Editor's note: The Deseret News asked members of the community to share their experiences with anxiety. Read their stories here.
I remember the first time I had a panic attack, at 19 years old. I had just seen my then-ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend for the first time together at a Fourth of July party and immediately felt the urge to run. So I did. I ran home, in Chuck Taylors and canvas Volcom shorts (2004), and ran down a busy street until I reached home.
A couple of miles, and my legs burned (not a runner) and my cheeks did too (tears can sting!). Even after I collapsed into my bed my heart raced like I was running for three more days after that. I was exhausted, but I couldn't sleep, my stomach was in knots, I had no appetite, and was miserable.
My anxiety takes on a life of its own. The symptoms of my anxiety seem to work separately from my brain. I can be miles away from discomfort, days after I give a presentation, years after something embarrassing happened to me, but I conjure the memory and it all comes rushing back.
The thing is, now that I have dealt with anxiety for 14 more years and have had kids of my own, I realize I struggled with it for much, much longer than that. It's something I, and my parents, didn't have the vocabulary or knowledge to pinpoint then, yet there it was. I was a ball of stress, worry and anxiety: weepy one minute, raging anger the next, irritable. I remember telling my mom during an argument that she was making my skin itch. It seems so obvious now but I truly didn't know what was wrong with me then.
I see so many of my same anxious thoughts and worries play out in two of my boys and it breaks my heart. Even knowing what I know, I catch myself thinking "Why is he being so irrational?" But that is the thing: anxiety rarely is rational. It is the absence of feeling control in your life. It is the looming cloud of worst-case scenarios. I thought I might write down what would have made me feel better in those moments so I can help my boys, and maybe some of you who aren't sure how to help a person you love who struggles with anxiety.
- Tell them it's OK, and their feelings are, too. Reassuring words, calming conversation, and ultimately letting them know that you understand why they feel the way they do, are helpful. I remember feeling like an alien. No one around me seemed stressed about the things I panicked about, and I second-guessed nearly all of my emotions. I still often do. Try saying, "I would feel nervous if I had a big math test tomorrow, too!" or a "Do you think your tummy hurts because your friend got mad at you today?" These validating statements would've made me feel so much better and more normal than I felt inside.
- Help them find their outlet. Try deep breathing (a friend taught me to inhale for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 and that works wonders for me!). Other options are exercise, a warm bath, medication, holistic remedies, a therapist, journaling, talking it all out, screaming into a pillow, taking a nap. Something will help them in these moments, and being proactive about finding what those things are is vital in managing something that is hard to completely cure. For me: I do deep breathing, exercise and a mix of medication and holistic remedies. Trying to stay present and grateful in the moment is the best remedy I've found.
- Help them find what makes it worse. Triggers, lack of sleep, diet, certain relationships, too much social media, day-to-day tasks. For instance, I cut out caffeine completely because that jittery feeling basically felt like my anxiety and who needs more of that? Once I started paying attention I noticed I have a lot of triggers! These are memories, situations, people and places that trigger the symptoms of my anxiety without so much as a thought about it. It might sound silly, but I have my husband check my voicemails. He also reads confrontational texts or emails and summarizes them for me. If I listen or read those things they are seared in my memory and I will replay them until the end of time. Not worth it! Knowing your triggers and voicing them to someone you trust means you can talk it out. "You're triggered right now because you feel like people will think you're not good at your job. Look at all the ways you are excellent! This is one mistake and it can be solved."
Now my tips come from the experiences of a girl who grew up without social media in my life. I can't even imagine how much added stress it would bring to me as a teen! Even though social media is a huge part of my job as a blogger, I am well aware of the negative effects.
Having full-time access to trips and clothes and friends and agendas and lives that aren't our own is the epitome of pulling us from the present moment, from gratitude for our lives.1 comment on this story
Putting my phone down, deleting that app for the weekend and putting limits on my time on social media has also been a huge help for me as an adult. And oftentimes it is an instant cure for my low mood. If you find your young loved one struggling, I hope these tips help. I might not have cured my anxiety, but having the vocabulary and tools to manage it has made all the difference.
Emily Frame is a wife and mother of three boys living in a home her husband built with his two hands in Wallsburg, Utah. She is an entrepreneur and a writer, and started the parenting site Small Fry in 2012. Keep up with her via @emilyframe on Instagram and smallfryblog.com