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The word debilitating is often associated with extremes. We hear about debilitating injuries or illnesses and we think of people on the brink — people struggling to live. What most people don’t realize, however, is that some of the seemingly strongest people out there struggle every day against mental and physical conditions. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them, dealing with debilitating anxiety.
If you have debilitating anxiety, you have to contend with a lot of hurdles in life that not everyone experiences. From panic and anxiety attacks to severe stomach issues, there are some obvious and telltale signs that anxiety may be taking over someone’s life. But just because someone isn’t showing their signs of struggle outwardly doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.
Whether you’re wearing your anxiety problems on your sleeve or outwardly keeping everything in perfect working order, debilitating anxiety can cause a lot of discomfort, struggle and misery.
Feeling seen? Unsure if your anxiety is really this bad? Let’s talk about it, starting with some basics.
While many of us may picture people with anxiety disorder under weighted blankets and grasping tea in the fetal position, the reality is that a person with anxiety disorder may look like they’re functioning totally normally.
Let’s take a look at one of the most common anxiety disorders — generalized anxiety disorder — for an example.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition in which feelings of fear, uncertainty and worry have become so strong and dominant in someone’s mind that these feelings are preventing them from living normally — in other words, debilitating their function.
Anxiety may cause symptoms like fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, difficulty focusing or concentrating and much, much more. If you’ve ever tried to complete a homework assignment or lead a meeting while feeling any of these symptoms, you’re already on board with the idea that anxiety can be debilitating.
While things like work or money are reasonable areas of your life for you to care about, the anxiety shouldn’t be affecting the rest of your life — or preventing you from doing basic things. You shouldn’t be struggling to perform at your job, to keep yourself healthy, well-groomed or well-fed. You shouldn’t constantly feel tired because anxiety fills the times when you’d otherwise be sleeping.
Whether your anxiety is obvious or hidden, you may experience some or all of the following mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:
Shortness of breath
Fear of death
Fear of others judging you
Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
That’s a significant list already, and it gets worse when you realize that it doesn’t include extreme anxiety symptoms like the panic attacks associated with panic disorder, or the specific social and public fears of social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.
As with other mental health conditions and mental illnesses, anxiety and anxiety disorders cannot be cured in a forever kind of way, regardless of how severe your condition is.
What you can do, however, is treat your mild or severe anxiety. Treatment and effective management of the condition can significantly — if not entirely — reduce your symptoms.
Professional treatment for anxiety isn’t an easy process, because finding the right combination of treatments takes time. And not every person responds to the same treatments the same ways. In other words, what works for someone else may not work for you, and visa versa — and it may take a few tries to figure out what works for you.
So where do you start? Well, a mental health professional can help you determine the best course of action for your individual needs, but if you’re wondering what they might recommend for crippling anxiety treatment, there are a number of proven effective strategies.
Two of the most effective means of treating all types of anxiety disorders are medication and therapy. These can also be employed in tandem, for a sort of double-team approach to battling anxiety disorders.
Medication typically means antidepressants, which can be effective in helping your brain better regulate your mood. These medications alter your brain’s way of storing and using up its supply of various neurotransmitters including serotonin, which helps your brain balance your mood. By making sure that your brain has a more reliable supply of these neurotransmitters, you can reduce the frequency of mood extremes associated with both depression and anxiety.
As for therapy, one of the most effective treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps patients with anxiety disorders learn to modify and control their thinking. Instead of letting an anxious thought consume you, you’ll learn over time to recognize those anxious thoughts as irrational, reject their logic and begin to engage with them less frequently.
There are other ways and means of dealing with anxiety, from dietary changes (like cutting back on your caffeine intake) to simple behavioral changes like getting more sleep, doing regular exercise and reducing your stressful situations at home or at work.
But a list of options alone doesn’t cure crippling anxiety. To properly employ these tools and techniques, you really need someone to help by adding a missing ingredient: guidance.
If your anxiety has become debilitating, you may have already begun to notice what you’ve lost. If you can no longer deal with casual social situations, lack the confidence to speak up at work, or are uncomfortable leaving your own home, these are signs that anxiety is in the driver’s seat, not you.
This might be the only time we’ll agree with auto insurance companies, but the only person driving your vehicle should be you — anyone else is just asking for trouble.
Anxiety can be a healthy emotion in occasional circumstances, and it can protect you from danger. There’s no reason to totally kick it to the curb, but that doesn’t mean it has to drive, or even navigate.
It doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is that you snatch the keys back, buckle up and take control of your journey again. Hit the treatment road today.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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