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If the voice in your head is constantly telling you that ‘you are not doing enough’ or ‘you are not enough’, it is probably your anxiety speaking. Because of this voice in your head, if you tend to overwork yourself and still tend to criticize yourself – guess what? It is anxiety!

If you constantly feel your mind is playing tricks with you – making you overthink and over-analyze situations or people’s actions/reactions, and seek external validation to determine your self-worth, it is probably your anxiety speaking. If you struggle to say ‘NO’ and tend to overextend yourself, it is a manifestation of your anxious behavior. If you are hard on yourself and feel excessive guilt for small things like saying ‘NO’ to someone, taking time off work, gaining weight….and the list is endless, again – it is again your anxiety taking over.

If you feel you are battling your own thoughts 24*7, it is probably anxiety. If you have moments where your mind is clouded with obsessive thoughts and you have difficulty concentrating, it is probably anxiety.

When did I realize I had anxiety?

I have lived with anxiety for close to 10 years now! Gosh! Imagine having to deal with all those thoughts on an everyday basis – it is so exhausting! I realized I had anxiety last year after a breakup when my life started to seem like a mess. I would try and concentrate on work but was unable to concentrate due to the obsessive thoughts conquering my head. Daily tasks seemed to overwhelm me, and my heart would start racing as I would begin ruminating. I had no idea what was happening and why my body was acting this way. I planned to visit a general physician because my heartbeat fluctuating started to get me paranoid. The physician immediately figured out that these physical manifestations clearly hinted towards anxiety.

Having spent most of my life in India where mental health issues are still stigmatized, it took great courage for me to open up to a therapist. Within the first three therapy sessions, I realized this has been a long-standing issue with me. Having spent most of my childhood in a boarding school, away from family – I developed an anxious style of attachment. This happens when your emotional needs as a child are not met consistently and you feel insecure constantly. Further, this worsened for me when I broke up with my best friend after having dated him for close to seven years. He decided to cut me off from his life, which is what worsened my case.
Suffering from high functioning anxiety has its own issues. Externally, people may perceive us to be highly productive, motivated, proactive, driven – we are often called overachievers and perfectionists which sounds hunky-dory. BUT internally, we have a strong fear of disappointing people and a need for constant reassurance. We tend to set unrealistic goals for ourselves and overwork ourselves to achieve them.

What are my triggers?

After having realized my battle with my own head, I have constantly been reading more about attachment styles and how they are developed along with regular therapy sessions to understand my triggers.

Professionally, I do tend to overwork myself to be ‘good enough’ for my own mind. Not getting good grades, not being at the top of the class, not getting the internship/job of my choice and not being competent enough for the job are all thoughts that I struggle with daily.

Personally, I display this attachment style with my parents and anyone I am romantically involved with. If the person exhibits any signs of inconsistency in their behavior or efforts, my anxious behavior sets in and makes me believe that whatever happened in the past is about to happen again. My anxiously wired brain tends to believe all my emotions and feelings at that moment, which mostly tell me ‘you are not good enough’ to deserve them in your life.

How does anxiety affect my relationships?

When it comes to family, anxiety eases out when you notice that they stand by your side in the good and bad times. You tend to feel more secure as time passes by, but you need to constantly remind your head – ‘they are not going to abandon you’ and they never had the intention to, even if your head perceived it that way.

This gets more complicated when it comes to romantic relationships. To begin with, pursuing a romantic relationship will seem like a daunting task as dating requires you to be vulnerable to a certain extent, and it also comes with the risk of being hurt emotionally. As the outcome is uncertain for romantic relations, the anxious soul has difficulty opening to new people and thinks of it as dangerous territory till the person proves that they are there for the long haul. Untreated anxiety disorder can wreak havoc in your romantic life and have you asking these questions – ‘Why did my partner not talk to me today?’, ‘Was the tone different today – does that mean something?’, ‘Do they not want to talk to me anymore?’, ‘Am I not good enough?’ and the most common one being ‘Are they going to leave me?’. The smallest of their actions can trigger these thoughts and seeking reassurance from them every time may not be such a good idea. Additionally, however understanding the person maybe, but you will start feeling like you are overwhelming them with your anxiety and therefore, start shutting down partially.

How can your friends and relatives help?

I have had my own friends and family disregard the issue all together, saying ‘You are 26! You are smart, beautiful, hardworking, and doing so well for yourself – why would you have anything to worry about? You just take unnecessary stress!’ Wakeup call for friends and family– anxiety is way more than just overthinking or worrying excessively!
First and foremost, friends and family need to learn more about anxiety. I have had people tell me – ‘Stop overthinking’, ‘Get over it already’, ‘It is not such a big deal’, ‘Why do you blow everything out of proportion?’, ‘It’s all in your head’, ‘This is irrational thinking’. The worst of the lot being ‘Calm down!’ – I mean if we had the ability to calm down and not be all-consumed in our emotions, we totally would. Trust me when I say this, uttering any of the aforementioned statements makes us feel worse. Instead, show some empathy and listen to us. Try to reduce our anxiety by validating our emotions and saying, ‘I am there for you’, ‘I am here to listen to you’, ‘I will stay by your side, whatever happens’, ‘I understand why this must be bothering you’, ‘You have done your absolute best to prepare for this – trust me, it will be okay’, ‘We will get through this together’ or simply remind us to deep breathe!

How do I manage my anxiety?

Honestly, I am still figuring the art of managing my anxious thoughts, but I am getting better at it with therapy every week. My therapist has been wonderful in helping me rewire my brain. Some of my friends have been supportive and I am grateful to them. It is a whole new world when you feel that you have the power to control your thoughts and not vice versa. I feel so proud of myself when I figure out my triggers and can block my anxious thoughts!

Some practices that help me manage my anxiety include the following:

a) Developing self-awareness: I try to understand the emotions and then, write them down
b) Deep breathing
c) Give myself a reality check: I ask myself whether this thought is real or are my emotions taking over?
d) Reassuring myself: Tell myself ‘I can handle this’, ‘I am okay’, ‘I will be fine’, ‘I am loved and supported’, ‘I can overcome these thoughts’, ‘I am capable and valuable’
e) Act: In the moment, I ask myself what I need to comfort myself? This could include movement (going for a walk, jog, dance, etc.), comfort (a hug, a hot bath, etc.), distraction (comedy shows, solving puzzles), releasing (cry, scream, take out the anger) and even sleep.
f) Meditating, listening to soothing sounds and chanting have helped me improve in the long run

How to protect your mental health in the times of social distancing?

Social distancing can be harsh, especially for someone with anxiety and who would understand this better than me. Someone with anxiety would understand how we love having everything planned, leaving very little scope for uncertainty – and oh! How we dread the uncertain! Dealing with uncertainty is certainly not our forte and during a pandemic, all we have is uncertainty. ‘What is going to happen next?’, ‘How bad will things get?’, ‘How will I be impacted by this, on the profession and personal front?’
Here are some tips to cope up with anxiety during these difficult times:

a) Do not obsess over the news: Keep yourselves informed but do not obsess over the news making the rounds. Constant checking of the news can further fuel anxiety and make everything seem out of control.
b) Video call your friends and family: Talking to friends and family can be helpful to share your concerns or simply to distract yourself
c) Exercise (go on a walk, dance, or practice yoga)
d) Listen to soothing music
e) Painting, solving puzzles
f) Clean up a cabinet: Oddly enough, this works for me. Maybe give it a shot!
g) Spend hours watching comedy shows: If you feel guilty about wasting time like I do, just say this to yourself – ‘I need this show right now to comfort myself’
h) Social media detox: I have not tried this as of now, but a friend suggested this to me, and I will be doing this soon
i) Telehealth therapy sessions: Do not feel you are alone! You are not! Reach out for professional help through telehealth providers.

Upasna Handa is a master’s student pursuing Economics and Finance policy at Cornell University. She enjoys spending time with friends, kickboxing, binge-watching Netflix, chanting, and singing. Ever since she got diagnosed with anxiety in November 2019, she has been proactively reading about the coping mechanisms and, going for therapy. Through her articles, she wishes to de-stigmatize mental health issues in India, U.S. and around the world.

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