Things I wish I knew before being diagnosed with anxiety

Header image for the article Things I wish I knew before being diagnosed with anxiety Credit: FSU PUBLICATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT.

Did you know that anxiety disorders affect between 0.5 per cent and one per cent of the population? Anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by the feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure (apa. org). A lot of people have been diagnosed with anxiety or know someone who has been diagnosed with it.

In Oct. of 2018, I was officially diagnosed with severe anxiety and panic attack disorder. I remember my first year of college and not being able to understand why in certain situations my heart rate would increase or why I would randomly break out in a rash. I wish someone would have told me that it was just my body warning me.

The human body is designed to prepare you for action and will react accordingly to the situation. Just knowing how to calm yourself when you feel anxious could make it so much easier when it comes to facing the task that makes you feel anxious. Another thing I wish I knew would have to be that even on days where I could be having a good day, anxiety can just pop out of nowhere. I could be working at my desk and all of a sudden feel so anxious and have no idea where it came from.

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People who do not have anxiety often don’t understand that it can exhaust you and you just do not feel like being social. There were days where I felt like I couldn’t communicate with anyone because I felt like I just couldn’t communicate what I was feeling.

I wish people would understand that sometimes people with anxiety have a hard time expressing the emotions they are feeling and sometimes we end up in an overwhelming situation they have no control over. Sometimes, when I get very overwhelmed, I completely shut down.

Trevor McLean is a former orderly who worked in the mental health wing of an Ottawa hospital. According to McLean, there are signs not many people are aware of that are caused by anxiety, and tackling those issues is the first step in addressing our mental health.

“If you don't take care of your own mental health, how can you take care of others? How can you do your job or function doing family activities if you yourself are in crisis and can't think or act clearly and don't take care of your own mental health?” he said. “You are going to wear yourself down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Mental health is important because it controls all aspects of your life as mentioned above.”

For McLean, mental health is just as important as physical health, especially with this past year and being isolated from people. What I wish I knew about managing anxiety during the pandemic is how common some of these emotions I have been feeling are among others.

McLean discussed the effects the pandemic has had on people’s mental health and how it shows that mental health has never been taken seriously.

“With COVID, it has shown the huge gaps in mental health coverage and that mental health hasn't been taken very seriously and has been understaffed and underfunded for years,” he said. “People were not able to get the help they needed and just stayed silent and suffered. But now, with prominent individuals coming forward and saying, ‘I can’t function, I need help,’ it has pushed the case for mental health coverage to the forefront and shows that even if you don’t have a physical ailment, mental health can affect you and stop you from being a productive member of society. By prominent people coming forward, it might get the ball rolling on the government to invest more in mental health services.”

Before I was diagnosed with anxiety, I used to be so afraid to talk to a professional because of the stigmatization I thought I was receiving from others. I have family members who believe in the idea of anxiety being something you can get over. But, McLean argued that is not the case.

“Bouts of anger, depression, fear of going to work or going outside, not being able to drive or do activities of daily living, emotional outbursts such as crying….all of these would collectively be seen as having a bad or off day. But if these symptoms persist, you need to seek medical help because it could turn into a crisis situation,” he said.

If you are feeling any of these feelings and are unsure where to go, there are many services available throughout the college and the community. Reach out to Counselling and Accessibility Services if you are concerned about your mental health.