Don’t suffer in silence - talk to your friends about anxiety
By Kristine Barney

While attending Journalism school at UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I began dating my best friend my first semester. I was happy and excited to be a part of a college. But when I started to suffer with anxiety, I thought I had to suffer in silence.

Making friends was somewhat easy for me, but I was very hard on myself. I was my own worst enemy, my self-talk was horrible. Self-talk is what we tell ourselves.

Panic attacks

Starting my second semester, my boyfriend and I went one morning to the cafeteria for breakfast. Suddenly I began to have what I call the first panic attack of my adult life.

This panic attack changed the course of my entire second semester. After feeling dizzy, shaky, and like I had “nowhere to run”, I never went to the cafeteria again. This was the worst mistake I could have made, but at the time I was terrified to tell anyone.

You need to eat to live … I knew this of course, but I figured that I would use the microwave and make myself macaroni and cheese. I ate this disgusting microwavable mac and cheese every single night for over three months because of my unrealistic fear of the cafeteria.

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Fear made my world smaller

At the time, I thought that I was running from my panic. If I could simply ignore the cafeteria, my anxiety would go away. This fear only made my world smaller. I grew hungry and tired. My mind began to suffer, and so did my body.

Everything began to scare me; boarding the bus, going to the store, and even walking to classes gave me sleepless nights and  horrific mornings. My stomach would literally ache and churn each morning as I woke up to face yet another day of horror.

The reason that I told no one was simple, and is the reason why most of us don’t tell people. We fear so intensely what others will think.

Don’t suffer in silence

Anxiety should never be stigmatized, and those of us who suffer shouldn’t do so in silence.

Throughout the years, I have learned that my panic attacks are a false alarm to what is perceived in my body as real danger. Doctors and therapists describe this feeling as fight or flight.

Medical problems like cancer or diabetes are not any different to mental disorders. Wouldn’t you tell your friend if you had a broken arm?

There is absolutely no reason to be afraid of something you can’t control. Hiding your anxiety is dangerous. It can lead to extreme isolation as well as alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, those who suffer from panic disorder have a four to fourteen times greater chance of substance abuse, and the suicide rate is much higher as well.

I hid my anxiety from my best friends, my boyfriend, and everyone that I was afraid of losing in my life. Little did I know that had I told them I was suffering in fear alone, I wouldn’t have suffered so intensely.

How to tell others

I know first-hand how incredibly hard it is to tell anyone that you suffer from anxiety. These are easy tips to start the conversation:

  • Make a list of the friends who have supported you in the past.
  • Tell the people you spend the most time with about your anxiety.
  • Share with a co-worker for support and understanding.
  • There are tremendous resources to share with your friends to help them understand anxiety. It’s easy to send a link about panic to a best friend or spouse.

Your counselor should have some great resources to share with friends.

Be specific

Once your loved ones understand what you’re going through, state the kind of help that you want from them.  Be specific with the type of understanding you need.

You may need your co-worker to understand that if you’re experiencing an anxiety attack at work it can affect your mood.

Isolation is another feeling that I experienced.  Let your good friends know to call you if they haven’t heard from you in a few days. Friends are people that care about you! You’re not bothering them by sharing.  They come to you with their problems as well.

I’ve lived with anxiety for over seventeen years. I know the best source of support you can find to help you manage your disorder is truly the people that care about you.

Sharing with others will prevent you from isolation, substance abuse, and suffering in unnecessary silence.

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