Anxiety’s Many Personalities

Sitting here trying to write this post drove me insane. I deleted and rewrote the introduction at least five times over the course of an hour. I sat here staring at an empty screen. I shook my head in dismay. I just could not find the words to describe what was going through my mind. I threw my arms up in defeat and figured I would just take the straightforward approach. Honestly, this struggle practically sums up what I have been going through.

This is how my anxiety has presented itself for the last two weeks. I have been in a constant state of confusion. When talking to my friends or coworkers, I stumble to find the right words. I will be in the middle of knocking out a task on my to-do list, stop midway, and forget what I was doing. When asked even the most basic question, I can feel my neurons bouncing into one another perusing the network for the right answer.

My anxiety seldom comes out like this. Usually, I am the guy running around sleep deprived, hyper, and talking a million miles a minute. Sometimes though I fall into bewilderment when feeling overwhelmed.

A friend of mine who suffers from serious panic attacks cannot talk to a stranger over the phone. I witnessed what happens firsthand when she does. Her hands shake. Her voice trembles. Tears cascade down her cheeks. One of the sweetest people grows weak in the knees at the mere sound of a stranger’s voice.

Another friend of mine recently took a leave of absence from work due to severe anxiety. You would never guess in a thousand years that she dealt with it. Even as a counselor, I could not tell until she told me that it caused her to leave work indefinitely. When I asked her how she came to this conclusion, she told me that she did not feel like herself. Being such a kind individual herself, she acknowledged that she was often irritable at work and snapped quickly at customers. I was taken aback. Her voice was almost always cheery and soft.

I worked with a client who suffered from schizophrenia and anxiety. This young man was calm, cool, and collected – most of the time. When he was confronted with a stressful situation, his eyes would roll back in his head, and he would go into a catatonic state. He would not talk to anybody or respond to anyone’s questions for several hours.

What can be taken away from this?

  • Anxiety comes in many different forms. We all respond differently to stress and anxiety-provoking situations. Some individuals experience a more “traditionally defined” panic attack. Others freeze up. There may be avoidance behaviors occurring. Sometimes it even builds up over time, and we barely even notice the anxiety happening since it is so gradual.
  • You never know when others may be anxious or stressed. Just when you think you know someone, they catch you off guard with their reaction. Be mindful of how an individual acts and if it is any different than their norm. You would be surprised what could cause someone to feel anxious. It could be a face you made or even the inflection in your voice.
  • Know your own anxiety. One thing I am starting to realize about myself is that I react different to different types of stress. When I experience a trauma-related trigger, I have a tendency to dissociate and even depersonalize. When I am feeling overwhelmed, primarily by work, I become irritable and confused. If life is coming at me from multiple directions, I avoid and seclude.

I can never stress enough the importance of knowing yourself. Seeing and understanding your anxiety’s many personalities can help you to get back to the one that matters the most- yours.

-The Caring Counselor


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