The seed of anxiety was planted in me when I was very young and has since blossomed and shaped me into the very anxious – type A person I am today. My struggle with anxiety is a daily battle and I hope by sharing it, I can make that battle a little easier in the future…
I distinctly remember lying in bed as a child (couldn’t have been any older than 5th grade) and FREAKING OUT about money. My mind would race with questions: Did we have enough? Was my family going to end up on the street? Were we going to starve to death? How would we make it?
As a young family, my folks started off with nothing — except three little mouths to feed. Their concerns about money would lead to discussions to plan out their finances which I would of course overhear. We were on welfare at the time, my dad was using the GI bill to earn his degree, and my mom was working something like 3 jobs — all menial and all at minimum wage.
I honestly don’t know how we made it — it had to be with great help and support from my whole family.
As I transitioned from elementary school to middle school, my family transitioned into a more stable financial place. My dad got his degree and a better paying job (which he still works today, thankfully) and my mom was able to let go of her jobs and stay home with us kiddos. This transition time was stressful, but not so financially worrisome.
By high school, my fears about money and general anxiety switched to my own path and how the F*** I was going to pay for college. How could I possibly cover the cost of tuition? What will I do for work once I graduate? Who will be there to help if I can’t pay for books? How will I be able to afford a car and school?
It’s interesting, looking back, at how silly it was to worry over things that used to consume my thoughts. Life is life, I can say comfortably now. It’s not perfect, but things work out the way they are supposed to…
My anxiety manifests as panic attacks, nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep talking, and a complete inability to focus on anything else during peaks of anxiety. My anxiety attacks are all consuming.
When something triggers my anxiety, I immediately feel my heart race, my ears ring, and my stomach drop. It’s all I can do to breathe in the moment. I don’t feel rational and I can’t seem to pull myself out of it.
Things that make me anxious today…
#1 Finances — still money, something about this took root so early in my life that it’ll be a long time before I can shake it. I’m terrified of not having enough, not making enough, etc… I see these people who live day to day without a care in the world and I long for that — and think they’re crazy at the same time. My financial goal is to be debt free and financially healthy – this means no more school loans, a house that’s paid for, and a family that is secure. I don’t want any of my future/maybe kids to ever worry about money the way that I did/do.
#2 Car rides — long car rides in my own vehicle (which I purchased straight off, no financing here because of my #1 anxiety producer). It’s not brand new, so it has its quirks, and I’m so terrified of a breakdown/accident that would cost time/money… This never used to be because my first car was a lease, so I didn’t care if there were issues because it wouldn’t cost me anything. Now, though I don’t miss that monthly payment, I’m super anxious on hot days (when the car could overheat), cold days (only before the engine heats up), or on trips that are over 30 minutes long (when the car could overheat or otherwise breakdown). Interestingly, I don’t feel any anxiety when we drive a rental (like we do for super long road trips of 6+ hours)… or someone else’s car. My hubby and I are both good/careful drivers so the actual driving of the car isn’t what makes me anxious — it’s the fear of a potential breakdown that gets me…
#3 Hubby’s Health — my hubby’s health scare of 2013 still freaks me out totally. I wake up some nights just to hear him breathing. He’s still very overweight (as am I!) and I’m so worried that his heart won’t be able to take the additional burden…
#4 Kids — I used to say with confidence that I’ll never have kids. The very idea of having a kid terrifies me, mostly because of my #1 anxiety producer. How can I afford kids? The hospital bill alone is thousands? What if they are sickly and need regular doctor’s visits? What if I lose my job and can’t support them? Could kids flourish in this current living space? Would we have to move? Would we have to get a minivan?
Impacts on my Health
Anxiety, or stress, directly impacts my health in so many ways.
First, my mental health — when I’m having a panic attack or anxiety attack, it’s like I fall into a mental well. It’s dark, it’s hopeless, and it’s bottomless. It’s so difficult for me to pull myself out of that well — and until I can, I’m useless. Sometimes, this means I spiral into a short depression and often feel not good enough.
Having a Korean mom means the voice in my head is often her voice — and is usually very negative. Most of my peers have cheerleader moms that always pep them up and praise them and make them feel capable of anything. My mom had other talents and instead imparted upon me the wisdom of the pessimist.
I try to make good use of my pessimistic inner critic, as it allows me to see around corners and look for pitfalls in my plans, but when I’m feeling anxious this inner voice only acts to shovels coals into the furnace. My father, who is also very anxious by nature and a bit a of a nay-sayer, adds to this by finding flaws in thinking and poking holes in ideas. This actually helped to make me who I am today — someone capable of planning thoroughly and account for any issues — but it also help breed my feeling of being “not enough”.
Fun fact: to this day my mom thinks I made the wrong choice in education, career, and marriage — and tells me so, often. She thinks like most korean moms — I should have gone to school for business/accounting, become a business woman/accountant, and married a rich doctor/lawyer/etc… It’s very hard to my self image, at times, to know that my mother isn’t supportive of my life choices — and plays into my anxiety. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, and most days I don’t, but on those “in the well” moments it’s fuel to the fire.
Second, it impacts my weight and physical health!
After my anxiety attacks/panic attacks, I crave carbs. I want sugar or bread or starchy carbs and usually eat them before I know what to think. In doing some research, I found this article that talks about how stress may act to deplete the body’s energy stores — which means cravings after the time of stress passes.
If this cycle, of stress > calm > craving, occurs regularly, then it’s easy to see how one could gain weight. In an article from WebMd, scientists say that for some people, eating can be a source of solace and could actually lower the feelings of stress. If this is true of anyone, it’s definitely true of me — but only at times. When I’m super freaking out about finances, I’ll restrict food and circle the wagons — no eating out, no fancy food purchases, only simple and cheap meals. But that means when I earn a little bit more, or otherwise am able to relax about money, I want to “treat” myself with a restaurant or takeout/drive thru meal.
How screwy! Actually typing it out makes me see how weird this pattern is… and makes me think back to where it might have started.
When my family was struggling financially, food was an issue. Though not scarce, it was not “what we wanted” — in that it consisted of cheap foods, government cheese/Peanut Butter, and very little protein. In times when money was good, food was better! There was more eating out at nicer restaurants, more quick trip through the drive through, and steak for dinner!! Money = better food. Security = better food. Times of high stress = eating at home or lamer food choices.
In order to make progress, I have to acknowledge the problem and seek help. I’ve seen a counselor/therapist and recommend it for anyone. Sometimes you can lean on a friend or family member that you trust for therapeutic conversations and that can help tremendously. I learned, through this process, that worrying is really a waste of time and energy. It solves nothing. It helps nothing. All it does is deplete my energy.
The anxiety/stress cycle isn’t worth the toll it takes on my body or my brain.
To address times of stress, I’m supposed to call myself out! Like, “hey self, you’re just freaking out — which is a waste of time, energy, and brainpower!” I’m supposed to accept that this is just a situation where I feel anxious and move on. Loving myself through it (instead of being like, “bad self — stop this!”) is important for growth and improvement.
Do you struggle with anxiety?
Is it like me or different? How?
I’d love to hear your story and how you handle it!
Leave a comment/reply and let me know!