Living with Anxiety: A British Girl's Story
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Rachel Cooke has written on the subject of anxiety in Britain, and she explores the real life stories of people who are suffering from an anxiety disorder. It is amazing that approximately one third of the population will suffer from an anxiety disorder or panic attacks at some point in their life, and hearing from real people who experience the disorder is a fresh take on the increasingly prevalent disorder.
Cooke recounts the story of Claire, a young woman who is "26 years old, and truly blessed: funny, lovely to look at, extremely bright (she has two degrees). She lives with her boyfriend in London and has a job she loves ("my dream job") at the publisher Penguin where she works in sales. Appearances, though, can be deceptive. Last January, she had to take a month-long leave of absence from work. The panic attacks from which she has suffered since she was a teenager had started to dominate her life. "I thought: I need to do something about this, because panic attacks are the worst. You feel like you're going mad, like you're going to die; worrying about everything, feeling out of control, wondering what you sound like and what you look like. The voice in your head, it's constant. You can't stop it. It's exhausting." Claire wanted to get well, so she tried a combination of antidepressants and benzodiazepines. She reported that they helped slightly, but she did not want to have to be on medications forever, which led her to the realization that she needed to figure out a way to manage her anxiety permanently. Claire found a charity called Anxiety UK, and explained that, "I contacted them, and it was amazing to find that I wasn't alone, that in itself helped a bit. But they also gave me good advice. They recommended I start using exercise to take the edge off the adrenalin, and they suggested Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I had 10 sessions, which was all I could afford, and it changed everything. It wasn't only that I was able to be honest about how I was feeling, that off-loading on to someone who understands, as opposed to someone who just thinks 'Oh, snap out of it', felt so good. The therapy gave me the tools I need to rationalize. You have to commit to CBT; you have to put the time aside. But it does work. I still have bad days, but at least now I have a strategy."
CBT teaches that thinking, feeling and behavior are all connected. If you change your thoughts, you can change your feelings and behavior. There are many cognitive, or "thinking" errors that we engage in, and most people have them. CBT teaches us how to identify these thinking errors and correct them. Claire gave an example, “The thoughts I have… there's a formula: you notice the same ones again and again. For instance, at work, the voice says I'm a loser, weird, bad at my job, that it was only thanks to luck that I got it at all. Someone would speak to me, and instead of listening to what they were saying, all I could think was: I need to get out of here or I'll make a fool of myself."
Claire used a great resource her therapist gave her. It is a Mobile App called Thought Diary Pro. You can chart your thoughts right on your phone so you do not have to worry about writing something down when you are in public or with friends or at work. Claire explains that "It's great. It's always in your bag; you don't have the embarrassment of getting out a pen and paper. I've also got distraction techniques that I use, especially at night. I'll go through all the names of the characters in Sex and the City. It gets me off the track of circular thoughts. Or if my boyfriend is around, and I'm having what I call a wobbler, he'll suggest a game."
Where does Claire believe her anxiety comes from? She isn't sure – though, like Freud, she defines her anxiety as a threat that is object-less, and located in the future – such as ruination or humiliation (unlike fear, which is a response to a specific and immediate threat to one's safety). There is no history of panic attacks in her family, and she had a happy childhood (she grew up in Bolton).
Cooke explains that “Anxiety is not A DISEASE of the 21st century. As the American journalist Daniel Smith points out in Monkey Mind, an anxiety memoir that went on to become a New York Times bestseller, Freud wrote a book about it 90 years ago (The Problem of Anxiety), and Kierkegaard 80 years before him (The Concept of Anxiety), and Spinoza was the father of them both (it was in the 17th century that the Dutch philosopher noted our enslavement to what he called "dread"). Victorian novels are replete with characters – particularly women characters – who exhibit what we might recognize now as some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders, from fainting to hysteria: manifestations of inner turmoil that would, in real life, have had the phrenologists running to examine their heads, and the hydropathists rushing to welcome them to their new-fangled spas (cold-water remedies were particularly popular when it came to treating what our ancestors regarded as a form of madness).”
In the late 20th-century, psychiatry finally recognized anxiety disorders as a chronic and serious illness. A national survey by the Office of National Statistics revealed that levels of anxiety in Britain had dropped by almost 1%. However, this was hardly good news: 20.9% of people still rate their anxiety levels at 6 or more out of 10, while the general consensus among psychiatrists is that between 10% and 30% of the population is likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one time.
Anxiety is more common than people think. It is continuing to increase. This can be something inherit, situational or environmental, but there is help. Resources such as Anxiety UK and professional care can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
- Kim B.
I too suffer from anxiety issues. I struggle on what seems like a daily basis, and I often believe that my anxiety crosses into depression. In fact, often cannot distinguish the difference in the two, so I am sure they are hand in glove acquaintances.
My anxiety disorder manifests itself often in my views of everyday life and impacts my sense of progress and personal growth.
For example, if something shakes me or unnerves me, then I tend to become overwhelmed, and I can easily become mentally paralyzed and unable to focus or accomplish the simplest or most mundane of tasks.
A simple example of what I am taking about with regards to squelching my personal growth would be: If the house becomes too cluttered it overwhelms me. At that point, I cannot transition into a de-cluttering mode alone. I require assistance in the form of someone to support me emotionally more so than physically. If I become too overwhelmed with certain parts of life it affects my whole being.
My physical response to anxiety most often is manifested through insomnia, where it can take me several more hours to shutdown my brain and relax enough to sleep. Now, I know that many professionals say that shutting down your brain is not what is required to settle in for a nap, but I am not referring to closing off all cognitive thought or mental activity. I am talking about pausing the swarm of thoughts that seem to attack me at bedtime.
I want to be able to rest and relax. I want to be able to rejuvenate my physical, emotional, and mental self which all contribute to my personal growth. I would really love to be able to join my wife in splendid slumber and not just watch her sleep. (I know, watching her sleep is a little creepy on some levels).
I remember that when I was a teenager; my now late Grandfather had a standing weekly social gathering over coffee with some of his close friends and co-workers. They met at a specific diner and generally all that it ever involved was drinking coffee and having conversation.
He often would say as he walked out the door to leave his house, “I’m going to help solve the world’s problems.” He would meet his friends at the restaurant and there was a sign hanging from the ceiling over the table that read ‘Table of Knowledge.’
These weekly sessions were often a time to complain or gripe about whatever topic came to mind. The discussion frequently went to politics and/or religion. (You know two of the topics everyone says not to discuss.) Many other times the conversations were to get support from friends as they faced the challenges in life.
These sessions were a form of therapy for these men to provide them with friendship during their own processes of personal growth, and they faced life together without fear or criticism - They helped one another relieve the anxieties of life. My Grandfather always slept well too. Problems solved.
Mindfulness Meditation Can Help Relieve Anxiety And Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2014, from http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/01/07/260470831/mindfulness-meditation-can-help-relieve-anxiety-and-depression