Updated: Nov 5
The first time I remember experiencing symptoms of generalized anxiety I was 6 years old. I remember feeling overwhelmed with thoughts that would not slow down and all consuming feelings of dread. I felt trapped by these feelings and I did not have the words to articulate just how deep the fear ran inside me.
Anxious thoughts and feelings have been my life long companion. I don’t remember a time where I haven’t had to cope with these feelings. Like so many of the estimated 1 in 5 Canadians who struggle with mental illness each year, for a very long time I believed I was alone. I was afraid to tell people about my fears because I assumed that by sharing my thoughts I could somehow make others feel that kind of fear. As much as I did not want to be afraid, I knew I never wanted someone I cared for to experience the fear that I did. So I kept my thoughts, my fears, and my feelings to myself.
But like a boiling kettle, that pressure had to come out. When I was younger, the pressure was released through big behaviours. Anger. Tears. Loss of sleep. My relationship with food. Not talking about what I was experiencing actually made me feel more afraid and overwhelmed.
When I was finally diagnosed with generalized and social anxiety I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Suddenly I wasn’t alone, there were other people like me out there. There were tools I could explore to help me cope and manage through my fear. Most significantly, I discovered that not only were my fears not contagious, I felt safer and calmer when I shared them with others.
The number of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, in Canada, between 2012-2022 went from 2.6% of the population to 5.2%!
It’s important to know that feeling anxious from time to time is normal. For individuals who are diagnosed with anxiety, these feelings do not go away. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include frequent feelings of restlessness or the inability to settle, difficulty concentrating, a noticeable increase in irritability, physical changes such as headaches, stomach discomfort, muscle pains, or changes in sleep and eating habits, and challenges in managing feelings of fear or worry.
Any time you experience a significant change in your mental or physical health it is always a good idea to speak to your family doctor. My family doctor recommended that I speak to a therapist to learn strategies for coping with my anxiety. Not only has therapy helped me find ways to manage my fears and worries, it has also helped me to feel safe talking about them.
Generalized and social anxiety have been a significant part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s a part of me that I now feel comfortable speaking openly about because more than anything, realizing I was not alone was one of the most freeing and empowering moments of my life.
If you feel like your worries and fears have become louder than other thoughts, know that you are not alone, and you do not have to manage this on your own.