There are times in our lives when we all feel anxious. Like happiness, anger, and all the other emotions, anxiety is quite natural. It only becomes a problem when you’re receiving an anxious response in the wrong times. Unfortunately, this can cause ordinary, everyday things, to become difficult and gargantuan things.
Anxiety makes ordinary tasks excruciatingly difficult for some individuals. It affects nearly 40 million Americans. As such, it has become a part of our culture, an ordinary part of our everyday lives, and even though 40 million of us struggle through it everyday of our lives it is no longer viewed as a large problem.
I went to a tech school where if you weren’t anxious there was something wrong with you. This causes two things, the first is acceptance, which is fantastic. But the second was that anxiety was no longer viewed as a problem. People belittled the fact that others were anxious and it was brushed aside like you would a papercut instead of seeing the pain and difficulty it causes to those of us that suffer from it.
I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a child I was scared of everyone. Being a part of a group was less pleasant than any kind of physical pain. I talked very little, and even when I did things always seemed to end badly. It wasn’t just the fear of being around others, it was the fear of being myself around others that truly bothered me. As I grew older, being pushed in front of others more and more, the disorder changed a bit. I continued to suffer from social anxiety but it was accompanied by general anxiety, for everything. Instead of just thinking of everything wrong that can happen around others I started thinking about everything wrong for everything.
For years I lived in my head. Creating worlds and realities that did not exist as my anxiety merged with my depressed and I neared a delusional state. My anxiety turned from social anxiety, to general anxiety, to depression, and yet I still had symptoms of all three, a brutal cycle that took me from one to the other so that I was never alone.
Despite all this over the last few years I have been able to attend a prestigious university, do well in my classes, have four jobs a year during that time, and make a lasting impact on my college. I was able to run and plan conferences and events for hundreds of students. I stood in front of those students announcing artists in front of over 1000 students. What most people don’t realize is that in the beginning doing any of those things was slowly killing me. But as the years passed and as I challenged myself with things that would normally spark my anxiety I was able to learn to control it.
At first it was little things, talking at a meeting, and then a presentation, then presenting to a larger audience and so on. It wasn’t until last year though that I truly understood my anxiety.
During my time in college I had learned to problem solve, and I was very good at it. It was the reason I had chosen engineering, because it’s all problem solving. I was able to live in a world where the box never existed, thinking of a thousand different solutions and their consequences in seconds. Of course not for everything, but for enough. What I realized last year though is that that talent is a consequence of my anxiety. My anxiety allows me to see a million different possibilities, normally very bad things. If I focus on any of those things then I can no longer function. But what if I could use those negative thoughts to find a positive one?
It was challenging, but here are some of the things that helped me turn my anxiety around.
The first was focusing on my diet, primarily my caffeine intake. I quite coffee, which not only allowed me to have better control of my anxiety but it also drastically improved my sleep which helped with my depression.
I also started taking a day off a week. Just one day where I would not touch a single ounce of work no matter what. My only exception would’ve been to support someone that could not wait the twenty four hours. Thankfully, despite having to during the other six days, I was able to take that full day off.
Third, support support support. Having people in your life that understand what you go through goes a long way to helping you recover. Even if they don’t do a thing, just allow you your time to let the anxiety sink in and over time fade can make a huge difference. People that understand that you might act abnormally from time to time and not judge you for it are sometimes the most amazing thing in the world.
The last thing I did was write in a journal. You can call it a diary or whatever you’d like but just writing your heart and soul out can sometimes feel like letting go of it all. For almost a year anytime anxiety was about to hit I released it through pen and paper. It didn’t always work, but it always made me feel better.
There are a ton of other things you can try to better control your anxiety, or as I’d prefer to call it better understand your anxiety. Just remember everyone is different, so things that work for you might not work for others, but the one thing we can always do is try. Try to find out more about your anxiety and yourself, what affects you and what doesn’t and in which ways.
And remember, whether you understand your mental illness or not, there’s no reason to be ashamed of your challenges.
What are some things that have worked for you?
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter or facebook.