By Devonae Manderson
The dangerous side effects of fear. The often-harsh reality of living with anxiety and how your overall health can be impacted.
We often hear about, or even experience for ourselves, the ghastly chest compressing fear that comes with doing things we aren’t used to doing, meeting new people, or going to new places. It is difficult to not take notice of the looks of bewilderment directed my way when attempting something new and I fold into a stream of tears upon actually going to get that action done.
I’ve lost friendships, and possible job opportunities because of what I was forced to believe was the fear of my own potential. However, I’ve come to understand that anxiety simply isn’t the fear of one’s own goals or dreams, but rather the inexplicably inescapable fear of everything, anything, and nothing at all.
The lack of knowledge about issues such as anxiety in the collective Jamaican consciousness, especially within homes, has forced many young men and women to keep their mouths shut while experiencing mental and emotional challenges while facing the most stressful of situations. Despite putting on an unbothered face for the crowd, many of us scream at ourselves on the inside to become and to portray whatever image of normalcy those around us wish to see. We have seemingly continued to glorify the idea of suffering in silence at the expense of our own sanity and that just might be the problem that ignorance of mental health won’t solve.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety, as is defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology, is a mood state characterized by worry, apprehension, and somatic symptoms. It is similar to the tension caused when an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, misfortune, lingering apprehension, or a chronic sense of worry or tension, the sources of which may be totally unclear. The term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders are often overlooked, and as such, many people ignore the tell-tale signs that come with their reactions to everyday activities and experiences.
More often than not, anxiety comes in waves for the people who suffer from various anxiety disorders and are triggered by past, present, and as per the definition, anticipated future experiences that may relate to a traumatic past or present situation. Subsequently, it is a common misconception that people who suffer from anxiety disorders are loners or introverts. Anxiety affects the public speaker, from the bubbly popular girl to the receptionist who has to greet every single person that enters the building. In understanding this, we are one step closer to seeing that anxiety affects us in more ways than one and it does not necessarily present itself as stage fright or as seclusion. Anxiety disorders are real, just as real as any physical disorder and are the most common and pervasive of mental disorders.
How Does Anxiety Affect Your Health?
Though cases of anxiety trigger the “flight or fight” stress response, which releases chemicals and hormones into your system allowing the body to cope with brief and infrequent episodes of anxiety, repeated attacks may affect the body in the long run. This inevitably can lead to the weakening of the immune system and prolonged stress brought on by anxiety may lead to further health deterioration. According to Harvard Medical School, there may be a connection between anxiety disorders and the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after a bowel infection. IBS can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
Additionally, an anxiety disorder may, in many cases, cause loss of appetite, ongoing muscle tension, headaches, and insomnia. Subsequently, research shows that frequent panic attacks cause individuals to fear the anxiety attacks themselves, which increases overall anxiety. This constant state of stress can lead to clinical depression and increases the risk of individuals developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Personal Experiences With Anxiety
I have perhaps grown to cope with my anxiety. Upon reflection, I can say that it may have been initially triggered by years of being bullied for my complexion, and my body. Often, I felt that if it wasn’t that, then it was always something else. My experiences with these situations have always been confusing because as a dark-skinned person living in a Black majority country, I could never understand how bad I was made to feel for looking the same as everyone else.
Additionally, my experiences with mental abuse at home weren’t conducive to a healthy mental or emotional state and that became even more obvious as I grew older. Over time, I grew to believe that my physical appearance, the way I spoke, as well as my overall presence, would not be accepted anywhere. I would hide out in bathrooms during gatherings. I would cry if I was told we were meeting two people and there were four. I would carry bad experiences with me because once you see me make a mistake, I’d assume my faults were stuck in someone’s memory.
T.S. Eliot once said, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” My experiences have pushed me to unknowingly, and eventually, willingly turn my fear and my anxiety into poetry. Being understood by my peers who may share similar experiences, has shown me that anxiety can affect the best of us. Understanding anxiety in its entirety means understanding that it poses a variety of risks to our health, coming to terms with our own situations, and also provides the opportunity for those around us to understand these risks in order to better cope with it.
How Can You Identify Anxiety To Better Understand It?
My aim as an advocate is to help people to first understand the signs of someone around them who may be experiencing some form of anxiety. Some of the signs are:
- extreme, unwarranted fear of particular situations or things
- fear of leaving the house; social withdrawal
- compulsive or repetitive behaviors
- changes in personality
- trouble on the job or in school
- family or relationship problems
- alcohol or drug abuse
- depression or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- frequent emotional and physical health issues
We must educate ourselves on the things that affect the people we love, so that we may be better able to help them cope. You cannot sign up for anxiety and you cannot simply “stop feeling fear”. However, as someone who experiences anxiety, I can say: do not ignore your fears. Pushing them onto the back burner only creates space for them to pop up in the future. Find ways to speak to your fears and release them. It may not be as easy as it looks, but it’s definitely worth a try.