Is This What People Without Anxiety Feel Like All The Time?

I’ll never forget that first time I felt my anxiety medication kick in. It took a few weeks, and during those weeks I had begun to feel hopeless. I wanted it to work immediately, even though my health care provider told me that wouldn’t be the case.

The moment I knew it had finally kicked in was when I was having a stressful moment with my kids. They were three and five at the time, and smack in the middle of their “testing boundaries” phase that usually comes at that age. Typically, these moments were a forceful trigger for my anxiety. I’d become tense, sweaty, and shaky. It took everything in me to remain composed and on an even keel.

This time was different. Yes, I was upset. Yes, their persistent pushing of my buttons was getting on my nerves. But apart from that, I was pretty calm. I wasn’t catastrophizing, wasn’t adding to the chaos by letting my own emotions run away with me. I felt clear-headed, like I could be upset and still keep my head on straight.

That was an exhilarating moment for me. For once, I felt like my body was reacting to the situation appropriately. Not triggering my fight or flight response when all I was doing was parenting my kids.

A few years have passed since then, and like many people with anxiety, I’ve recently had to adjust my medication to get the same therapeutic effect I used to get. Slowly, over time, my brain had begun habituating to my prior dose, and it wasn’t managing my anxiety as much as it had in the beginning. I hadn’t realized it because, in taking my meds every day like I was supposed to, I believed that everything was working just fine. It wasn’t until some upsetting news recently came to my family, and my anxiety really got a hold of me, that I realized it maybe wasn’t working as well as I thought.

I upped my dose and now, after just a few short weeks, I feel back on track. Finally, I’m able to have perspective again, to keep my mind clear when things are upsetting or stressful. It feels so good to be back in the space that feels attuned and in control.

The thing with anxiety meds is that they don’t remove your anxiety completely; they just keep it in check. Things that would cause any person stress or anxiety will still cause you stress. But unlike your unmediated self who would spiral in those circumstances, your self on the right dose of anti-anxiety meds will keep it in perspective.

My husband and I are currently in the process of finding a new place to live. That process is stressful. It’s not made any easier by the fact that, although we are in good financial shape right now, we’ve had a lot of financial hardships over the years, and it shows on our credit score. This is an enormous trigger of anxiety and shame for me, understanding that now countless eyes will be on our dark financial past that doesn’t reflect where we are now. It especially makes me anxious because this is our shelter, our home.

I am anxious. But I’m coping. I am stressed, but I’m not fearing the worst. I have what, I believe, is a healthy and appropriate level of stress—the kind that is proportional to the problem.

And this is how I understand what it must be like for people who don’t have chronic anxiety like me. This is their normal. They feel anxious when it makes sense to, when it’s appropriate. They scale their stress to the reality of the situation, not to the doom-and-gloom idea of a possible reality that doesn’t exist.

It feels good to realize that maybe, with the right medication and proper attenuation, I can remain in a healthy and appropriate state of responding to stressful events. It’s reassuring to realize that it is human to react negatively to negative things, so not feeling anything at all in a stressful situation isn’t the goal.

The goal is perspective, resilience, and level-headedness.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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