Being More Than a Number

I hear statistics all the time along the lines of “x percent of people have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives” or “1 in x Americans will struggle with anxiety in their lifetime”. The thing is, being stressed is not the same as being anxious. Worrying about what you’re going to do with your life or stressing about your workload isn’t the same as struggling with anxiety.

Anxiety is repeatedly worrying about the same irrational thing. Over and over. No matter how many times you’ve assured yourself there isn’t anything to worry about. Anxiety is the feeling of dread and fear that sits in your chest for a reason you can’t define to anyone, including yourself.

Being stressed about school work, your future, your job, that deadline, your paycheck, bills…. unfortunately, that’s normal when you live in a success, money-driven world. I’m not saying it’s good or that it’s healthy, but neither is being overweight and that’s become the norm. Don’t confuse your stress with anxiety, just as you shouldn’t confuse being fat with someone who has a thyroid condition and has no control over his or her weight.

Anxiety has been glamourized by Buzzfeed and other social media. It’s not as easy to understand as the list of 27 things makes it out to be. There aren’t just 14 facts that I want you to be aware of. There aren’t only 18 phrases you should never say to me. Sure, I appreciate the light such articles are bringing to mental illnesses. They’re giving people a starting place for conversations. They offer references for people who struggle with explaining themselves in their own words.

Sometimes Buzzfeed is to the anxious what Taylor Swift is to the broken hearted. But just as every heart break is unique, so is every anxiety disorder.

Don’t ever think for a second that having anxiety is as simple as a laundry list can make it out to be. Don’t think that the meme, which even someone with anxiety may giggle at, means it’s a fun experience. Don’t say you are anxious when you’re not. The people who really are will get lost or discouraged. Instead, use those articles to do some self-examination or to compare to a friend who seems a little down.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon – anxious is not the new black. But start looking around and see if you see anything differently after reading them.

If you think you really are suffering from anxiety, find someone to support you. Go see a doctor. Talk to someone. There is nothing weak about keeping yourself healthy. It gets better, but you have to take care of yourself.