The definition of anxiety, according to Merriam-Webster is as follows:
1a: painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated illb: fearful concern or interestc: a cause of anxiety
2: an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it
If you would go back a 100 years ago, I wonder what the actual definition of anxiety was? Trust me, I did an internet search, and I didn’t get many hits that were relevant.
What I did get when I did a search on Google for “anxiety disorders” was 16,900,000 hits. Yes, boys and girls, that is 16.9 million hits. Even if you assume some of these are for benign definitions or something of the like, being generous, you divide these hits in half, you still have a huge number. Anxiety is a problem for many, many people. We can agree on that.
I will stand up, and in my best support group voice say, “My name is Debra and I’m an anxiety sufferer.” If you have read this blog at all, you probably figured that out. What is at the root of this anxiety, may not be what the average person may suspect. Let me explain.
I belong to an online anxiety support group, Anxiety Zone. I would check it out if you struggle with the many forms of this problem. The other day I had something happen to me, via it happening to a family member, and I decided to list the things that had happened to me since I was a child. I put them on the support groups PTSD board and asked the simple question, do you think I have PTSD? I’ve always been under the impression that PTSD was reserved for soldiers, first responders and others that go through seriously traumatizing events in their lives. But as I started to list my events, I realized that I may indeed have this. But what does that mean? Should I run to the closest therapist, sign up for talk therapy and get on meds? The kind folks that responded to me said, yes. But what I wanted to talk about today and what I thought after this exercise was, without the internet and the 24 hour news cycle would we even know what some of these were? Isn’t this just life and doesn’t everyone have a “list”?
I could give you my information here, but I won’t bore you with the laundry list of events in my life. But to be sure, I actually have reason to be anxious more than the average bear. From the time I was small, I had some anxiety or another. It started with being anxious over thunderstorms (I live in tornado alley, so..) to worrying about family members health, to my own. Again, I have considerable reasons to be anxious. One of the people on the support group told me she just got PTSD from “reading” my list, so you get the idea.
When I was younger, back in the stone age, I would do my anxious research via the encyclopedia. I would sit at the local library and pour over symptoms of maladies that I thought I suffered from. If you think google has outdated information, try this for a method of finding the latest stats on heart attacks and cancer. It was excruciating stuff for someone that thought she was going to drop dead any minute from an infarction.
For a 20 something to do this sort of thing was far from normal in that day. However, in 2016, it seems to be much more common than you would think. The frequent flyers on my anxiety forums are usually of this age or younger. The teens make up a larger group who worry if they have ALS, Cancers of all kinds, and other really nasty diseases. It doesn’t matter to them if the chances of someone their age getting these diseases are about as miniscule as getting hit by lightening. The repeated reassurances usually have little effect on their worry. Again, the internet has made it really easy to feed this type of disorder.
But back to my original premise. For those that truly have reasons to be anxious or find themselves facing something as scary as PTSD, couldn’t the argument be made that everyone could have a form of PTSD? Isn’t life itself jarring and scary enough to cause this kind of trauma. To be clear, I am putting aside the folks that have been through violent, life-changing events. Soldiers in war, first responders, abuse victims or victims of other violent crimes. Most people don’t have that in their past. But just your garden-variety life altering stuff that everyone suffers through. Deaths in the family, serious illness, upsetting childhood events. We all suffer from some kind of thing, don’t we? Doesn’t the mere fact that we are breathing cause many of us to fit the definition of PTSD? I know that I am tramping on some serious issues here. I know that how we deal with these life traumas separate us out from those that suffer from PTSD and those that do not. But I am finding that the definition of disorders that may have been restricted to just a few people years ago, have made their way into the vernacular as something that effects a great part of the population. If you haven’t figured out by now, my major anxiety is health related. They called us hypochondriacs in the old days. Problem is, I actually have health problems. So where does that leave me? Pretty much in the same place. Because it didn’t matter if you worry or not, you end up at the same place.
I have no good answers for this, but I do have some thoughts of my own journey that I would like to share. I am not a mental health professional and I know that my thoughts on this are probably pretty cursory. But I do know what I have found out about myself.
- Your physical health can cause anxiety to be worse.
- If you have thyroid issues, hormonal problems or you simply don’t get enough sleep, anxiety can be a problem you find you are having. All these things effect the main part of what causes something like PTSD. Your coping skills about events that happen to you. For instance, I have no thyroid, after suffering from thyroid cancer. I still am not at the hormone level I am supposed to be at. This seriously effects my ability to cope with stress. Knowing this, I have to realize when its time to step back and rest and when its time to move on. If you suffer from stress and anxiety, make sure your physical health is good before you try taking medications for your disorder.
- You can’t change what happened to you in the past
- Seems pretty simple right? But people who suffer from anxiety and its tougher brother PTSD can’t let go of the past. Again, I am not a mental health professional, so if you truly suffer from PTSD, you need help. But self diagnosis is not a good idea. Most people have a hard time letting go of their past. From bad parents, to mistakes, to failures, we find that these events keep replaying themselves at the most inconvenient times. For people like me, the reaction has become so ingrained you don’t even realize you are holding onto past issues. They just become part of you.
- What you are anxious about rarely happens.
- I can hear it now, “But Debra, there are a lot of things that I have worried about that have happened.” Did I say never? No, I said rarely. Again, I could give you my list. Lots of really bad stuff has happened to me over my life. But to be completely honest, 95% of the stuff I actually worried about is not on this list. So though bad stuff happened, it happened whether I worried about it or not. Just remember that when you are trying to figure out if that twitch in your leg is because you have sat at the computer too long or you have ALS.
- I would never have gotten through all this without Jesus.
- No eye rolls from the non-Christians here, please. The blog is called “Christians don’t bite” not “Atheists don’t bite”, so cut me some slack. Yes, Christians and other people of faith do have anxiety. To many Christians they think its a lack of faith to have worries. Jesus knew you were going to worry, you are human. Why else would he say “Do not worry?” Its in the Bible, look it up. Prayer and meditation really helps, whether you are a Christian or not. Some people call it visualization. I call it “talking-to-the-only-person-that-has-it-all-figured out”
- Online forums really help
- I belong to three or four online forums. One for each issue I have. They are invaluable for people who are just too scared to go to a doctor, don’t have the resources, or just need someone who gets it. I highly recommend them. Remember, though, most of the people on these forums are not professionals. Seek help from a doctor if you are truly suffering.
- People who don’t have anxiety can be real jerks to people that do.
- You know who I am talking about. The co-worker who is always busy and happy and involved who just can’t figure out why you can’t get past your issues. Just snap out of it! I’ve had people say some really dismissive things to me about my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, when an anxious person is in the middle of a bad episode they can really annoying. I have anxiety and I can get annoyed by someone who just won’t listen to reason. But be kind. One day something will happen to you and then where will you be? That person you were a jerk to will probably not be helpful and they are probably the person you will need the most help from.
So, what does all this mean? I have anxiety, sure. Do I have PTSD? Do you? I may indeed have the text book definition of PTSD. There are many that do. But just remember to look at your life and ask this simple question, “Is this something that happens to nearly everybody?” If your answer is yes, then someone else is probably struggling with the same thing. Reach out and talk to someone, even if its just on an online forum. Not everyone has the same coping skills as the next person.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that I have wasted a lot of my life worrying about things that never happened. Life is precious. Don’t waste another day if you can help it. If you can’t help it. Reach out for help. It will probably be the best thing you ever did.