Woman shares personal struggle with unseen reality of anxiety

JACKSON, Tenn. — Experts say around 40 million people in the United States struggle with some type of anxiety disorder, which is around 18 percent of the population.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.05.28 PM“It’s real — that’s the most important thing,” Ashleigh Burton said. She said she has been struggling with anxiety for three years. She was diagnosed shortly into her sophomore year of college. “And I get stressed out about silly things, but to me in that moment, it’s real to me.”

“It started to mess with how I functioned and exist,” she said. “It’s always a chore, but when going to Walmart, you were terrified — all the people and all of the noises — and that’s when I went to the doctor.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Sophia Fouché says people who struggle with anxiety see a variety of symptoms.

“People who are anxious tend to feel physically tense and have certain physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweatiness sometimes, there can be some trembling, difficulty breathing,” Fouché said.

“But if that progresses, the shaking doesn’t just happen in my hands. It starts to happen all over my body. I can’t control my breathing. I start to cry. I start to hyperventilate and I just get hot all over,” Burton said as she described some of her more severe panic attacks.

Burton said she hopes the negative stigma about mental illness does not keep people away from getting the treatment they need and that people understand anxiety is an issue many face every day.

“Some important people in my life just told me ‘get over it, you’re just broken,'” Burton said. “And that was a word that was used a lot was ‘broken,’ ‘you should be able to handle life as it’s thrown at you.’ And eventually you get to where those people understand what you’re going through or you have to cut these people out because they’re not here to help you.”

Fouché says this is a common response.

“So a lot of times people will look at those who struggle with anxiety disorders and think that they should be able to control it or be able to keep their worries in check or what-not, but when people struggle with anxiety disorders they really do feel like they are out of control,” Fouché said.

Three years later, Burton has learned to cope with her disorder, and it isn’t controlling her anymore.

“I know my limitations. I can’t do everything, and I know that in certain situations I’m going to have to step away,” Burton said. “And in certain situations, around certain people, I’m going to have to do it in spurts.”

Experts say that if anxiety is left untreated, the symptoms can escalate and could possibly cause other mental or physical health issues. If you feel like you are struggling with anxiety or other issues, see your doctor or a local group such as Pathways.

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