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What’s it like to have Anxiety?

My GP says that anxiety and depression are the same, that they’re on the same spectrum. My psychologist specialises in this area, and he describes anxiety and depression as “best mates who like to hang out together”. Well these best mates of mine behave differently, and they’re both bastards. Here I’m focusing on anxiety.

Anxiety – What If?

When I’m feeling anxious I’m almost overwhelmed by a mass of non-specific “What if…” questions. It feels particularly strong when I’m about to leave the house or look after our kids. It’s not that I actually think I’ll crash the car, or forget to take my phone, or make a lunch that the kids won’t eat… it’s all of these and more. These thoughts gather, not fully-formed, and combine to make me feel on-edge for no specific reason.

My mild anxiety attacks feel exactly like having low blood sugar. Sometimes I even check my blood sugar level during a mild anxiety attack to see if I need to eat some jelly beans or not. I feel shaky, like the opposite of standing on solid ground – imagine a small earthquake or tremor. My hands tremble visibly and I become clumsy. I feel like everything around me has sped up, or like I’m moving in slow motion. My thoughts become foggy – a bit like having a head cold. I can’t carry on a conversation, complete a train of thought or focus on anything. When I can, I try to remember these things: Take a deep breath, relax, it’s just a hassle – nothing more, it will last less than 15 minutes.

Sometimes using common sense can help to get me through these feelings of anxiety. I try to articulate the thoughts which are making me anxious and replace them with logic. Other times I genuinely can’t work out why I’m anxious so I try to “fake it till I make it” by pretending I’m fine, which works surprisingly well.

Prior to seeing a psychologist I had a few major anxiety attacks and the worst one felt like a heart-attack. Strong, sharp chest pains, shortness of breath, accelerated pulse… It was extremely scary, which only made the symptoms worse.

What’s the cure?

I wish there was one… My main tools in this ongoing battle are medication and therapy. The medication allows me to feel more like myself in the short-term. Therapy helps me to understand my condition in depth; it teaches me how to cope and move forward; it helps me to be comfortable with discussing difficult topics and makes it easier for me to be honest and open with my friends.

Once I relocate my willpower I’d like to add exercise and a healthy diet to my toolkit. I’ve heard that they can also help a lot.

Help and Support

This post describes specifically how anxiety affects me, other people suffer in their own ways. The only advice I have for others is to find a doctor you trust and talk to them openly. It might help to practice what you want to say, or to write down some key points. For example:

I get nervous about leaving the house.
I’m not looking forward to things which I used to enjoy.
I’m dreading doing [something] next week and I don’t know why.

I highly recommend checking out at least one of these:
SuperBetter TED talk
Beyond Blue

About Kim Engel

Software Test Manager

3 responses »

  1. Hi Kim,
    I came here through a link that Ann-Marie Charrett tweeted and thought, ‘OMG, brave person!!’ 🙂

    I have depression and anxiety attacks myself, and it’s really refreshing to find that you work in the same profession as I do – I am now not alone!! I tend to keep it away from colleagues and not to broadcast it on my twitter account – I have a separate account for that!

    Mental health in the UK is somewhat stigmatised, poorly supported and poorly understood by the masses!

    I remember my first anxiety attack. It wasn’t nice at all and suffered pretty much what you suffered too. I was left cowering in a toilet at a MacDonalds shaking, sweating, ears ringing and legs turned to jelly. It lasted 20 minutes and very scary as I didn’t know what it was until I saw a doctor some days later who then referred me to a mental health nurse of which, after a few sessions, told me that I had depression and was susceptible to bouts of anxiety as, like you say, they go hand in hand with depression.

    The anxiety attacks come and go and I can have many short ones in one day, or over a few days – all with the usual trembling of the legs, sweaty palms and doing a simple job is like solving a puzzle.

    Being at work at this stage is a no hoper. My wife has stood by me for all the years that we’ve been together and it’s not been easy with dealing with my depression for her – We’ve been coping with it alot better over the past couple of years, so this leads me onto my question: Even though our partners have coped with it, I don’t expect my colleagues to deal with it.

    When I get anxious, or depressed, I tend to box myself in and just stare at the computer all day beavering away, so I would be interested to know how you cope in the workplace where we have to converse with our colleagues on a daily basis?

    Anyway, as this is the season to be festive hope you enjoy your Christmas and new year.


    • I think it’s sad (and completely understandable) that you feel the need to post anonymously, considering the high percentage of the population who suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives.

      I’m lucky that I don’t often get anxious at work. I’m usually too engrossed in my work to play the “What if..?” game. I’ve read that “being present” is a good way to ward off anxiety, and I guess that’s what happens when I’m focused at work.

      When my mate anxiety does decide to drop into the office, I tend to do one of these things below. And I’m not necessarily recommending that you do any of these 🙂

      – Go to the bathroom and berate myself with logical reasoning and common sense
      – Tell myself it’s just low blood sugar and eat some chocolate
      – Go and make a cup of tea, while watching a few minutes of crappy daytime TV in the kitchen or talking to a co-worker about the weather
      – Step outside and take some deep breaths if the sun is shining
      – Step outside and check-in with someone briefly (i.e. call a friend or family member)
      – Put headphones on to help me focus on what I’m doing, or think about the lyrics as a distraction to anxious thoughts
      – Fake it till I make it and hope nobody notices

      It wasn’t until I decided to link this blog to my Twitter account that I realised how many of my online friends also struggle with anxiety and depression. Genuine comments such as yours are very helpful in opening the dialogue and helping to overcome any associated stigma. Thank you, and Merry Christmas 🙂


  2. Pingback: Five Blogs – 31 December 2014 | 5blogs

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