Story written by Cinthya Rubio and Julie Leavitt
Brian Baker knew he was different.
He had felt that way as a child, too, because he worried about things more than other kids did.
It was not until he was home from his mission and had received his associate’s degree that he came to understand a part of himself that he did not know about before.
“I was doing well, I just felt like I wasn’t as good as I could be emotionally,” Baker, an alumnus of BYU-Idaho said. “I felt like something was still a little bit off compared to the people around me.”
Baker, like over 40 million other Americans, lives with an anxiety disorder.
While everybody experiences anxiety at some levels, not everybody experiences it to the point that it consistently affects their daily life — the point at which Dallas Johnson, Ph.D and a counselor at the BYU-Idaho Health Center, said one should seek treatment.
Although anxiety is one of the easiest forms of mental illness to treat, only around one-third of those affected by it actually seek treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Baker said he reached a point in which he wanted to know why he felt the way he did.
That is when he decided to try out the BYU-I Counseling Center.
“I just went there to learn about myself, and just to see if there is anything wrong with me, and if there was anything I could do better to help myself be happier,” Baker said.
While there, he met with a counselor and was officially diagnosed with anxiety.
Baker said at the time of his diagnosis, he knew he had anxiety as a child, but thought he had grown out of it.
“She helped me understand that anxiety is a lifelong challenge and is not something ever completely you get over,” he said. “That’s when I realized that anxiety was something I had, and that was OK.”
Baker said the fact that his struggle had a name brought him comfort.
“It was weird because once she told me that I had anxiety, I felt relieved,” he said. “As weird as that sounds, it was relieving to know what my problem was.”
Michael Williams, a marriage and family therapist and counselor of the Rexburg 7 Stake 52 YSA Ward Bishopric, said he has noticed that the people who learn about the true nature of anxiety are best able to manage it.
“Once (a person comes) to recognize that anxiety is a natural response to perceptions of danger, and that most of the negative thoughts contributing to that anxiety, (he or she) can develop skills to help overcome it,” Williams said.
Some of the most common methods of coping with anxiety include meditation, medication and counseling, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Baker said that meditation has been one of the best methods of coping with his anxiety because it helps him worry about so much and to react in an appropriate manner to a situation where he feels anxious
“Meditation helps reprogram the way you think so instead of reacting right away, it gives you some breathing room,” Baker said. “It gives you some distance between you and what causes you anxiety and lets you think about it before you just react and freak out.”
Williams said that his best advice when dealing with anxiety is being able to develop mindfulness skills, which will help someone who is anxious be more aware of the situations that they are in.
“Develop mindfulness skills. They don’t have to be intense, long meditations; some of the best mindfulness skills require no more than three minutes a couple of times a day,” Williams said. “The best description of mindfulness of which I am aware is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, to things as they really are, in the moment without judgment.’”
Seeking counseling helped Baker understand and learn more about his anxiety. He has been able to learn new coping mechanisms that have helped him deal with his anxiety.
Going to the counseling center was not a walk in the park for Baker; he felt anxious with just the thought of going to go see a counselor. He was unsure as to why he had to be there or what he would be saying.
“I wasn’t sure that I needed to be at the counseling center at all, so I felt like I was inconveniencing them in a way,” Baker said. “The counseling center helped me see that no, I was supposed to be there, and I did have an issue that they could help me with.”
Sarah Gray, a sophomore studying dance, said medication has proved to be her treatment of choice.
Gray said she really struggled with anxiety as a child and was officially diagnosed and put on medication when she was between 8 and 10.
“Basically my mom couldn’t handle taking care of a child who was having anxiety attacks every couple minutes,” she said. “It wasn’t healthy for me or for her or for my teachers at school or dance.”
Gray said she had no problem taking the medication as a child because her parents told her it would help her to not feel as scared and have panic attacks.
Often those who treat their anxiety with medication have to find the right medication or dosage for them, which sometimes can mean having to test out multiple options.
In Gray’s case, she said she continued to take the same medication for 10-12 years until doctors realized that it was causing her to have mental blackouts, a side effect of anti-anxiety medication that people sometimes experience. Gray said that during these blackouts, she would forget what was going on in the moment it was happening.
Gray said one time she blacked out while giving a prayer and was surprised to see everyone in the room bowing their head and folding their arms. She wondered why nobody was speaking and then realized she was supposed to be offering the prayer.
Gray said that after changing her medication, she has not experienced a single blackout and she is happy with the new prescription.
“I rely on these medicines to give me the chemicals that my brain needs to get through the day, so that I can calm down,” she said.
Baker said some of the best moments he had in the counseling center were seeing that he was making improvements.
He would realize that some of the things that made him anxious, were not bothering him as much anymore.
Something Baker hopes people with anxiety can understand is that anxiety is not only a weakness; it can also be a strength.
“Something that I have been able to learn, is that anxiety is not a weakness; it can have strengths that come with it,” Baker said.
One strength Baker was able to find through his anxiety was his sensitivity.
“My sensitivity has made me more aware of the emotions of other people,” Baker said. “I feel like it helps me figure out how to go out of my way to help someone avoid feeling distressed with themselves.”
Being able to help others was another strength that Baker developed through his anxiety.
At a stress-anxiety workshop that the counseling center offered, Baker realized that he was able to not only help himself deal with anxiety, but he was able to help others as well.
“One of the cool moments for me there was realizing that I could help the other people that were struggling,” Baker said. “I was able to use my own experience with anxiety to give them ideas for how they could start to feel better, and that was really cool. Not only being to help myself but being able to help someone else.”
Baker said those who have been diagnosed with anxiety are not the only ones who benefit from understanding the effects of anxiety.
“I think that even if you do not have anxiety, you will face anxious points in your lives, so I think that it is important to be able tolerant about anxiety and be able to understand it,” Baker said.