By The Drum’s Stephanie Boltje
Three things I know about anxiety
Struggling to swallow, your heart pounding and convinced an impending disaster is looming: this is what Rebecca Brown feels like on a regular basis.
Rebecca was diagnosed with anxiety when she was 19, but remembers immense feelings of dread from the age of 12.
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«I remember feeling just being worried every day and exhausted at the end of the day, and I just wanted the day to be over,» she says.
Rebecca is one of more than two million Australians who experience an anxiety condition — one in three women and one in five men.
She shared three things she knows about anxiety with The Drum this week.
1. Stop saying: ‘Don’t worry’
They might say: «Don’t worry, there is no need to worry, you have nothing to worry about. You have a great life, what have you got to be worried about?»
«You don’t have children, you don’t have a ridiculously high mortgage, why would you be worried?»
But it is more than just worrying. Dread attaches itself to every waking moment.
Sometimes they may try and fix it: «I’m sure if you just gave yourself more time to get ready you wouldn’t be so flustered when you turned up».
«Maybe you should just go to the gym more»: It is a lot more complicated than that.
While going to the gym certainly would help my anxiety, and it has, it comes back. My anxiety tends to grow in intensity during the day. I go to the gym in the afternoon, but by the time it comes to dinner, it has returned.
People don’t generally ask about anxiety.
I think sometimes it becomes a bit uncomfortable and they are afraid to say the wrong thing.
I find that I will have to explain myself if my symptoms are obvious.
2. You have unrelenting standards
People with diagnosed anxiety can have a chronic perfectionism in their personality.
You don’t have any give or take — you have conditions and boxes that need to be ticked.
If someone changes the goal posts, it can be really stressful. Anxiety makes you very inflexible.
My condition has impacted my life quite significantly.
I have to be regimented in the things that I do. I have some amazingly talented friends who are in bands and I don’t go to see them.
They question: «You seem to have enough time, why didn’t you come?»
Because, I’m so terribly anxious. I need to see clear spaces in my diary and sometimes social commitments can feel overwhelming.
If I’m feeling really anxious, it takes me ages to have a shower and get dressed.
I’m running around in circles for an hour, trying to get ready. Often, I can’t do it.
I was at a music concert recently. We were sitting in quite a confined space and I couldn’t really see where the exits were.
First, I started to feel a bit sick and nauseous and couldn’t swallow. I felt like I was going to faint. It is scary, because you feel like you are going to pass out.
I’m not working at the moment because of my condition. I find there is a stigma around not working.
People make assumptions about why I’m not, but my GP, psychologist and psychiatrist must reaffirm that every month.
Anxiety has also impacted my relationships. I have had a couple of partners who have left me because I needed to be more relaxed or seek treatment in a psychiatric hospital.
That can be hard on partners. We are not all cut out to see our loved one go through that sort of thing.
3. There are tricks to manage anxiety
When you are having a panic attack it is really distressing.
Along with the physical symptoms come thoughts — scary thoughts.
Am I going to die? What if I faint? What if I don’t wake up? What is wrong with me? Am I having a heart attack? I can’t breathe, I can’t swallow.
I have gathered some information along the way that helps me to live with it, knowing what to do when I have a panic attack in shops or in the car.
The first thing I do is check whether I have any chewing gum in my bag. I use that a lot. Somehow it shifts the brain.
It will stop the adrenalin and the «fight or flight» in its tracks most of the time.
Sometimes I may need to get a little more serious and get some ice from the freezer.
If I’m out shopping, I may need to go to the freezer section and pick up some frozen veggies (I know it sounds ridiculous).
I also jump up and down on the spot. If there is a bathroom, I’ll go and jump up and down, sometimes for five minutes.
I employ self-care such as taking myself up to the shop and having a coffee, going to the gym, walking my dogs, playing and writing music.
I’m lucky that I have had a lot of therapy in my life.
In my 20’s, I started taking medication and didn’t question it. I trusted the health professionals.
In my experience, medication enabled me to function better. It did not «numb» me at all and it still doesn’t.
It enables me to live my life and has, at times, actually saved it.
I don’t think there is a cure. It’s a health condition, so you learn to manage it.
Rebecca Brown is an ambassador for Beyond Blue. You can also hear more about anxiety on The Drum on iview.