As someone who suffered from severe anxiety for over 23 years, I made myself very familiar with it. I was determined to study its parameters, since overcoming it would take lots of time. I knew that If I could learn as much as I could about my anxiety, it would help me figure out a way to treat it. With that said, as a sufferer for so many years, I have discovered (at least) 3 major levels to anxiety. I hope, for those out there who also suffer from anxiety, that this information will help you to also learn more about it, so you may overcome it like I did. Anyone reading this who does not have anxiety might find it beneficial to understand what it is like for those who suffer from it, which could provide more sympathy and knowledge to help reduce it.
This is the common understanding of anxiety. Which is an intense worry, or fear. Anxiety most of the time strikes without reason. In severe cases (like mine) it is a constant feeling of unease with bursts of extreme intensity. The feeling is comparable to that split second jolt of fear felt when walking down a flight of stairs and you don’t realize that there is one last step, so you walk forward casually but stomp down hard. Anxiety is this brief feeling of terror, but suffered in a constant state. For those with social anxiety (which could be its own category), a task as easy as saying “hi” to a cashier is made to feel nearly impossible. A party is as terrifying as walking straight into a den of hungry lions. Anxiety shuts down all reason, and sends the body into full panic mode. It is a strong force that prevails over rationality and logic. What is most important to know, is that anxiety is a liar. It will try to nit pick every single aspect of your being at once. It makes you self conscious of every breathe and every blink of the eye. “Are my hands in a weird spot? I should put them in my pockets.”, “am I making enough eye contact?”, “Am I making too much eye contact?”, “Am I boring her?”, “Am I talking too little?”, “am I talking too much?”, “I screwed up, why did I say that!”. These are just a few anxious thoughts that might repeat in an anxiety sufferer’s head during a quick 5 minute conversation. Though, these aren’t normal thoughts that will pass along like others. Anxiety not only produces a constant flow of these self conscious thoughts, but it forces the person to ruminate on each of them, causing even more anxiety. The worst part of anxiety is that most of the time, nobody has any clue that you have it. There isn’t any definite way to know if someone has anxiety, but there are ques that might give it away. Such as, minimal eye contact, overt shyness, excessive fidgeting, stuttering of voice, and heavy breathing.
Not to be confused with sexual arousal, this form of anxiety is often much more intense than baseline anxiety. The type of arousal here can best be described as an increase of heart rate and blood pressure, dilation of pupils, heavy breathing, dry mouth, and tingling of the skin. When experiencing an arousal state due to intense anxiety, the body sends itself into an all out panic. The reason for this, is that the body detects that it is in present danger, so it activates “fight or flight mode” in order to compensate for the immediate danger. The only problem is, an anxious person is almost never in real danger when this panic attack strikes them. In fact, it can be absolutely random with no explanation as to why it is occurring. As you can imagine, this is a terrifying experience for those who suffer from it.
Anxious anxiety occurs when an already anxious questions their own anxiety with even more anxious thoughts. The anxious person becomes self conscious of their own worrying, and worries about how they can stop their worrying. As you can imagine, this is a slippery slope that only increases the initial anxiety exponentially. Overthinking and worrying is the thing that got the anxious person to feel like that in the first place, and then they add another layer of it in hopes to “counter” the feeling, but it does just the opposite. To an anxious person, worrying becomes a addiction. It feels good and the anxious brain is incapable of realizing that worrying is unnecessary in most situations. Worrying is the brain’s defense mechanism for danger. It’s the force that instructs a mother to grasp her child’s hand tight when walking to the park, because she knows how he dashes into the street after a toy without looking for cars. Worry is the feeling that prompts a college student to work overtime at work so that he can make rent for the month. When incorporated healthily, worry can be a means to an end for survival. A person with anxiety however, experiences this intense feeling without reason. In their own head, it makes sense to worry about their worrying, because the typical case of worry is a means to an end of safety. But since the initial worry is irrational and struck without reason, worrying about that feeling will not negate it.
While I have only scratched the surface of the depth of anxiety, I believe it is useful to spread awareness of the illness and shed light on its complexity. After all, how can we expect to solve a problem that most don’t even understand? Anxiety is much broader than the 3 layers I have listed here. Severe cases like OCD and Phobias are also a product of anxiety. These 3 levels of anxiety are the most common and personal to me, so I felt it important to describe. I hope that I was able to shed some light and inform you of how serious and also complex Anxiety is, so you may go out into the world with a different perspective on it.