Anxiety really does suck. Ask anyone going through the difficulties of being invaded by anxiety. It sucks the life out of you. I’ve seen many people in my practice who come in struggling with the effects of anxiety — the chronic worrying, rumination, difficulty slowing down physiologically and/or mentally, trouble socializing in many cases, difficulty with focus, migraines and headaches, irritable bowel flare ups, trouble sleeping, or falling asleep too early often, and more. By the time the day is done, they are exhausted, partially from their day, and then even further just from the mental and physical gymnastics that anxiety brings.
Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. One of the general features of anxiety is often an excess of energy in the body that doesn’t seem to have a place to go. Therefore, the mind is constantly moving, the body needs to run or do something physical, etc. This is almost polar opposite of depression where a person feels a low or total lack of energy and motivation.
How do life experiences play in?
A wise instructor once told me, “Experiences hold power over people until they can put words to the experience. Once they can do that, the person takes the power back. They don’t feel controlled by the experience anymore.”
While it’s not quite this simple overall, the main thing to take from this quote is how many unprocessed experiences people can carry from their past, and how much of a burden the cumulative effect can have on the mind and body. We carry the energy, the weight of experiences, the dissociated emotions, and more. People just don’t always tend to realize the impact until they have accumulated so much that they can’t ignore the impact any longer — whether physiological symptoms start to show up, relationship issues, rumination, or other things come up that signal the overload on one’s system.
For many people who struggle with social anxiety, they will feel exhausted after a social outing, which requires them to be “on” for a period of time. This includes fighting the anxiety in order to function socially — sometimes overthinking what to say in conversations, or just dealing with the discomfort of being in the exchange, not knowing what the other person is thinking about them, not knowing how they are coming across to others, etc. By the time it’s over, the anxiety has sucked the energy from them and they are completely fatigued. Simply having conversations feels like running a half marathon.
For some, the impact of anxiety-induced fatigue can hit so hard on a regular basis that it impacts their relationships — for example, regularly choosing to go to sleep instead of having sex due to the fatigue. I also work with people who struggle with flying anxiety, and when people are anxious for hours on end in a plane, while feeling relief upon landing, they can feel exhausted for days after due to how much of a toll the anxiety took on their mind and body.
Anxiety does have its benefits when it’s part of a more balanced process — for example, anxiety can let people know when something is threatening to them, dangerous, or that something needs to be regarded (like finishing a project before a deadline, otherwise you could lose your job). Anxiety has its place. But when people are experiencing anxiety out of balance — when anxiety is happening all the time, or in places where it isn’t ‘needed’ — this is when it becomes a problem and gets in the way of optimally functioning in life.
So, anxiety…yes, it sucks.