoying myself. That is something that I was really proud of on this trip. I didn’t let my anxiety take over and hold me back. I got out each day, tried new things, and had impactful experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I listened to the anxious voices in my head.
Our last stop was in Amsterdam. It was my personal favorite place that we traveled. On our first day there we actually saw some of my mom’s side of the family who happened to be there on the same day to start their cruise (wild!) and ate a late lunch with them. The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets of Amsterdam and getting caught in the rain. That first night in the hostel, we talked to a girl from England traveling by herself for two months. While I really enjoyed my trip, I could never do that. I was seriously impressed. She gave us a lot of suggestions for things to do before taking off on her next adventure in the morning. The first full day there we got…wait for it…a city card! Every museum we went to in Amsterdam was extremely high quality. We went to the big art museum there: the Rijksmuseum, the Nemo museum (a giant hands-on science museum) where we got to see a three floor Rube Goldberg machine, the Van Gogh museum, and the Moco Museum which had a really cool Banksy exhibit. By the end of the day, we were pretty tired, but it was one of my favorite days on our entire trip.
The next two days were less packed full, but we still saw a lot! We rented bikes from our hostel and rode them to the Pancake Bakery for brunch where we tried poffertjes (essentially pancake bites with powdered sugar) which were delicious. It was in a beautiful area of Amsterdam called Jordaan with breathtaking canals and really interesting architecture. I bought some art from a few street artists in this area and it was some of my favorite art I’d seen from any of the places we’d been to. While the morning was great, my anxiety was getting ready to throw a major wrench in our plans. I found out that riding a bike on the streets of Amsterdam is so anxiety-inducing that my chest immediately got tight and I was struggling to breathe as we walked back to our bikes to head to our next location. I knew at that moment that if even the idea of getting on the bike again was making me feel that way, I needed to not ride it anymore. Once I was finally back to the hostel where I could drop the bike back off, I had to sit in our room and take deep breaths for a long time to calm myself back down. This was also a moment I was particularly proud of because I didn’t let my anxiety pin me to the room for the rest of the day. I picked myself up and did a couple more things that night. A canal ride was one and going to the Amsterdam Ice Bar was the second. The Ice Bar was my favorite thing of the whole trip. It is a bar made completely of ice where alcohol is served in ice glasses. It is 15 degrees in the Ice Bar and as a person who is always hot, I was in heaven. If that was a bar in Nashville, I would get over my aversion to going to bars and go to it all the time. Ending the night with my favorite thing of the trip really turned my day around.
Our last day was spent wandering the streets again. We didn’t have set destinations and we walked all over the city just admiring the fact that we were there. We went to vintage shops, a floating flower market, and a couple cafes. It was a nice and relaxing way to end our trip. Our hostel was really nice in Amsterdam as well. We were in a six-bed female room with the bathroom in the room itself, which was really nice. It was really clean, the staff was friendly, and I slept great. If you are ever traveling to Amsterdam, Stayokay Vondelpark is the place to be.
The flight back was the last hurdle to jump over in order to get back to familiar territory and hopefully ease some of the anxieties I experienced on my trip. Figuring out how to get through a foreign airport is stressful, but I made it to my gate. This was after a stop at the McDonalds in the airport, which was way nicer than the Mcdonalds in America. My flight got delayed and we had heavy turbulence in our descent, but I made it back in one piece. This experience is something I will never forget. I really enjoyed learning about other places and cultures. I definitely want to travel more in the future. I am extremely proud of myself for hopping outside of my comfort zone and refusing to let my anxiety hold me back. Hopefully hearing about this experience, will inspire some of you to step out of your comfort zone as well. I can now say from experience, that it is definitely worth it!
I really like my comfort zone. Most of us do. It makes me feel safe and in control; both of which are important in keeping my anxiety at bay. But living life in that bubble is not how you get the most out of it. If we stay in our comfort zones, we miss a lot of the things that the world has to offer. We miss a lot of opportunities that could take our life in an exciting new direction. We let our fear keep us hostage. But how do we step out of that zone?
There have been many times in my life where I have had to wander outside of my comfort zone. Some of them were by choice and other times life pushed me out into the deep end and said: “Time to swim.” Either way, I have some experience. Being in a military family often resulted in life forcing me to step out of my zone. Every two years, I was forced to start at a new school and make new friends. As a shy and introverted kid, that was way outside what made me comfortable. However, with each move, I found that I was better at talking to people. I wasn’t as afraid. I came out of my shell faster than before. I was better able to relate to people. I became resilient. I was introduced to what it means to fight for your country and the sacrifices that come with it. Being forced out of my comfort zone shaped the person that I am today and the way I look at the world. Without that push, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today.
There have also been times in my life that I have stepped out of my comfort zone by choice. As someone who struggles with anxiety, these moments are huge for me. When I was picking which college I would attend, I had no idea where my parents would move halfway through freshman year. I knew they were in Texas for the start and that our extended family lived in Georgia and the Carolinas. With all of my headache issues in the last two years of high school, I wanted to be close to family. I started looking at schools in the states where they lived. But one night, I was talking to some people in a group chat about what God had been saying to us recently. People were sharing their favorite verses and how they were applying them in their lives. At one point someone talked about how they had been trying to step out of their comfort zone. They said that they felt like God was telling them to broaden their horizons to get a better picture of the world and their place in it. I had been wavering between a few schools, but that night I chose the school farthest away from my extended family. That choice was a little scary, but now I am going into my senior year and I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone is what leads you to the most fulfilling things.
Fear is normal. Everyone is afraid to rock the boat. Having anxiety often puts these fears in the forefront of your mind. But it’s important to not let that fear control you. I am about to embark on an adventure that scares me a little. For the next couple of weeks, I will be traveling to Europe to meet up with a friend and explore that part of the world. I will be flying from Atlanta to Brussels in just a couple of days. That’s a long flight by myself. Once I get there and meet up with my friend, I’m sure some of the worries will wear off, but for the few hours that I am alone in a foreign airport, I’m sure those fearful thoughts will be talking loudly in my head. I have never been out of the country and as someone who doesn’t like flying in general, flying to a different country by myself is a big step out of my comfort zone. But I already know that this trip is going to change me. I’m going to see a different part of the world and I’m going to broaden my horizons. When I return, facing these fears will be worth it.
Everyone enjoys their comfort zone, but it isn’t where you should stay. A comfort zone is a lot like locking yourself in your house. You have all the conveniences that you need, but there are things going on outside that you can’t get to. You are just looking out of a window watching life unfold without you. You are comfortable but you aren’t fully living. I know that it’s hard to let go of the comfortable, but you don’t have to take a big leap. Just take one step outside of the zone and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, that zone will feel like a distant memory and you will be able to look at all the experiences you were able to have that shaped who you became.
I realize that this is all easier said than done, but I hope that this encourages you to try just taking one step. Broaden that horizon just a little and see how it shapes you. I’d love to hear about some of the ways you have stepped out of your comfort zone and how it shaped you as a person. Let me know in the comments!
I will be taking a short hiatus while I travel, but I will be back in two weeks to tell you all about the adventure. Thanks for all of your support!
That question comes up a lot in life. We don’t always understand why things in our lives are happening, especially if it is something difficult or unfair. It is the question that I struggle with the most because I rarely get an answer.
Why do I have anxiety? Why won’t it go away? Why is there pain and disease in the world? Why is there suffering? Why do people die so young? Why doesn’t having faith heal people? Why can’t I just go to sleep without my thoughts taking over and not letting me rest? Why are there bad things happening when God is good? All of these “whys” have been spoken in my head or in prayer before. A lot of them have been asked multiple times with no clear answer.
When we ask these questions and get no answer, doubt can creep in. As a Christian, doubt is scary. Suddenly thoughts come into your head that challenge what you know to be true about God. When you see pain or suffering, it is hard to understand why it would be a part of God’s plan that is supposed to work everything for good. Doubt is universal. Everyone doubts. If you are struggling with doubt right now, you are not alone. I go through peaks and valleys. Some days I have no doubts at all and some days I’m struggling to see God’s goodness. In one of those low moments, I looked up sermons on doubt. Tons of sermons came up, showing how doubt is something that a lot of people struggle with, but one video, in particular, caught my eye. It is a spoken word poem by a guy named Joseph Solomon. He put a lot of what I had been feeling into words and empowered me in one of my low moments. Maybe it will do the same for you.
Why? It’s a fair question. One that is healthy to ask because it makes you look hard at the world around you. It makes you look hard at your faith and can help that faith grow as you dig into God’s Word and read his promises. He is always there in the middle of your “why?” We just have to remember to look for Him.
I wrote this poem over a period of a few months and I wasn’t sure if it would ever see the light of day. It highlights where some of my anxiety comes from and is as real as it gets for me. Sharing this is terrifying if I’m being honest. But for whatever reason, I’ve decided now is the time to do it. It is an amalgamation of my innermost thoughts. I hope you like it and I hope that it gives a better picture of who I am. Feel free to share your own poetry or thoughts in the comments below!
Why There Are Walls
by Rachel Hutchings
In my mind, I’m an open book No emotion left unexplored No words left unspoken No hope or fear left unexplained Every thought and feeling being spoken so loud that sometimes I can’t hear the world around me
But the outside world does not see me this way Often they can barely see me over the walls I’ve built Sheltered and protected from the judgments and the pain caused by others Underneath armor and ready for battle
No one act or word spoken has made me this way Years of little moments and of big moves have shaped the way I am I don’t mean to be unappreciative of the opportunities I’ve had Of the places I’ve seen But for every hello came another goodbye
My walls would begin to crack and crumble not long before I had to move on The real feelings and thoughts hiding behind my unaffected facade came into view Friends began to see exactly who I was and I began to let them in For a month or two I would be fully myself No longer afraid to let the world hear what was really in my mind
I had selective amnesia I conveniently forgot that soon I would hear the words that instructed my mind to start building the walls again We have to move It’s time to start saying goodbye
Then came the empty promises of talking on the phone and visiting when possible People checking in consistently for my first month away Eventually, my phone becoming silent Occasional texts to wish me a happy birthday or a happy holiday The phrase out of sight, out of mind becoming reality
I’m not saying that they are the only ones to blame I stopped dialing their number too I let them go when they began to slip away Neither of us fought for friendship We faded into the back of each other’s mind Our now permanent home
Friendships aren’t meant to be fleeting Ideally, they are for a lifetime An endless string of inside jokes and uninhibited expression of yourselves A world free of judgment but full of caring concern A bond created to stay firm
There have been moments where I believed that I was forming those friendships I’d like to think that they thought so as well But little things would creep up on us revealing the hidden truth Distance doesn’t really make the heart grow fonder Often it lets the heart slowly start to forget until those moments become memories
It isn’t like I think that I will never form these friendships I truly think I am in the midst of creating them now I feel my vulnerability starting to overtake the part of my mind that likes to hide This time I’m letting it
But the anxiety I feel when I start to become close with someone is puzzling Why does it make me uncomfortable Why can’t I just let it happen Maybe it is because of the looming goodbye that seems imminent Maybe it is the knowledge that they can actually see me
The feeling is constant lately The tension in my chest and the feeling in the pit of my stomach won’t go away It’s terrible and wonderful It means that I’m finally letting my true self be known It also means I am more exposed than I have ever been
There is always the lingering thought in my mind that they don’t really like me At times, I wonder if they really want me around or if they like it better when I’m not My need to be seen as normal suppresses my need of reassurance But I constantly catch myself analyzing the reactions of those around me It can be exhausting
Writing out these feelings is the closest I have gotten to sharing them One day I may say it out loud or let them read my inner monologue However, even writing that sentence made my stomach drop Their perception of who I am would be shaped by the words on this page My secrets becoming known and my anxious thoughts being revealed
I don’t want to be pitied I don’t want sympathy or constant affirmation of our friendship That would make me feel weaker than I already do I want normalcy I want to be understood without being treated differently
I would love to know what the world looks like without my own anxious lens I wonder if my life would have turned out differently if I could use a different filter People often talk about looking at the glass as half full But I don’t think we necessarily get the choice in how we see it Some of us see it half empty while desperately trying to see it the way people think we’re meant to
I have my own moments of optimism However most of the time I keep my expectations low enough that I can hop right over them That isn’t necessarily the healthiest outlook on life, I’m aware Most of the ways I cope wouldn’t be considered beneficial to my emotional well-being But I’ve got too much bottled up to let it all spill out now, so silence remains my closest friend
It’s funny to me that I tend to speak quietly when the voices in my head are so loud An irony only I can truly appreciate Others often have no idea what really lies beneath the surface My existence embodying the cliché idea of not being able to judge a book by its cover You don’t really know who I am without reading every chapter, line, and word A privilege that I have trouble granting to anyone
It’s disheartening to realize that a piece of my writing may never be read Myself acting as my only roadblock The act of handing over a piece of paper or a laptop is so simple in theory However, in practice, it is one of the hardest things I will ever do
Looking at old friends celebrate the holidays together hit me harder than I thought it would But as much as it seems I want to be as close as we once were I feel a pressure in my chest thinking about a future with the friends around me Sustained friendships are uncharted territory for me I’m walking blindly on a path that seems well-lit for everyone else
Even though I’m unsure of my footing, I’m sure that I don’t want to turn around I’m becoming more confident in myself and in my friendships with each step I take The future, a concept that once seemed destined for farewells Has become something to look forward to
I’m happy to be back and am ready to talk about some of the things I’ve learned as my semester came to a close. My semester was difficult, both in my education and in my life personally. It has been my hardest semester in college so far, so getting through is a major accomplishment. Going to classes was difficult in those last two weeks because my mind was constantly on projects and things that I wasn’t getting done by sitting in a lecture for an hour. However, about a week before finals, my personality psychology professor began his lecture on personality disorders. Before diving in, he began to talk about how important talking about mental health is and shared some of his own personal struggles with us. As he opened up, others started to do so as well, and suddenly that is what the class became. An hour where everyone talked about the ways they have been affected by mental health issues personally. One big takeaway from this conversation was something that my professor said that made many people (including myself) nod their heads in agreement: Sometimes your problems don’t feel big enough to be talked about. But he assured us that while he also felt that way, after seeking help, he discovered that any problem you have is enough. Nothing is too small if it is affecting you.
When you are struggling with your mental health, it can be tricky to talk about. It isn’t something people can see from the outside. You aren’t walking with crutches or wearing a cast. People can’t see what the problem is. That can make talking about your mental health scary. What if they don’t believe me? What if they just tell me to get over it? What if I’m judged? What if I’m just overthinking or overreacting? Is it really that big of a deal? All of those questions have popped into my head at one time or another and a lot of it stems from that feeling of my problems not being enough.
It’s easy to compare yourself to others. Especially now, with social media, you can literally do a side by side comparison of what another person’s life looks like next to your own. We also tend to do this with our mental health. I know that I have met other people with anxiety who seem to struggle more than I do. They have panic attacks frequently and I don’t. They’re on a higher dose of medicine and I’m not. Things like that can make me start to feel like my own anxiety isn’t as important. But it is. It affects me and how I live my life, and therefore it is just as important as the struggles they face.
A lot of times this feeling can stop a person from seeking help or confiding in their support system. My professor talked about how it took a while for him to go to therapy because he didn’t think his problem was big enough. However, after he went the first time, he realized that he wished he’d gone sooner. He described it as going to the doctor for a check-up. Everyone should do it and check in on their mental health. Even things that seem like small issues can affect your life, so it’s important to get them out in the open. Talking about it, either with a therapist or just the people around you, can make you feel less alone and feel like your struggles are valid. Everyone can benefit from therapy. I truly believe that. Don’t let the stigma surrounding mental health keep you away. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Your problems are enough. You are not alone.
Hearing other people in my class talk about their struggles really did make me feel less alone in my struggle, so feel free to leave a comment below telling your own story of your mental health journey. Thanks for reading and supporting me! Let me know if you have any suggestions for future posts now that I’m back!
Recently, my roommate Charis got Margo, an emotional support animal. I realized that I knew very little about why they are needed and I figured some people reading this might have the same questions. I sat down with Charis to get her perspective on the newest member of her family.
First, tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
“My name is Charis, and I’m Rachel’s roommate. I’m a junior at Belmont [University].”
I’ll fill in some blanks as well. She is a music business major and aspiring Christian artist. She’s super talented and an all around great friend. She is someone who I can talk to about anxiety, because she gets what it is like to have it.
When did you first start struggling with anxiety?
“I had it when I was little, but I didn’t know that’s what it was. I would just worry about random things. Like, things that a kid shouldn’t worry about. One time, I got sick at a restaurant and then didn’t want to go out to eat ever again because I was afraid I would get sick again. So my stomach would literally hurt whenever my parents mentioned going out to eat. We didn’t go out to eat for like a year, because it made me so anxious and my stomach hurt. Bt I didn’t know that [anxiety] was what that was. But it got worse my junior year of high school.”
Did you go to therapy back then or take any kind of medication?
“I didn’t really take medicine or go to therapy back then. I tried therapy once because my mom made me, but I wasn’t that into it because I didn’t like it, so then I stopped. Then I started taking medicine my freshman year of college. I’ve been on pretty much the same medicine since then.”
And I know you started going to therapy this year. So what made you want to try therapy now?
“My anxiety just got worse and I tried talking to my mom about it, but she obviously couldn’t help me as much as an actual doctor could. So, I decided to give it a try. This time I’ve found it really helpful. It’s nice to just have someone that you can talk to that is trained to talk to you about anxiety and stuff like that. I still go and I still feel really good after I leave; like a weight has been lifted off.”
So you recently got a dog. Tell everyone about your dog.
“Oh my gosh. She’s the best! She is a mini Australian Shepherd. She’s two months old and she’s great! I’m going to register her as my ESA, which is an Emotional Support Animal, for next school year so that I can have her with me. After talking to my therapist for several months, I brought up the idea of an ESA because I thought that it would help me out to have something else to motivate me. This may sound super dark, but the mornings are the hardest times for me, because I’m laying there anxious and it’s hard to get up. So if I have a dog, I have to get up. I have to feed her and take her out, and that gets my day started so I’m not just laying there anxiously. So when I talked to my therapist, she agreed that it would be a good idea, so then I got a dog and she’s great! And it is already helping me because I have to put a lot of energy into taking care of her. Oh! And her name is Margo. (:”
If people are thinking about getting an emotional support animal, what are some things that emotional support animals help with and how do people go about getting an emotional support animal?
“I think it helps with just giving yourself something else to put your mind on. I feel like animals just make you more happy in general because they are so fun and full of joy. It makes you happy to see them happy! It also helps because you have a bond with your animal. I almost said friendship, but I mean it kind of is like a friendship. They just aren’t humans. To get one, you have to have been seeing a doctor or therapist for at least three months so they have gotten to get to know you and your diagnosis, and what you need. [The doctor or therapist] has to give you the diagnosis and fill out some paperwork. If you are in school, they give it to them and then the school will have to make sure it is okay with your roommates and your RD. (Fine with me, by the way. I met her and I already love her!) It is also important that she is the right fit for an apartment. So Belmont has a weight limit of 30 pounds. You just have to find an animal that is good for your personality and for where you are living!”
I really enjoyed sitting down and talking with someone about their anxiety journey and I hope that this has given some insight into what an Emotional Support Animal can do for a person. Leave a comment below if you have your own experiences with ESAs and also let me know if you would want more interview style posts! Thanks for reading.
My roommate suggested that I write this post and I thought it was a great idea. For people that don’t have anxiety or struggle with their mental health, it’s hard to know exactly how it feels or how to act when someone else is struggling. Is it better to leave them alone? Should I ask if they’re okay? Is there a way I can help them? All of those questions are valid and I think it’s important to open up a dialogue with the people around you to try and give some answers.
One very important note to make here is that everyone is different. Anxiety doesn’t affect everyone the same way and so the way you go about interacting with people who are struggling can look very different. It is always important to ask the person you are trying to support what specifically helps them. Don’t take my suggestions in this post as absolute truth. Use it as a guide that can be molded to fit the person you have a relationship with.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when talking to someone struggling with anxiety is that they aren’t choosing to have this issue. Therefore, they cannot choose not to worry. There have been various times in my life where I would be describing something I was feeling particularly anxious about and the response I got was something like “Just don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal.” While in the grand scheme of things that statement might be true, to the person feeling anxious, it is a big deal. Undermining their feelings makes them feel self conscious. Instead of telling them to just not worry about something, try talking to them about why this thing is worrying them and then give suggestions on ways to deal with that worry. Say something like, “I understand that this upsets you and I know it feels like a big deal right now, but if you look at it from this angle it isn’t as bad as you think.” Give them an alternative mindset without disregarding their feelings. Make them feel heard and then lay out a logical way to look at and attack the problem. We know what we are thinking is illogical, but we struggle with making ourselves believe the logical solution. Hearing someone else lay out that solution can be helpful.
If you know that a friend or partner has anxiety and you know the things they get most anxious about, be proactive. For example, if they have social anxiety and you decide to go to a party, be receptive to their needs. This doesn’t mean baby them. Treat them normally, but check in with them and ask if they are having fun. Don’t leave them to fend for themselves at a party. That is a worst nightmare scenario for people with social anxiety. Hang out with them and if they decide they want to leave, don’t get angry at them. That will only make them feel worse. Be respectful and listen to what they need in the moment.
Let them talk. Sometimes when someone is feeling anxious about something, they just want to get it off of their chest. They don’t always want advice. They just need someone to listen. All you need to do is sit there and give your support.
Ask questions. It’s perfectly normal to not understand what having anxiety is like if you don’t struggle with it. The only way to better understand your friend’s feelings is to ask them to describe it. I am always happy to answer questions because it shows me the person cares enough to ask. When you are able to understand anxiety better, it will help you be less annoyed when your friend can’t do something because their anxiety is too much.
Finally, be patient. We are aware that we sometimes make normal things more difficult. That is just the way our brains work. Going to a party is different for us, than it is for you. Riding in a car is different for me than it is for you. Normal things are just a little more difficult for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be included. It’s important that you treat us normally, while having in the back of your mind that you may need to be patient in certain situations. Be respectful and be kind. That’s all we can ask for.
A lot of these things are broad ideas that I think are helpful to think about when interacting with the people in your life who struggle with anxiety. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is important to start a dialogue and to determine what is most helpful for them. Just talking to them and wanting to understand will go a long way.
Start talking in the comments below about other tips you have. I am by no means an expert, so more opinions are always welcome! Thanks for supporting this site!
Everyone has different ways of coping with their anxiety. There is no right way to cope. The things in this list are random things that specifically help me to calm down or distract me from all of my stressors. Maybe some things on this list will help you too or maybe you have other random things that help you. I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
This list of things is in no particular order, but they all help me in some way:
Driving and Listening to Music
I love to drive. Since the moment I got behind the wheel, I have been hooked. I was nervous at first because I had car anxiety after the accident in seventh grade, but when I’m in the driver’s seat I don’t feel anxious. It probably has to do with the fact that I am in control of the car and not just a passenger. The main point is that I feel calm in the drivers seat. When life starts to feel particularly overwhelming, I get in my car, hit shuffle on the songs on my phone, and drive aimlessly. I never have a destination in mind. I never know how long I’ll drive for. Could be ten minutes. Could be over an hour. I drive until I feel some of the stress start to melt away. Sometimes I do this alone and sometimes friends join me, but it always makes me feel better.
I feel like this might seem strange to most people, but it truly is something I do when I start to feel my anxiety increasing. When my headaches were super bad during my junior year of high school and I was put on homebound status, I couldn’t do a lot. I couldn’t focus on anything for very long without my headache pain increasing. During that time, I had a deck of cards that I put by my chair and I got really good at shuffling cards. I tried to teach myself magic tricks and played card games, but shuffling is something that became soothing. The sound of the cards and the motion itself were calming to me. I still keep cards with me in my room and sometimes when I’m at work for those times that I start to feel increased anxiety. It’s a weird habit, but it is something that works for me.
Slime and Stress Balls
I was given a stress ball by my therapist when I was telling her about feeling fidgety when my anxiety worsened, and after I started using it, it really helped. My roommates and I also have a weird fascination with slime and putty and that does the same thing for me. It gives me something to do with my hands. My favorite thing like this that I have was part of a Secret Santa gift from my roommate. It’s called a Sqwooz. It’s basically a really squishy stress ball that kind of feels like there is foam inside. It’s hard to describe, but it has come in handy many times when I started to feel overwhelmed.
We recently got a Wii for our apartment and therefore have played a lot of Mario Kart. It’s a great game and I’ve gotten better the more I’ve played. It’s a game that requires attention and therefore is a welcome distraction from my overwhelming school life on occasion. It’s important to me that I play as Luigi on a Mach Bike and would feel off my game if that wasn’t the case. So clearly I’ve played my fair share since I have such strong opinions. Anything that can take my mind off my worries for a while is a win for me. It’s also important that I continue to play until I don’t fall off of Rainbow Road anymore. I will do it one day.
These are a few things that I notice help me when I’m feeling particularly anxious, and I thought I’d pass them along. They may or may not help you, but it’s always good to try different ways to cope so that you know how to handle the increasing anxiousness when it appears. I’m always looking to try new things as well, so leave a comment telling me what random things help you!
Today is my parents’ anniversary. They have been married for 30 years, which is a massive accomplishment. It’s a real blessing to have parents who show you what love should look like. I am grateful that they have always been united and supportive parents for my brother and I. Especially growing up in an environment that had constant changes, they made sure that everything felt stable within our family. I’m lucky to call them my parents. Happy Anniversary! (I know they’re reading.)
My parents have always been a great support system for me, but there are other people who I have found support from as well. It’s important to find people that you not only get along with, but that you can be vulnerable with. I hate vulnerability. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I will say it again because it is extremely true. I’m not good at voicing my thoughts or feelings. Writing is where I usually get all of that out. However, writing is solitary and doesn’t allow for outside thoughts and opinions that may help your brain see a situation you are going through differently. Finding people to surround yourself with who love and support you, but also aren’t afraid to tell you when you are overthinking or making a mistake is so important. I’m lucky, because I have a handful of people who I can rely on in that way.
First and foremost, I have my family. My mom, my dad, and my brother Nate. As I stated in the beginning, my parents have always been incredibly supportive of me. They always made sure to let me know that as long as I was doing my best at whatever I was doing, they were happy. They didn’t put added pressure on me to be number one or get the top scores, which made me want to do it for myself. They made sure to say “I love you” every day. Even though I bottle up my emotions most of the time, they were always there for me when they all spilled out. My mom stayed home with us so we could have some stability while we moved all around. They came to every event they could come to and cheered on the sidelines. They are great parents. I don’t know where I would be without them. I get a lot of my best qualities from them. My brother is great, too. He probably knows the most about me. I feel like it’s not always the case that a brother and sister are so close when they are a few years apart, but I’ve really appreciated having him by my side growing up. In a lot of ways, he is the only person who understands what it was like moving every two or three years. For a little while in each place, we were each other’s only friend. He is always there to make me laugh when I’m having a bad day. We have a Snapchat streak coming up on 850 days that we don’t plan to stop anytime soon. He is a great big brother and I’m lucky to have him as someone I can talk to whenever I need to.
My friends that I’ve made in the last few years are also a great support system to have. The friends I’ve made in college are some of the best people I’ve ever known. They are extremely kind and always there to listen when I’m struggling with something. Whether it’s something small like school stress, or big like grief, they are there for me. I don’t cry in front of people, really ever. It’s that vulnerability issue again. So the moment where I did cry in front my friends was a big deal for me. I realized that I am comfortable being fully myself with them. They know about my struggle with anxiety and understand it (a couple of them struggle with it too). There is no judgement among us. We genuinely enjoy spending time together. That could be watching a rom-com for the tenth time on our couch or driving for an hour at night with no destination, listening to music. They are there for the everyday moments and the big life moments and I’m so happy I have them in my life.
There are various other people who also give me support in different ways. I’m grateful for my therapist who listens to all of my anxious thoughts and provides a new perspective. I appreciate all of my coworkers for making work a place that I actually look forward to. There are professors who are genuinely there when I’m stressed about an assignment. I’ve found people who support me and who I support. When you are struggling, the people around you are so important. Talking about your feelings can help. Part of the reason I created this website was because I wanted to foster a community where people felt safe expressing their emotions and struggles. We are all dealing with something. No one has a perfect life. There are always people out there going through something similar. As this community grows, I hope that you are able to find people to talk to. I’m here to listen as well. Trust me. I know how scary it is to let people in, but finding a support system is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share your stories in the comments below. I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from y’all.