• Sahar Abdulaziz, MS

Dealing with Stress When Life Feels like a Mess

No one volunteers to have a mood or anxiety disorder. No one wakes up one day in search of new and exciting ways to feel less functional, less alive and consumed in dread and despair. And certainly no one relishes being in the position of learning to coexist with a debilitating psychological pain which has the potential to derail relationships, compromise employment, make it feel impossible to speak or interact, and in some severe cases paralyze a person to such an extent that they become emotionally unable to leave their homes.

Dealing with a chronic mood disorder can be challenging enough when dealing with the ordinary mundane life stressors. Then throw into the mix a shocking event. You know -something with the potential to cause a severe life-altering response. That’s about the time when the fleeting feelings of pending helplessness and hopelessness that lurk just underneath the surface decides to morph into a full-blown episode with the velocity and power to pull one under a cloud of anguish and hopelessness. -And this is because depression and anxiety are parasitical in their approach and acquisition. They have the power to reach in and clench one tight, twist and turn from the inside out, blindsiding a person and sending them to their knees, unable to focus, think clearly or know where to begin to self-protect.

Mood disorders are also not convenient diseases as if there is even such a thing. These disorders seem to ‘know’ when to show up, when to trigger, when to attack and usually at the most inopportune times. Especially when it’s the last darn thing you need to be dealing with…like when one’s life feels like it’s careening into the side of a mountain at warp speed or hope is spiraling into a cold dark abyss. Perhaps even when the pressures of the immediate and daily come clawing their way into the soul and brain demanding immediate attention and absolute answers.

Those who contend with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety already know how hard it is to navigate on a good day. They understand full well that, “marching through the darkness of depression and maneuvering around the maze of anxiety is not an easy expedition.” They appreciate all too well how anxiety ignites a psychic pain that is often difficult to describe if not impossible. Some have likened the feeling to being “plummeted to the depths of despair.” This level of psychic pain not only impacts the way a person will struggle throughout the day, but it changes the way a person evaluates their self worth and self-image. It has the potential to cloud their vision and dismantle how they view and experience the world around them.

Those who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders also describe feeling as if they are constantly being torn into “two conflicting halves, battling with internal fractures.” One part of them is where their real emotions reside, whereas the other half shows the seemingly superficial and often false persona of well-adjusted peace. But despite all appearances, a concealed mood or anxiety disorder can cause a serious rift in the system of the sufferer causing long bouts of low self-esteem, debilitating fatigue, limited to no access to the outside world, and a host of other chronic and painful symptoms.

“Sadly it is not always possible to emerge from the march unscathed or even to escape the maze at all. The people who live with mood or anxiety disorders are soldiers who wear the uniform of normalcy, yet they wake each day to fight a personal battle of survival. They put a protective guard over their face –a mask so that they appear calm and acceptable. They appear just fine…fit and ready for combat, but within they wage a seemingly endless struggle, hoping they will pass safely through another day.”*

So for those facing stressors, which are now triggering a wave of intense anxiety, remember, it can be helpful to hear about what other people have experienced or about what struggles they have faced. Sharing information about personal trials, tribulations and coping techniques can be both informative and proactive. Sharing can also offer the important realization that the person suffering from anxiety is not alone in what they face. Millions of people around the world struggle with many of the same uncertainties and mood challenges and sharing can often validate and reassure. “Sharing experiences, feelings, information, and survival skills is invaluable.”

During times of tribulation and stress, learning to honor limitations is a survival skill. Reexamining priorities and delegating responsibilities when possible is also helpful. Reach out for help where and how you can, but also, remember to accept help and care when offered.

Also, remember, mood disorders and anxiety are not a weakness, they are a disease, and just like with any disease they can cause physical and emotional pain. Do not let anyone try to guilt you out for feeling ill. The disease processes of mood and anxiety disorders are a serious REAL medical condition, and those suffering should be presented with compassion, understanding and assistance.

Fear and worry about the future often present during an episode or an anxiety attack. The battle to impart self-care is made even more challenging as the clashing emotions cause a temporary debilitating psychic paralysis. These are the times when it is the most important to embrace the new norm, face the current limitations, and concede to what is necessary to accommodate the healing process.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD once said, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”

Walk gently, walk in peace…

*But You LOOK Just Fine: Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder, the authors reveal through words and pictures, how people living with mood disorders can easily appear one way on the outside while feeling quite differently on the inside.

But You LOOK Just Fine offers candid counsel and acts as a user-friendly guide of innovative information and genuine compassion to men and women living with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, eating disorder, and many other mood disorders. The book provides an in-depth discussion of each and explores vital topics including mood disorders and: disclosure; dating; looking one way while feeling another; impact on family; intimacy; employment and career; treatment options; spirituality; children and seniors; the connection between chronic pain and depression; thriving; despite a mood disorder the “worry window”; how to help someone with a mood disorder; the military; and mind-body medicine. But You LOOK Just Fine is also a unique tool for mental healthcare providers.


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