Anxiety is an invisible illness.
While I sit here in the public library challenging myself to stay in this quiet room with others working around me, no one is aware of my mental struggles. I tap away at the keyboard as I feel the physical sensations of panic begin to rise. My body is fighting to run away but a small part of my mind is trying to tell me to stay put. Like millions of others anxiety has been part of my daily life for many years now.
The stigma surrounding anxiety
There is such a stigma around mental health issues that people who suffer from anxiety often don’t want to admit to it. They somehow feel that being anxious is a sign of weakness. It isn’t.
If bravery is feeling fear but doing things anyway, then people who suffer from anxiety are some of the bravest people I know. Think about it. How would you feel if you had to face your worst fear almost every day?
The need for others to understand anxiety
Like any invisible illness, it can be hard for others to understand anxiety, let alone feel compassionate towards you. You look fine on the face of things, so others tend to ignore the issue. No one realises what a detrimental effect anxiety has on your life. You are in an ongoing battle with your own mind and body which leads you to limit your life in so many ways.
Perhaps you have told a few of your close relatives or friends about how you feel, but often they minimise your anxiety. They think you are exaggerating or ‘coping fine’ or ‘just a bit stressed’. You keep being told ‘it will pass’, ‘just relax’, ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. If only it was that simple. Unfortunately there is no off switch for anxiety.
Yes, anxiety sufferers are looking for that one magic pill to take to make our horrible thoughts and feelings go away. We are reluctant to face up to the fact that we are the only people who can cure ourselves. But, if we are to find the strength to do this then we need love, support, encouragement and understanding.
The hidden anxiety epidemic
According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 18.1% of the population every year.
Can you think of anyone you know who falls into this category?
Although a number of people you know may be struggling with anxiety, the majority rarely speak about it. Sufferers might allude to it, but often it is the case that they draw attention to the physical symptoms because after all these are ‘real’.
The very nature of anxiety means that you avoid drawing attention to yourself for fear of standing out or fear of what others will think of you.
The need to be open about anxiety
As Brene Brown said in her book Daring Greatly:
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
Being vulnerable is part of being human and it helps us to connect to other people.
Although personally I am not ready to stand up and be counted yet I’m getting there, and this blog is part of my process.
By talking about anxiety openly and honestly, not only can we educate non-sufferers about the challenges we face, but also we can begin to realise that we are not alone.
Let’s start now. How open are you about your anxiety? Leave a comment to let me know.