I had a little convo with a fellow anxious mind over on Instagram the other day about the differences in anxiety symptoms, and I really wanted to talk to you guys about it.
Since starting My Anxious Life, I’ve shared my stories and read so many others, and we’re all really starting to understand the huge scale of mental health concerns and the varying ways in which they manifest themselves. People have said “wow, I didn’t even know that was a thing”, right through to “I have suffered for years with X and had no idea exactly what it was until I read your blog”.
It’s so important to me to keep talking and to keep reminding ourselves that there is a huge spectrum, absolutely no one size fits all, no singular hat that we all wear.
And this is especially true with anxiety. It’s a topic that’s on the rise, partly because so many people are affected in one way or another. But I would also say partly because it’s seen as a more accessible subject, less intimidating and unfathomable than its dark and scary sibling ‘depression’. (Which isn’t true, but that’s a topic for another day).
From comments made in passing by friends, articles in the media or their own experiences, I think quite a few people think they know the key symptoms of anxiety.
But what they know are often the physical ones, that seem to be more openly talked about: nausea, stomach aches and repeated bowel movements, the need to urinate, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, short and rapid breath, headaches, insomnia, panic attacks…
Obviously I’m not disputing these symptoms. They’re common, evidence-based and I’ve experienced many of them over the years. But my point is – we are all different, and our experiences are too.
An anxiety attack doesn’t necessarily see us all dripping in sweat as we rock in the corner. In reality, our anxiety will take the form of an elaborate pick n mix of symptoms, with a lot more going on below the surface than is appreciated.
I get so frustrated that physical outputs are often the only things discussed openly (even in medical environments). Even in the exploration and understanding of mental health, physicality is all people seem to be able to understand.
Whilst I do experience physical symptoms – most commonly for me being huge and disproportionate adrenaline rushes, the compulsive belief I need to wee, short breath and disassociation – for me personally, the majority of my anxiety symptoms are mental. Over-thinking, spiralling thoughts, imagined scenarios, overwhelming emotion, (unachievable) perfection-seeking, self-punishment and others.
And these kinds of symptoms are rarely talked about, nor understood in the context of their relationship with anxiety.
Because of this, people who experience anxiety in a different way to a standard NHS pamphlet feel confused and isolated, and it may lead them to start questioning the validity of their feelings and experiences. Are they just ‘over-reacting’, ‘moody’…. ‘mad’?? They may have to fight harder for a diagnosis, or to gain access to the help and resources they so desperately need. They may find themselves lower down some kind of “mental health hierarchy” because their symptoms are not always obvious and external.
To the person who suffers a very visible and terrifying panic attack, I recognise your struggle. And to the person who suffers an inner turmoil so deep and terrifying, but their friend can only see a slight increase in toilet trips when out to dinner, I recognise your struggle too. Your anxiety is not less than. You are also in pain, and you are equal.
It’s yet another reason that I keep shouting about talking.
- You help others to know they’re not alone – through talking.
- You educate – through talking.
- You facilitate change – through talking.
- You support loved ones – through talking.
And we make this a normal conversation – through talking.