Why I Started Being More Open About My Anxiety
How being open about your struggles can do more good than you realize.
I have anxiety.
It’s easier for me to say this now than it used to be, but it’s still not the most comfortable thing in the world. For a long time, I avoided calling my anxiety for what it is. I would never say, “I have anxiety.” Instead, I might say, “I get anxious sometimes,” or “I just worry a lot.” Even after my doctor prescribed me anti-anxiety medication, very rarely did I ever say out loud, or even to myself, I have anxiety.
On some level, maybe I thought that if I didn’t give my mental illness a name, then it wasn’t real. If I didn’t say I have anxiety, then it could just be something that I only had to deal with some of the time, instead of being part of who I am.
But these days, I think that hiding your anxiety — or any mental illness, really — does more harm than good in the long run. Over the last couple of years, I have practiced being more open about my mental health struggles with those close to me. And while I wouldn’t say talking about my anxiety is a favorite pastime, I find it much easier to do than I once did. Now that I’ve become more open about my anxiety, I can honestly say that I think it is better to resist the urge to hide this part of yourself.
Hiding your anxiety gives you more anxiety
When you work to hide your anxiety from others, you start worrying about what happens if people find out. In turn, that makes your anxiety go up. If you are like me and get physical symptoms that are hard to hide (I’ve been known to vomit when I get really anxious), then those symptoms will can get worse the more you try to hide them.
This used to happen to me when it came to dating. Dating gave me such intense anxiety that I would become physically sick. But since I didn’t want to tell the person I was dating about my anxiety, I would try to hide these symptoms. Then I ended up feeling anxious that I would get sick around him and not be able to explain, or that because of my symptoms he would find out about my anxiety.
I figured once someone found out about my anxiety, they would lose interest. These worries caused me to shut myself off from dating for a long time. Eventually, I decided that if I was going to date I would be upfront from the start. Lo and behold, my anxiety about dating went down by at least half when I decided to just be open about what I was feeling.
Hiding our anxiety adds to the stigma
While I know how hard it is to talk about mental health, I also believe that the more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be around it. By treating anxiety like a dirty little secret we reinforce the idea that having anxiety makes you somehow wrong or broken.
Mental illness is not uncommon. In fact, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, a little over 30% of adults in the US will deal with an anxiety disorder during their lives. But when you’re going through anxiety yourself it can feel like you’re the only one.
By being open about our experiences we can help others recognize what they are going through as well so they can hopefully get the help they need. Plus, I have found that the more open I have been about my anxiety, the less shame I have felt about it, which helps to decrease my levels of anxiety overall.
Sharing your experience gives you opportunities to connect
Because so many people feel like they have to hide their anxiety or other mental health issues, it can be hard to know who around you is struggling. But when you are open about your anxiety with your friends and family, you may be surprised to find out how not alone you are.
When I finally chose to give dating another try and started dating my current partner, I decided that I was going to be as open as I could be about my anxiety from the start. Once I began to share my story with him, I realized that he also had some experience with anxiety, and we were able to connect on a deeper level. Now here we are, three years later and getting married. I’m not sure it would have happened if I hadn’t made the choice to be honest with him about my anxiety from the beginning.
I’m not going to pretend that it’s always easy to talk about my anxiety, or that I even enjoy doing it most of the time. But I am much better about it now than I once was, and I’ve found that sharing my experiences with others has been an overall positive experience for me. If you are also struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues, I hope you know that you are not alone. And I hope you are able to share what you are going through with someone else. You never know how much it might help you (or them).
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also writes articles on travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil.