When it's not 'just' anxiety

Too often, people experiencing anxiety are dismissed as being ‘just’ sensitive or told that they are ‘just’ worrying. Em shares her experience of the debilitating effect that anxiety can have on someone’s life, affecting everything from daily tasks to participating in the hobbies you love. Em reminds us of the legitimacy of the experience of anxiety and to never dismiss someone’s journey with anxiety.

Trigger warning: Contains details about self-harm

“But you’re just worrying, right?” No. No. Inside my head, the thoughts are racing around so fast that it is hard to keep up, so I feel dizzy and weak.

“Isn’t it just stress?” Again, absolutely not. I can have the least stressful day at work, for example, but my brain will still catastrophise every tiny detail.

These phrases “just worrying” or “just being stressed” can be hurtful and invalidate what people – people like me – living with anxiety go through every minute of every hour of every day. There’s no ‘just’.

I was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety in early 2021 during lockdown. My mental health wasn’t good at all during lockdown as I felt so trapped. Medication has certainly helped, but I always feel there is a certain amount of stigma associated with taking medication for mental illnesses. However, medication has been a huge part of my mental health journey.

My friends have been really supportive throughout everything too. Then I have my weekly Karate training which is more than a hobby of mine – it is a real passion. All the exercises when I train are so helpful, and the club I am with has such a family atmosphere and everyone is super supportive.

Despite how important Karate is to me I wanted to share how anxiety affects me, even when I am doing something I truly love. Every lesson comes with numerous mental challenges, so when we do groundwork on the mats I have loads of thoughts racing in my mind:

What if I hurt someone else?

What if I get it wrong?

What if people are watching me?

What if they laugh at me?

What if they judge me?

Realistically, I know no one would think this, but my brain tells me this is happening and then, 9 times out of 10, I end up having a panic attack. My heart races, I feel dizzy, I sweat, I can’t breathe, I cry, I shake and it’s like my mind and my body aren’t connected.

It’s hard because Karate positively influences my mental health, but my mental health negatively influences my Karate. So, it feels like a vicious cycle. It’s not just how anxiety affects me mentally and emotionally – physically it is exhausting. I often experience headaches, constant needing to use the toilet, a churning stomach and insomnia. It affects my body just as much as it affects my mind. Being unable to relax, needing constant reassurance, depression, fidgeting, feeling like everyone is judging me.

Something which has helped me greatly is writing – either writing about my experiences to empower others or doing some creative writing to take my mind off things that stress me out.  I wanted to write my story as part of Mental Health Awareness Week because the theme really meant a great deal to me.

It’s not ‘just’ anxiety, it’s my anxiety. I live day in, day out with it and there is no ‘just’.

We all feel worried, tense or fearful sometimes. But for people living with anxiety disorders, this level of worry might consume most of their time, or leave them with uncomfortable symptoms. Learn about anxiety disorders and the support available.

Self-harm is the intentional act of harming or injuring our body. Self-harm may not be obvious and can include substance abuse, our relationship with eating and deliberately acting in a way that puts ourselves in danger. Anyone of any age can experience self-harm. Learn more about self-harm and support available.

For urgent support, please call 999.

For details of regional support services, please visit one of our national partner websites. Mental Health UK was founded through a partnership between these four UK charities.

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