If there is one thing every human being should practice, it is the idea that we can all acknowledge one another with genuine empathy and understand what is unfamiliar to the best of our abilities. For example, mental illness is a condition that affects 450 million people globally. About every fourth person you encounter is most likely affected by a mental illness. Can you imagine the 450 million stories that can be told?

As someone who has experienced chronic anxiety, I can offer my own experiences and perspectives. By no means does every individual with chronic anxiety encounter the same exact trials as another – but we all share similar obstacles and frustrations.

Anxiety is not your “normal reaction to stressful occurrences in everyday life.” Rather, it is a persistent and exaggerated sense of panic, worry, and tension that not only makes stress-inducing situations drastically more severe than they are, but anxiety can also prevent someone from functioning normally, being present in a social situation, and performing the simplest task.

There are more than ten things that a person can learn from someone who suffers chronic anxiety, but here are some things that can begin to open your eyes to it, or remind you how far you have come.

  1. Anxiety induces panic attacks – and there are multiple forms of it.

A panic attack, defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an episode of intense fear or apprehension that is of sudden onset.” Panic attacks occur randomly or when faced with a triggering situation for the person with anxiety. Since a panic attack is an episode, there will be multiple ways it can be illustrated. Usually, it instills an extreme “fight or flight” response, causing the person to hyperventilate or tremble uncontrollably. Sometimes, it can even lead to a person being frozen in place, eliciting nothing except for their silence and detachment from reality. Analogically, a panic attack feels like jumping into a pool of water – but as you try to swim back up to the surface, something violently pulls you down, over and over again. You’re thrashing your arms, screaming into nothing, and suffocating underneath the water. But the truth is, you aren’t drowning. You just believe you are until the water disappears and you realize that you’ve simply been shaking and standing in your room. The world was still spinning. You just stopped functioning.

2. Panic attacks are uncontrollable once they reach a certain momentum. Someone cannot just “snap out of one.”

As mentioned previously, panic attacks can feel like a person is drowning. You don’t pull someone out of one because each person with anxiety is different. It isn’t just about waving fingers in front of a person’s face and telling they’re going to be okay – because honestly, words might hold no merit for someone lost in their head. A panic attack controls both the mind and body and the attack can last from five minutes to one hour.

3. While anti-anxiety medications are meant to help, they can sometimes spiral into an addictive sense of security.

Medications can be tricky since not all people with anxiety take a prescribed medication. However, those who do can develop an addiction to its effects since anti-anxiety medications in particular can induce an instant sense of calm and sedate someone from the anxiety, pain, and sadness that occurs with suffering from such a condition.

4. We wish we could stop meticulously analyzing every single detail and frantically worry about it. If we could stop, we honestly would.

We really do. In fact, being able to rationalize a stressful situation without any panic is an incredible ability for someone with chronic anxiety.

5. Confronting anxiety, or any other mental illness for that matter is a frustratingly long process with gradual recovery.

If there is anyone in the world who knows that instant gratification is never a miracle, it is one with mental illness. The human mind is this meticulously beautiful mess that doesn’t allow us to change within a day completely. Through medication, therapy, and utter transparency and acceptance of oneself it is possible to overcome anxiety. However, the journey isn’t linear. It takes a thousand different directions, tests the will of a person, breaks them, puts them back together, and somehow continues forward even when someone is still picking up the pieces.

6. It is crippling being unable to function properly.

Normal routines and basic habits can feel like an awful weight on a person’s shoulders sometimes. Making an appointment over the phone, walking out of the house, and even being honest with yourself about pain is a brutal and unforgiving series of events that are so easy for other people, but awful for us to even think about.

7. Crowds are not always our friends – in fact, they can be the most overwhelming part of a social situation.

We don’t know what it is about large crowds of people. Maybe, it’s the fact that so many things and human lives are happening all at once and to absorb the energy of that becomes overwhelming beyond belief. Crowds are just not fun.

8. It is beyond frustrating when someone cannot understand our pain, but anxiety is also ridiculously difficult to talk about.

Being unable to have someone understand you as a person with anxiety brings unexplainable, painstaking loneliness. But you can’t blame a family member, a partner, or friend for not understanding because they haven’t truly experienced anxiety the way that you do.

On the flip side, it isn’t a walk in the park being able to confront anxiety. Let’s just say we put fear, embarrassment, and discomfort into one box, and allowing someone to peek into it takes a lot of strength. Anxiety is the most vulnerable part of some people.

9. Anxiety does not make someone weak – or different.

Yes, having anxiety makes a person more sensitive and prone to psychotic episodes, but it doesn’t mean the world and its people have to treat us like we’re special. We’re human too with our hardships and happiness. We know we can’t stay trapped in an anxious shell forever because there is a life to live and experience outside of it.

10. Anxiety is a part of someone, not their whole identity

Too often, it’s easy to throw a pity party for ourselves because of a natural tendency to have completely frustrating panic attacks, bouts of uncontrollable worrying, and a genuine lack of self-confidence. Anxiety, or any mental illness for that matter, is a series of events, an unfortunate moment in time, or a brain chemistry not in our favor – that means, anxiety is simply a part of us, rather than who we are as a person. If anything, it’s a quality we may even hate about ourselves, but we can never wish it away. We hope to always move past bad days and trust ourselves to get better.

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