Anxiety is one of the biggest problems I face. I have dealt with crippling anxiety for most of my life, and it was the biggest factor in my addiction to alcohol. It’s normal for everyone to have a certain level of anxiety. It’s our brain and body’s defense mechanism for the stressors we face every day. But if it is having a negative impact on your life, career or relationships, then it is true anxiety and needs to be treated so you can live a normal life.

Anxiety disorders are often stereotyped or misunderstood by those who don’t suffer from them, and it’s possible as a result of that many people are afflicted with anxiety and don’t even realize it, or what it’s doing to them.

It’s estimated that 3.3 million Americans live with some form of anxiety disorder. This can range from generalized anxiety to severe panic disorders. Anxiety disorders come in many different forms, and it can be difficult sometimes to know that someone is suffering from one.

For example, I have trouble being in large crowds. But, I never had a full-blown panic attack in a crowd. My anxiety would manifest as anger and frustration. After spending time in a large crowd, I get snippy and short with people and I’m easily agitated. But people probably just see me as being rude or angry, not suffering from an anxiety attack.

Panic attacks aren’t all like what you see in the movies either. Not everyone is hyperventilating into a paper bag, turning red and fainting. Sometimes a panic attack only involves a rapid heartbeat, or breaking out into a sweat. But, if this is happening because you’re stressed or obsessing about something, likely something small, then that’s a panic attack.

Sometimes a panic attack makes you have a funny “fuzzy” feeling. Like you can’t focus or concentrate, and you get a little scatterbrained. Most people don’t realize this is a response to anxiety. Or you just feel very tired and fatigued. And you have trouble focusing on anything except the thing that’s causing you to panic. I used to have obsessive thoughts about death. When the thoughts started in, I couldn’t stop them. And I couldn’t think about anything else, sometimes for hours on end. It was very overwhelming, and I was miserable.

For me, getting a hold of my anxiety and treating it with therapy and medication was key to my sobriety. When I first left my rehab home, I thought I had all the tools I needed to stay sober. But, I hadn’t addressed a big issue: my anxiety. When I got home, all those old stressors were still there, and my response to them had not changed. My anxiety quickly reclaimed its place in my life, and I was back where I started: drinking to dull the feelings.

The second time I left, I was armed with new knowledge about handling anxiety. I use different grounding techniques to prevent anxiety attacks, like counting backward from 100 or focusing on something else to take my mind off of the anxiety-triggering event. Or, I use breathing techniques or meditation. I also now take anti-anxiety medication when I feel really overwhelmed. And most importantly, I’m teaching myself how to alleviate some of the stress in my life and cut out things that used to cause me anxiety.

I used to have a lot of codependency issues, and took everyone else’s problems upon myself. If someone I knew was suffering, I felt like I needed to suffer right along with them. And obviously this caused me great stress and anxiety. With the help of my counselor and psychiatrist, I am learning to recognize which problems are really mine, which ones I can actually change, and which ones don’t belong to me at all and I just need to let go of.

If you suspect you may have an anxiety issue, or if you know that you do, I urge you to seek therapy or counseling. Sometimes just talking it out with a professional can help alleviate some of the panic. And it may benefit you to also see a psychiatrist or your medical doctor to get a prescription for an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I used to scoff at the idea of taking a pill for my mood, but when I finally decided to give it a try, it was life-changing. And I mean that literally. Situations crop up now that previously would have wrecked me and impacted my life negatively, but I am responding to them with a much cooler and clearer head than I ever thought possible.

Anxiety is a normal thing, but if it is a problem for you, seeking help is important. You should be able to live your life without the terrible panic and fear that you live with now.

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