5 Things I Didn't Know Were Anxiety

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In my junior year of college I was incredibly stressed. It was the spring semester during softball season. We were practicing 3-4 days a week, had at least 5 games every weekend, and I was taking 5 education courses, most of which required teaching at schools. (I was an elementary education major).

My schedule Monday-Thursday looked like this: (this did NOT include game days Fri-Sun)

7:00 am - wake up

7:45 am - 11:00 am - work at an elementary school

11:30 am - 1:00 pm - practice by myself

1:30 pm - 5:30 pm - classes

5:45 pm - 6:45 pm - practice with team

7:30 pm- 11:00 pm - homework

*start all over for at least 4 days a week

Needless to say, I was very overwhelmed. I was able to maintain this tight and hectic schedule for about 1.5 months. Then one day, I went to warm up at practice and I couldn't move.

Part of our warm-up was 10 sprints, each of increasing speed. I generally thrived in this area because the primary reason I played division-one sports was because I was so fast. However, I remember going to complete the sprints, the final part of the warm up, and my body would only go 30% of its usual speed.

My coaches kept asking me if anything was wrong and I would simply say, "No, I'm okay." I truly thought nothing was wrong because I had no actual physical injury. Besides, for years I had a rigorous training schedule and course-load; this was nothing new or different.

Our trainer at the time, Jamie, couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. So, we finally booked a doctor's appointment. After explaining the symptoms (joint pain, physical limitations, exhaustion, etc) one of the first things the doctor asked was, "On a scale of 1-10, how stressed are you?" I hadn't considered that before: how stressed was I?

He prescribed me two packs of steroids and I went on my way. He didn't clear me for two months and the only direction was, "You need to rest. And not do any physical activity."

Three years later, I started going to therapy (for totally different reasons) and was talking to my counselor about my stress. I told her my body was hurting for some reason and I often felt like I couldn't breathe. This was the firs time I'd ever heard of anxiety -- she told me that sometimes, we can experience anxiety in physical ways. When I told her about what happened to me during my junior year of college, she said "that's definitely anxiety."

Physical symptoms were just the first part of the rabbit hole. Throughout the years, I have talked through different scenarios with my therapists all to come to this conclusion: anxiety does impact my day-to-day life. Here are 5 things that I didn't know were anxiety, but 100% are.

1. Feeling like I had to overachieve to be considered intelligent.

For many, many years, I went above and beyond any and all expectations. I thought my performance was based on my undeniable intrinsic motivation; however, it was just anxiety.

Outside of my deep desire to be accepted (which caused a significant amount of anxiety), I was waiting for everyone to discover that I was a fraud. Dr. Valerie Young has researched the idea that successful and accomplished women often think of themselves as impostors and coined the term, "impostor syndrome." In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women she outlines the "fraudulent feelings among high achievers."

These feelings are very, very real and I can tell you 1 thing FOR SURE - they cause a ton of anxiety.

2. Thinking I had to be perfect to avoid judgment.

Perfectionism and anxiety are two peas in a flawless pod. (I think I'm funny). In her article, Why Perfectionism and Anxiety Disorders Go Hand-in-Hand, Elisabet Kvarnstrom writes, "For perfectionists, self-judgment is ever-present and anxiety is constantly looming as you anticipate the ways you can fall short." People who are perfectionists are constantly judging their every move to avoid any potential external judgment.

Most of the time, perfectionists have low thresholds for criticism, they may seem "sensitive" or "defensive." That's because they've already spent hours shredding their entire existence and are anxiously awaiting your critiques, too.

3. Minimizing my achievements and not stopping to enjoy accomplishments.

We often like to think people who minimize achievements are humble; however, I would argue they're anxious. Many times people who avoid enjoying their accomplishments are uncomfortable with the spotlight on them because it's too much pressure. It's the pressure of "what's everyone actually thinking about me?" Or, "Do I really deserve this because anyone can do it?"

4. Not being able to sleep through the night.

Throughout the years, I attributed my inability to sleep with taking naps, eating before bed, or simply having "too much on my mind." However, research begs to differ. Eti Ben-Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley states, “If we are chronically sleep deprived, if we keep losing sleep, it could sensitize us to greater anxiety levels and help develop an anxiety disorder.”

For me, anxiety was never a real idea - in fact, I didn't even understand what anxiety could be until I started seeing a therapist in 2013. During therapy, I began to understand how anxiety impacted me and how it manifested itself in my every day life. A lack of sleep is 100% an outcome of feeling very anxious.

5. Feeling like I can't breathe.

I'm not in tip-top physical condition all of the time, but I'm pretty fit. Contrary to popular belief, I don't like running at all. (People assume that because I'm skinny, I must love to run. #WRONG). Although running causes me to have shortness of breath, sometimes it can be hard to breathe whenever I'm anxious.

For many years, I didn't understand why my chest physically hurt when I was stressed. I knew that from my college experiences, that my body didn't respond well to stress. In fact, it could shut down entirely. However, in my early 20's my chest would begin to hurt - like I couldn't breathe - whenever I felt overwhelmed. Now I realize that's the first indication that I'm experiencing anxiety.

Not everyone feels pain in the same areas of the body with anxiety. For some, it can come in the form of an upset stomach or maybe a headache. For me, it feels like a 100-pound dog is sitting on my chest... and not the happy labradoodle of my dreams. It's more like the restless, annoying dog that won't stop barking and is always needy.

Everyone has different experiences with anxiety and it can manifest differently in each person. One thing is for sure -- it is a very real condition and can be challenging to deal with. Be patient with those who experience anxiety; the less judgment you give, the more they'll be willing to share their experiences.




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