Life on the Loose

Loving and working, with less anxiety (and more fun)

The Power of Sharing Our Anxieties

Talking to Others About Our Anxieties Can Make Us Feel Much Better

         I have struggled with anxiety all of my life. As a child, I worried about everything, and I do mean everything: getting sick, other people getting sick, riding on the bus, eating in front of people, talking in front of people, sleepovers, plane crashes, the Iran hostage situation, the possibility of war. My worries were both immediate and far-reaching. As I became a teenager, I started to have panic attacks. Any time I was in a situation that I couldn't leave without being noticed, my heart raced, my stomach churned, and my mind went blank.

         I credit an amazing therapist, as well as medication, with helping me manage this anxiety when I became an adult. I had to relearn many of my thought patterns, which tended to focus on perfectionism and wanting to look and feel in control. One of the best things I learned to do was to tell people about my anxiety. Until this point, I had been very ashamed and embarrassed by my anxiety. I had kept my worries a secret from everybody my entire life, which only caused more stress. I began to tell people how I felt and learned that, hey! Everybody had some sort of worry or anxiety, too.

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         Having kids caused a resurgence of anxiety. Now I was responsible for the lives of others. As someone who had always thrived on order and control, parenting made me frantic.

Once again, I went to therapy and took medication. I did acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. I read about anxiety. I wrote about anxiety. I talked to friends. And I felt better.

         And then last month, seemingly out of nowhere, I felt so anxious. Almost-paralyzed anxious. Panicky anxious. Yet I didn't know why I felt this way. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't concentrate. My heart pounded as if I were about to give an important speech, even if I were walking through the grocery store. I couldn't wait for the day to end so that I could go to sleep because I wouldn't feel anxious when I was asleep. But then I'd wake up and not be able to go back to sleep, so sleep wasn't the cure.

         I went back to acupuncture, which helped a bit. And then I brainstormed what I needed to do. I remembered how much telling my friends had helped in the past. It was a strange feeling to call people and say, "I'm so nervous. I don't know why." I felt like I owed them an explanation. But then I realized that they weren't looking for one. They were just happy to listen, take a walk, keep me company, go for a drink, bring me a treat (!) or ask me what I needed. How fantastic! And by talking about how I didn't know why I was nervous, I realized why I was nervous. I am overwhelmed by my son's behavior and his anxiety, I'm still transitioning from our move this year, and I'm very ready and yet very anxious about going back to work.

         I'm still anxious, but I am so much better than I was a week ago. Reaching out to others has made me feel less anxious, as well as connected and accepted. For anyone who is feeling anxious, I hope you can share your burden with others. You will feel less isolated, and I can almost guarantee you will feel lighter and brighter. 

Amy Cooper Rodriguez is a parenting writer, physical therapist, and mother of two. Her work has appeared on Babble and in numerous parenting magazines.

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