When I was a Sophomore in high school, we put on The Mystery of Edwin Drood for the spring musical. It was our beloved and crazy strict director's last show at the school, and he was going to make it count. I wasn't in the cast, but I played clarinet and bass clarinet in the orchestra; and my stand partner was a real bitch.
Around that time I started getting bumps under my fingers which I remember calling "stress bumps". I had a crapload of school work that needed attending to, orchestra practice with a bunch of pro musicians (& a loopy conductor), and various other home life craziness that doesn't merit much attention. I was having fun, sure, but I also wanted to tear my hair out and beat my stand partner with her own instrument. (A bass clarinet as well. I couldn't murder her with mine because it was a rental. *sigh*)
Everything felt like it was spilling out of me. The cover of my red journal ripped off and the bumps under my fingers kept getting bigger and bigger.
This was spring of 2005. Six years later, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
When I was younger, I just thought feeling nauseous all the time, wanting to cry for no reason, and hypersensitivity to certain types of stimuli were totally normal things to experience. It was a pleasant shock to find out this was not the case.
Anxiety had been disrupting my life for so long, I kind of just...forgot to notice it.
I finally got diagnosed, and while thinking about it I figured that I'd done an alright job dealing with things on my own. (After all, I was still alive so I considered that a success.)
Here are some things that may help you out if you are, or have been in the same boat:
Learn the difference between anxiety, and anxiety disorders.
In the end, feeling like shit is feeling like shit no matter how you spell it out. Don't let anyone discount your feelings because you don't have a full blown disorder, everyone has anxiety. I had no idea how ridiculous mine was until I spoke with a therapist. You're going to be the best gage of your own feelings, but don't discount seeking out medical help if you're unsure if your anxiety levels are normal or astronomical. Websites like tumblr have a really toxic way of talking about mental issues in declaratives. Don't let that dissuade you from taking your anxiety seriously.
Whether you have an actual disorder, or are just experiencing some isolated stress, YOUR ANXIETY IS VALID. (As in, it is ok to acknowledge it exists, sometimes I worry about what seems like the dumbest shit, but I have to remember that's my anxiety brain talking.) In the end, worry is worry is worry, and it's unpleasant.
Recognize your symptoms and keep an "anxiety journal".
When I start to get super anxious, my chest feels really painful, I feel like if someone bumps into me I'll shatter into a million pieces, and my muscles get really tight. I also know I'll go from one to teary mess in milliseconds. What does your body feel like when you start to get anxious? Start by making a list of physical symptoms (whether in your actual journal, an anxiety journal, somewhere on the internet...wherever you feel most comfortable) after you've got a list going, then start keeping track of when you start to feel anxious. Is it when you have a long drive ahead? Perhaps a test on the horizon? Going to the dentist?
After awhile, you should be able to start seeing some patterns. For example, I get really stressed when I'm trying to meet someone somewhere, and I found that I'm late a lot. I realized this was because I'm always worried (no matter how many times I check and recheck when or where we're meeting) that I've messed something up. Once I see the other person is already there, it gets rid of my waiting anxiety.
Try and think of things that help get your mind back on track.
Certain types of stimuli really help me get my head back in the game. I have music, movies, and other things I can turn to that help calm my brain down a lot.
Make a list of what some of these things may be for you. Here are some of mine for an example:
If you're trying to block out stimuli, as opposed to using it as a distracting agent, meditation may be what you're looking for. (Lynda Berry has a concise outline of my favorite technique in her book What It Is.)
Also, depending on your particular situation, you may just need to call up a friend. Every time I'm having an Ira Glass Crisis, I call my friend Hannah. She always does a great job pulling me out of the dumps!
Another thing that may be good is getting some fresh air. Walks, a drive with the windows down, opening the windows in your own house, whatever feels best.
There's NO wrong way to try make yourself feel better. Do whatever works for you, and stick with it. Your well being is worth the effort!
If you've gone through laundry list after laundry list with no results, it may be time to hit up a professional.
I would be remiss if I didn't explain that I didn't get back to a mildly relaxed state without the help of medication and therapy. Everything listed above helped me maintain homeostasis before I realized I actually needed more help than basic technique could give me. If you've tried suggestion after suggestion with few results, don't beat yourself up. Your brain may just be acting like a serious butthole. It's worth it to find a therapist that you feel is helpful for your particular situation (everyone is different) my therapist helped me by making lists and breaking things down. You may need someone to just listen. If you don't find the perfect therapist on your first appointment, keep trying. I guarantee you, it's TOTALLY worth it.
After you've spoken with someone, they may or may not suggest trying medication to help you out as well. Again, medication, like therapy, is not the right choice for everyone. I just happened to benefit from it immensely. It took the parts of anxiety I couldn't control and let me get a handle on them. (Not feeling like I was going to vom 24/7 was such a treat!)
Remember: regardless of what any outside force tells you, your feelings are valid.
You deserve a chance to make sure you're feeling in tip-top shape!