By Lauren Paczynski
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and talking about it is never easy. Not only is it hard to explain anxiety to someone who’s never experienced it, but the nature of the disorder means that I am often nervous about speaking up in the first place. I think it’s important for people struggling with this disorder and others like it to talk about it, though— because if we want our condition to be understood, if we want more and better resources to become available, we first need to create more awareness about what anxiety is, exactly. Having said that, I’d like to share with you five things that I wish people knew about my disorder.
1.”Anxiety” is not just a fancy word for feeling “stressed out.” – Not only do I feel “normal” stress to a greater extent than most, I sometimes feel anxiety that is totally unrelated to anything actually going on in my life. I have whole days where I’m anxious and uncomfortable for no discernible reason, and nothing I do to try to alleviate the feeling seems to work. I often describe it to people this way: it’s like playing a video game or watching a movie and hearing the menacing music that signals something bad is going to happen, except it happens at random times, sometimes constantly. The threat isn’t actually there, but that signal in my brain that something is very wrong (or about to be) won’t go away.
I know I’m being irrational. There’s usually some part of my brain that understands that I’m worrying about something minor. That doesn’t mean that my emotional responses are any less real, or any less scary for me, and that doesn’t mean that telling me I’m overreacting is going to help.
2. Anxiety is “all in my head”— but that’s the problem. I can’t even count the number of times that someone has said some form of this to me— “It’s all in your head, just don’t worry so much!” At this point, I have a hard time responding politely anymore. Telling someone that their anxiety is “all in their head” is about as helpful as telling someone with a broken femur that it’s “all in your leg.” I know that my brain is messed up. That’s the whole problem with mental illness, and implying that because something is psychological it should be easy to fix is frankly a little ignorant. Just like any physical illness, mental illnesses require constant management and care. They can’t be fixed by just wishing them away or ignoring them— believe me, I’ve tried.
3. Anxiety affects everything I do. Not everyone feels this way about their anxiety, but for me it is a core part of who I am. Ultimately it has an effect on everything that I do. Even simple things, like ordering food or answering the phone, get filtered through my anxiety and become ordeals. Speaking up in class gives me a rush of nervous energy. I get nauseous just thinking about giving a presentation. For better or worse, this is my normal, and I live with it daily. As good as I usually am at staying on top of my anxiety, I will always have bad days. It’s on those bad days that the understanding and support of the people around me really makes a difference.
4. It’s not always laziness— sometimes it’s anxiety. Something I didn’t understand about myself for a long time— and something that my parents and teachers have long been frustrated by— is that anxiety can come with additional complications that don’t seem like they’d be related. Anxiety.org elaborates on this, saying “a number of studies have found that high anxiety individuals, such as those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), have a decreased ability to ignore irrelevant information, especially when that information is threatening, and greater difficulty switching attention between tasks.”
What this means in practice, at least for me, is that occasionally I have a hard time focusing enough on a task to complete it. I have spent many long evenings at the library staring at an open textbook and trying desperately to make sense of it, or even manage to read it at all. This means that I sometimes have difficulty completing and submitting assignments on time. I had a hard time with this in high school. After years of developing coping strategies and learning how to work around this issue, I am now generally able to do what I need to do even if it’s hard to get started at first, but others may have more difficulty with this than I did.
I’m not arguing that you should ignore your anxious child or student’s failing grades because it isn’t their fault, but I am saying that a little understanding can go a long way. Instead of assuming they’re just lazy, talk to them. Figure out if this is something they might be struggling with, and see about getting them the help they need to overcome it.
5. I can’t “just get over it.” Unlike some physical problems – a broken bone, a fever – an anxiety disorder isn’t something that’s necessarily going to go away. I might be able to control it most or even all of the time, but it’s always going to require time, energy, and effort to do that. When my anxiety is bad, I can’t always just “push through it.” When it is under control it’s still taking up a sizable amount of my energy. That means that I may have to cancel plans sometimes, or miss out on something that I needed or wanted to experience, and that can be frustrating for both myself and the people around me.
If it comes down to a choice between another person’s feelings and my own mental stability, I’m always going to pick myself— I have to. This is something that anyone who loves someone with anxiety, or really with any mental illness, needs to understand. I love my friends, and my family, and my boyfriend, but sometimes self-care and solitude are the only things keeping me afloat. If someone with anxiety cancels on you, try to understand that it’s not that they don’t like spending time with you. It’s just that they may need some time alone to decompress.
Let me be clear that my experiences are not universal. Anxiety comes in many forms and presents itself in a bunch of different, often very personal ways. What I’m talking about here is my anxiety, my experiences. Every individual with anxiety has different needs. If someone you love has anxiety, I encourage you to talk with them about it. Ask them what it’s like for them, and what you can do to help. Not only will it help you understand them, I promise they’ll appreciate the effort.
If you think you or someone you love might be struggling with anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has an extensive list of resources for identifying and managing various anxiety disorders: https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/resources
This Act Locally Waco Blog post was written by Lauren Paczynski. Lauren is a Senior at Baylor University, studying Professional Writing. A Virginia native, she moved to Texas in 2014 to attend Baylor and intends to stay here (at least for a while). After graduation, she hopes to work in editing & publishing. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.
By Jamie Graham
Twenty-two years ago, I found myself lying on a massage table with fine thin needles being inserted into various parts of my body. The problem that had brought me to this unusual position was a monthly fluctuation in moods called Premenstrual Syndrome, accompanied by severe debilitating cramps. During my monthly cycle, I would swing between tears and irritability. Acupuncture had been recommended to me by a friend whose sister was attending the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA). My friend assured me her sister, or one of her fellow interns in the student clinic at AOMA, would be able to help both with the pain and the moods.
Being in such misery, I was willing to try anything. During my treatment, which included two interns and an instructor asking questions, taking my pulse and looking at my tongue, I mentioned I often had a feeling of something being stuck in my throat that wouldn’t go down when I swallowed. A look of understanding passed between the two interns and one of them explained this was something Chinese medicine called Plum Pi Qi and it clearly was indicated in my diagnosis of Liver Qi stagnation. After the needles were removed, they also gave me an herbal formula and recommended I return for future treatments.
I was amazed at the results. I felt calmer, more centered and as a bonus, during the next monthly cycle, my cramps were much reduced. I was hooked.
Six years later, I was the intern seeing clients in the student clinic at AOMA. Many of those clients had mental health issues, ranging from depression, anxiety, grief, anger, PTSD and many others.
At AOMA, we learned emotional issues were related to stagnation of an energy called Qi (pronounced chee). Each emotion was also related to a specific organ system. Grief was related to lungs, anger and depression to liver, fear to kidneys, worry to spleen, overjoy (mania) to heart. By releasing this stagnation with the acupuncture needles and rebalancing the specific organ system, these mental health issues could eventually be resolved.
After graduation, I began to research how acupuncture helps resolve these issues. Western medicine had begun doing research studies on acupuncture. While many of these focused on pain, several of them also focused on mental health issues. There are many theories as to why acupuncture helps pain and other issues such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, one of the things we do know is acupuncture affects brain chemistry. It causes the body to release endorphins, serotonin, and enkephalins and other brain chemicals that help our body with pain, emotions and our immune system. It also increases receptor sites for these chemicals to attach to within the body.
One of the most interesting continuing education classes I have taken was working with veterans suffering from PTSD through an organization called Vet TRIIP (Veterans Team Recovery Integrative Immersion Process). This organization uses a multi-disciplinary approach to working with veteran PTSD. They incorporate tai chi or qigong, acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic, talk therapy and other modalities to help the veterans in their recovery.
The first veteran I treated was one who was, “wound very tight.” He had chronic pain in his lower back and neck. Using just a few acupuncture needles and sitting with him quietly, I watch as the tension left his body. After the needles were removed, he stood up, and a smile came across his face as he realized his pain had eased. “I feel so relaxed,” he said, “and the pain is much less.”
Another veteran I worked with was also a survivor of sexual assault. She was having severe anxiety and insomnia. She also had chronic pain. She, too, was very tense—emotionally and physically. During the treatment, she was actually able to fall asleep, and afterwards told me she felt calmer, like she could finally take a deep breath.
Of course, veterans with PTSD aren’t the only ones to benefit from acupuncture’s effects on mental health issues.
Another training I took is called NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association). This simple 5 needle acupuncture, done entirely in the outer ear, has been used to help people wean off drugs, alcohol and tobacco. One of its main effects is to help reduce stress and anxiety. It was used by acupuncturists to help first responders and victims deal with stress after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and many other disasters. It’s also used by Acupuncturists Without Borders when they respond to disaster sites around the world.
I use NADA quite often in conjunction with body acupuncture for my clients experiencing stress, depression or anxiety. One of the main points in this treatment is Shen Men, which translates as Spirit Gate. Quite often, if someone is in a stressful situation, I will add a very tiny (.06 mm) needle on a piece of tape to Shen Men, to help them deal with stress after they leave the clinic.
During my 16 years of treating clients with acupuncture, I’m still amazed when someone sits up from the treatment table with a relaxed smile on their face as they tell me how calm and energized they feel. And often, that’s just a side benefit from other issues we’ve been addressing. It’s one of the reasons I love my work.
Jamie Graham is the owner of Healing Touch Acupuncture and is a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Waco. She has a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine from the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin. She and her husband, Bob, will be celebrating 43 years of marriage in March. She has one daughter and one grandson who are the joy of her life. She is owned by a Russian blue cat named Walter and a very spoiled shih tzu named Brandi. When she’s not using needles as an acupuncturist, she uses different kinds of needles in her textile art, quilting, knitting and embroidery work.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.