Mental Health

The Debilitating Anxiety Symptom No One Ever Talks About

Until only recently, I kept a big aspect of my anxiety hidden from the world because I was deathly afraid of the consequences I would suffer if I talked about it. I was already fearful of the judgment I may experience from opening up about my anxiety, but this was huge. What if people thought I was actually crazy? The anxiety of this backlash made me feel physically ill, and I felt like there was no one I could turn to who would understand.

I'm talking about intrusive thoughts, which the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland say "become obsessive, provoke fear and shame, and often lead to doubts about sanity, control, motives, character and safety." It's common in those struggling with general anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

A majority of my life has been spent dealing with anxiety, so as far as I can remember, this symptom has always affected me. I never understood why frightening images and scenarios would pop into my head, leaving me anxious and scared. I didn't know I was experiencing intrusive thoughts or why they were disrupting my reality.

People who suffer from anxiety often experience these episodes where they see an alarming event playing out in their head. These intrusive thoughts are frightening scenarios we create, causing us to think of harmful things we might do to ourselves or people we love.

The thing is, though, we would never act on these thoughts, and we know that, but we feel the fear as if they are really happening, and they make us incredibly uncomfortable. These thoughts are an automatic reaction and completely out of our control. Our brains become a movie reel of thoughts and actions we play out in our mind, and we can't look away.

When I was a kid, these intrusive thoughts came in the form of monsters, like the ones you saw in movies. Despite knowing monsters didn't exist, they came alive in my mind and gave me physical symptoms of fear. Sometimes it would get to be too much, and I would hide under my covers and cry at night. I knew in my mind nothing could hurt me because there was physically nothing there, but I couldn't understand why these images haunted me.

As I gained more life experiences, my intrusive thoughts developed into other fears. Now that I was older, these thoughts turned into new scenarios, ones that felt more real. For example, when I started driving, I'd see myself veering off the road, hitting a side rail, flying off a ledge, or running head-on into a semi. I didn't really want to do any of these things. I just wanted to get to my destination, but these thoughts would keep running through my mind, and I couldn't stop them.

I've learned that these intrusive thoughts are our brain's coping mechanism for fear. They distract us from the anxiety we are feeling in real life with a fictitious event we can focus on instead. This is your brain's way of trying to help you with the anxiety you're experiencing in real life. It's as if your brain is telling you, "Look, I know you're afraid, but it could be worse, so whatever is going on isn't that bad."

Believe it or not, my childhood monsters have followed me into adulthood, and I still see them when I get anxious. Because I've been experiencing them for so long, I've mostly become numb to their effects. However, I do pay attention when these intrusive thoughts surface, as it's an indication that my anxiety is off the charts and I need to stop and assess myself.

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4 Ways to Support Someone Struggling With Anxiety

From the outside looking in, anxiety may be confusing and hard to understand. What might be especially hard is knowing how to comfort someone who is dealing with anxiety. You may feel like if you say the wrong thing, you’ll set me off and make everything worse — but please don’t let that stop you from comforting the ones you love. Any effort is truly appreciated. Even if I don’t show it in that moment, it really does mean the world to me that you’ve acknowledged I am struggling and you are trying to help. Admittedly, knowing what to say or do isn’t always easy. Here are a few ideas to keep in your back pocket if you ever need to help a loved one through their anxiety.

1. Distract me
When I’m feeling anxious, sometimes all I need is a change of subject or scenery. Just simply going on a walk produces endorphins that can help ease my anxiety. Suggest getting out of the house to get a breath of fresh air so I can refocus my thoughts. Change the subject by talking about something positive, something I can get excited about and let me slowly unwind from my anxiety.

2. Don’t say anything
Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything, just be physically present. Snuggle up beside me, give me a hug or just hold me. That physical reassurance that you are here and you love me means everything. It will help me slow down my breathing and remember everything is OK.

3. Talk about it
It’s not that I don’t want to talk about my anxiety, I just think you don’t want to hear about it. If you open up the conversation, it will help me work through my feelings. By talking through these emotions, you can help me work through my anxiety and rationalize my anxious thoughts.

4. Reassure me
When I’m panicking, I often forget the things I fear aren’t actually happening in real life. I have a tendency to get stuck inside my own head and get completely lost in my anxious thoughts. To help pull me out, just gently reassure me everything is OK and remind me the things I fear aren’t actually coming true.

The best thing you can do for your loved one is love them through anxiety. Be there however they need you and just be patient as they work through it. There’s no rule book on coping with anxiety — most of us are learning how to deal with ourselves just like you are.

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How Weightlifting Eases My Anxiety

Throughout my life, I’ve unsuccessfully tried several different gyms and workout routines, never quite finding the right fit for me. I always had the desire to get in shape and go to the gym, but I continually considered it a chore that would only heighten my anxiety. I had never in my life considered weightlifting. I believed all the misconceptions out there, thinking I would never be strong enough and it would make me bulky and unattractive.

Weightlifting has provided me with a healthy outlet for my anxiety and even on my worst days, I walk into the gym and find instant relief. I’m forced to solely focus on my lifting, allowing my brain to shift away from its anxious thoughts. I feel a release from all my daily tension as I work through my reps and my workouts provide an outlet for all of my pent-up anxious energy.

Every time I lift a little heavier and reach a new goal, I feel continual reinforcement that I can get over my anxiety. I’m motivated to push myself harder because in lifting, failure is OK and even encouraged, because failing makes you better. Embracing this mentality at the gym has helped me adapt it in my daily life.

Of course, the people who have been guiding me along the way are a huge part of my journey. The gym has become my place of refuge, allowing me to abandon my anxieties at the door so I feel refreshed when I leave.

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Life as a Gemini with Anxiety

Buckle your seat belt and get ready for the ride because life as a Gemini can be wild. With a Gemini, you already never know what you’re going to get, and as if the twin sign wasn’t confusing enough, mixing in anxiety only adds fuel to this already unpredictable fire. I’ve found a lot of my Gemini traits are either restrained or intensified by my anxiety, which leaves me conflicted. My anxiety often gets in the way of me living life to its fullest potential. Here are seven typical signs of a Gemini and how they are affected by my anxiety.

It’s said that people who have the Gemini sign live by the seat of their pants and are always ready to see and experience new things. I have a deep longing for adventure and if I stay in one place too long, I tend to get moody. But, my anxiety stops me from having any real adventures. If I’ve been cooped up inside for too long, I’ll do simple things like go for a drive or take a walk, but I’m too anxious to pursue anything more exciting. Adventure is like a bad itch I can’t scratch.

As a Gemini, I never like to live the same day twice and I’m often bored with routine. But, spontaneity is not a word found in my personal vocabulary. When I do dare to take an adventure, every step is carefully calculated and completely mapped out. If something veers off course, my anxiety will kick into high gear and you can basically forget about the rest of the trip until I have time to collect myself because my mind is already gone.

People with the Gemini sign are restless and because of their spontaneity and love for adventure, they are always on the move. I tend to have lots of energy. Unfortunately, that energy is often sucked up and used to fuel my anxious thoughts and feelings. I’m often emotionally drained daily just trying to keep up with everything I have going on in my head.

With so much energy, we’re extremely motivated and are ready to go full force on a new idea at a moment’s notice. I’ve found that I’m extremely motivated, but my anxiety drives that trait through the roof, so much so I often crash and burn easily. I don’t exactly know how to take things in moderation, and often go all-in to get something done, despite how exhausting it may be.

As a Gemini, I like to know a little about a lot of topics. I love learning, but if I stay on one subject too long I can easily get bored. This actually causes a lot of anxiety because the Gemini part of me is ready to move on to the next subject, but my anxiety has me continually second guessing my knowledge.

People with the Gemini sign are true social butterflies. They know how to work a room and love being the center of attention. This trait is really conflicting for me because I am not an outwardly social person. I will dread a social event and try talking myself out of it until the moment I step in the door. When I first start talking to new people, I’m very self-conscious. Sometimes my anxiety does get the best of me and I never can quite recover. There are other times though when the light switch turns on and that social Gemini comes out, but I never know when it’s going to happen.

Naturally, the twin sign is continually contradicting themselves and a Gemini has a hard time making a decision and sticking to it. This trait is only amplified by my anxiety. I’ve found the more anxious I get, the more indecisive I become and I often can’t even decide what to have for dinner if it isn’t already planned.

Studying my star sign has really given me a point of reference when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Although I don’t believe being a Gemini totally defines me, it helps me realize when I’ve let my anxiety to take the lead, and it allows me regain control.

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