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The Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.

This week, we hear from Dua Mazhar, a senior at the University of Houston studying healthcare administration.

My history with anxiety

I didn’t know that anxiety even existed until I reached my late teens and early 20s. I was bullied in elementary school for my poor test scores, for hanging out with the least popular kid in my class, and for my inability to pay attention in class because my eyes were immersed in a book rather than on the board or the teacher. I think that’s where it started. The taunting, teasing and name-calling didn’t mean much when I was younger. But as I grew out of my childhood and into high school, I began to feel unworthy and insecure about who I was. I lived in fear, especially around authority figures because I didn’t have many good ones in my childhood.

How anxiety presents itself physically

My anxiety manifests itself physically with shaking legs whenever I feel stressed out. My head begins to pound from my overthinking. I have a hard time sleeping because I keep thinking about certain past events in my life over and over. Anxiety stems from the brain and the brain is the center of everything. When it becomes overburdened with thoughts, there is a trickle-down effect. It spreads the burden all over the body. My heart feels like it’s sinking and my stomach ties into a knot. I began to space out in real time and forget where I am because I am so consumed with my own thoughts, which are just my worst fears.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

I know the thoughts are all in my head, but my worst fears come alive and they feel so vivid, as if I am living through them. I think when you live through a lot of instability, you yearn for control. I feel that anxiety itself is a defense mechanism of the body. It keeps me on my toes, always on alert just in case I need to protect myself. It makes me think of the worst possible situations. It’s also crippling me slowly, piece by piece.

What a day when my anxiety is at its worst looks like

It’s hard to put into words. I have no idea what a panic attack feels like and yet that’s what it feels like. I feel like crying because I feel as if everything is crumbling around me. My head is pounding, my stomach is collapsing around itself, and my heart is sinking. I can’t go to sleep and I can’t get myself out of my head. The scariest part is when I want to hurt myself just to make myself stop thinking. I want to run away from my own mind because it scares me so much.

My go-to coping mechanism

My faith is everything to me. There have been numerous times where I have felt angry at God and yet prayer is the coping mechanism I cling to no matter what. Because even though I have hit rock bottom, I always feel like God has been there to get me through it. Or that’s what I like to believe.

My other go-to mechanism is to write or read. On paper, it’s as if I can listen to my own thoughts and reflect. I have begun to journal to become more self-aware. I write down three things that have bothered me during the day and three things I am grateful for. It helps me to reflect on my own behavior, my emotional state of mind, and the tiny things that I am blessed with, especially my family. And reading a good book is great escape even if its temporary.

One thing I wish people understood about anxiety

We can’t turn off our thoughts. The only thing we can learn to do is learn mechanisms which help us to not allow our thoughts and worst fears to take over. Anxiety is a dark figure and it spreads like a wildfire some days. Sometimes it’s like a ripple that spreads in a lake, and some days it takes long naps, if we are lucky. Every single person living on earth has this monster living inside of them, and all it takes is a single trigger to bring it alive.

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