So here's a secret...I'm a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders who had undiagnosed panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder! What?!! How in the world could I expect to help anyone?
But here's the thing, I didn't even know it. I was undiagnosed, for years. I didn't realize I had either diagnosis until in hindsight, in graduate school. It was such an epiphany. As I studied about anxiety, I realized, I know this...no really, I KNOW THIS! And here's the other interesting part as I started to learn more about myself and my life, I began to recognize how anxiety was normalized in my family...rigidity, worrying, ruminating, obsessing...that was just the way of several family members. They came to be regarded as being "just so," needing to "have their ducks in a row," "fastidious" or the opposite end of the spectrum "not worried about a thing." And so some numbed out and avoided dealing with life to run from anxiety and others went the opposite direction, falling into thinking traps instead of addressing anxiety or taking constructive action. Both coping strategies are crazy making and peace stealing, counterproductive and mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. And truth be told, I may have continued to live my life normalizing this maladaptive approach, "Oh, I'm just a worrier and a perfectionist," but a crisis happened. Life crises are good for forcing issues and teaching. And that's precisely when my life began to change for the better. Well, after I got through the worst-time-of-my-life part, but that's another story people, focus!
As many do, I felt like something catastrophic was happening.
So yes, yours truly had anxiety that disrupted my life. And it wasn't until I hit a life crisis that the panic attacks started. The panic attacks, associated with panic disorder, sent me to my primary care physician; I really had no idea what was wrong with me. As many do, I felt like something catastrophic was happening. Even she didn't diagnose me. As I mentioned, many years later, fully recovered, I connected the dots and realized I had clinical levels of anxiety for a significant part of my 20's and early 30's. No clue...Sort of blows my mind now and makes me sad to remember the terror of waking up with fear, unmitigated, inexplicable fear, that sometimes would grip me in the most distressing and seemingly uncontrollable paralysis that I now know was a panic attack.
When clients tell me about anxiety, I don't mention my experiences, but I get it. I know they're doing their best, too. And here's the cool part, there is so much to learn about anxiety and one can get rid of debilitating anxiety. I'm proof of it!
The trick is to calm our danger-signaling system when we don't need it...
I haven't had an anxiety attack in well over a decade. And more than that, I'm pretty badass at managing anxiety at this point. With what I've learned about anxiety management and myself, I've juggled business ownership, teaching, single parenting, and getting a Ph.D. Any one of those things IS anxiety provoking, but I have tools now. I know sometimes fear is normal, like during a time of transition or uncertainty, and I ride that wave, coaching myself through it. See, we can never get rid of anxiety altogether. It keeps us safe--it's what signals "fight, flight, freeze" in danger, but the trick is to calm our danger-signaling system when we don't need it. There are many methods of managing anxiety, and just like anything you do and do well, it takes finding a good fit and then practicing. Relaxation techniques like visualization, breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation work well for some. Other people prefer to control their thoughts with affirmations, grounding exercises, distractions, or cognitive restructuring. Still others prefer a physical approach like exercise. Most people devise a combination of all kinds of anxiety management strategies. And this is just a brief list of the options available to help you manage your anxiety.
Learning to manage anxiety, whether moderate, subclinical levels or acute levels will change your life impacting countless facets of your existence. And it is doable, that you should know. If you'd like to learn more about the work I do with those contending with anxiety, get in touch or check out my website. I'd love to hear from you!
About the author: Melissa Hudson, PhD(c) is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Plano, Texas specializing in couples counseling, anxiety disorders, and depression. She also works with adults and families on a full spectrum of concerns. Have questions? Reach out! firstname.lastname@example.org | 214-235-8175 | www.counselingsolutionstexas.com