Don’t worry, be happy.
Bobby McFerrin may have been onto something when he sang that popular song, but for most of us worrying is an inevitable part of life. For those of us with anxiety, however, being told not to “worry” often only leads to more feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control.
Sometimes it can be difficult to understand the difference but there are a few signs that indicate there could be more going on than your everyday brand of worrying or stress. And with roughly 25 per cent of Canadians expected to have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime, these are important differences to note.
You find yourself looping
Some people describe their anxiety as being on a loop or like being on a hamster wheel. A worrisome thought occurs, and rather than being able to put it out of your head the way most people eventually can that thought snowballs and plays on a loop. What if you go on vacation and get sick? You’ll wind up in the hospital, and who knows if your insurance will cover you. And then you could be stuck in another country in a bad hospital with no insurance and you’ll miss your flight and how will you pay to get home? And should you fly when you’re sick? And oh crap, that person beside you just sneezed, now you’re definitely going to get sick. And so on and so forth.
Your thoughts aren’t always realistic
So a person sneezing or coughing beside you could theoretically be cause for concern if you’re trying to avoid getting sick. But for someone with anxiety it could take less than that to set them off. Perhaps their travel companion is running five minutes late or is looking pale, which obviously means they’re contagious and now you’re going to get sick too.
It’s a visual thing
Worries tend to be thoughts, while anxiety can often be mental imagery. You don’t just think about bad outcomes, you can picture them in real and visceral ways. It’s an added element to a negative train of thought that makes it extra hard to break or “forget about it.”
Your worry jumps around
Depending on the hour/day/week/month, different things can set off your anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a trip you’re worrying about. Maybe your boss forgot to ask about your weekend and now you’re convinced you’re going to get fired. Or a co-worker messed up and got yelled at, so now it must be your turn next and you’re just waiting for that moment to come. Or maybe you’re concerned about your kids, because Billy came home with a C on his math test and now he’s going to need a tutor and maybe he has a learning disability and oh man — what if he has anxiety like you do?
It’s a physical reaction
Know the saying “sick with worry?” For someone suffering from anxiety that’s just any other day that ends in “Y.” Having catastrophic, looping and overwhelming thoughts can lead to higher blood pressure, shortness of breath, anxiety attacks and more. Some people get red in the face when they begin experiencing anxiety, while others feel like vomiting, or their entire bodies tense up to the point where it feels like they’ve just had an extreme workout. Except the workout is happening in your mind and you don’t know how to take a breather.
Drinking often makes it worse
One of the worst things to tell someone with anxiety to do is to have a drink and relax. If a drink or two does tend to help, it’s only a short-term solution that could lead to an addiction problem down the line. More often though, since drinking enhances our senses, it also tends to enhance catastrophic thoughts and makes anxiety worse. In fact, many people with anxiety begin to feel overwhelmed by crowds, parties and situations with alcohol for that very reason.
You need help treating it
People who worry are often able to problem solve on their own in order to feel better; people with anxiety need more tools than that. Whether it’s cognitive therapy, medication or other psychological treatment, those of us with anxiety often need professional help in order to help control this true mental disorder.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.