Katie's Journey: Anxiety and Disc Golf
I woke around 3 am.
Still half asleep, I noticed my heart racing, pounding, actually. I saw my body shaking uncontrollably, as I've never experienced before. My muscles tightened. I began trying to gasp for air and take deep breaths as tears ran down my face, but nothing helped.
I wanted to scream out for my parents but not being physically able to speak. As I sat crying on my bed, I tucked my knees in, curled into a ball, and began to rock back and forth. I remember at that moment feeling helpless, confused, afraid, and alone.
It felt as if I was sucked into a dark cave where no one could hear me, no one could see me, and no one could help me. What's wrong with me? I felt like I was dying.
This is what it's like living with an Anxiety Disorder.
Defined by Oxford Language, "Anxiety is a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks."
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, "Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year." They also stated, "Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.
Hi. My name is Katie, and I have severe anxiety. When I first started having moments like these, I was in elementary school. Moments I would later in life find out were panic attacks.
But before I found out in a medical sense what was going on, I remember feeling so helpless as no one could tell me what I was experiencing, and no one I knew at that age could relate.
We see our parents as these superheroes who can heal our cuts or "boo-boo's" with a simple kiss at such a young age - the people who can protect us from anything and make everything better. As children, we are innocent and pure. It was hard for me to try to understand what I was experiencing and my parents as well. This was just one thing they couldn't protect me from, and like most people who don't suffer from anxiety, it was hard for them even to understand exactly what I was going through.
There were days I would be on my hands and knees, crying uncontrollably, begging my parents to let me stay home from school. Just the thought of walking on the school bus and everyone staring at me began to give me panic attacks.
It was such a foreign feeling to me since, as a child, I was pretty outgoing. As a young child, I love to sing and sing any chance I could get, especially on stage in front of crowds. Then one day, I woke up, and life as I knew it changed with no explanation, no letter, just emotions I didn't know how to control. - Anxiety controlled me.
Sleepovers. Going to the movies. Celebrating birthday parties. Typical things kids like to do with their friends and enjoy. It should be a fun time, right? Simple moments like these were such a struggle for me.
You see, the fundamental frustrating part about an anxiety disorder is that it interferes with daily activities. It can be activities that you absolutely LOVE doing and participating in, but suddenly, your body and mind take over and try to convince you not to do those things. As time went on, my anxiety worsened
As you grow up, there are so many new things to experience, like learning how to ride a bike and social events like prom. However, anxiety will try to take that from you. One day your school friend will call you up and ask if you want to come to their sleepover, and of course, you want to go, but your other "friend" anxiety is sitting next to you telling you, "It's not safe," "Stay at home," "What If..?".
You try to counteract your mindset by telling yourself all the positive reasons why you should go; then, just like that, your heart's racing. The shaking begins. The fear sets in, the tears start to fall, and just like that, you believe your "friend" anxiety is correct, and you decide to stay at home. Instead of creating new memories, sharing laughs with your friends, and experiencing life, you're at home all alone.
Many times, anxiety has left me mentally feeling alone, detached from others, sad for missing out on/turning down opportunities, and low self-esteem. But wait! There's more! You see, panic attacks aren't just mentally draining; they are also physically exhausting.
According to The Mental Health Foundation, "Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can have a negative impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions."
Physically, during a panic attack, my heart races, my muscles tighten to where it hurts, my body shakes, my eyes swell due to the hysterical crying, trouble breathing, and my skin turns pale white.
Remember when I said there's more?
When you suffer from anxiety attacks, it's not just the actual attacks that affect you but also the post effects. Physically after I have a panic attack, I feel nauseous, light-headed, depressed, have a tough time wanting to eat, and it makes me feel like I just ran 10 miles within an hour. It's EXHAUSTING! It's a cycle that just kept spinning until I decided enough is enough!
For anyone facing anxiety, you are not alone. Never be afraid to reach out to those around you. You are not broken, you just need some help.
-Chris Dickerson, PDGA #62467
My parents and I sought help from a doctor to better understand what I was going through, why, and techniques to help prevent and control the anxiety attacks when they evolve.
After seeing numerous doctors for many years, I found specific steps that helped me learn to control myself better when I have a panic attack. I also saw the results of having them less frequently. With a mixture of a healthier diet, better sleep schedule, exercise, therapy, medication, and daily meditation, I have enjoyed life more with less anxiety. I've found activities that are personally therapeutic for myself, such as my love for riding horses, running, and disc golf.
Disc Golf: A "Game Changer"
Disc Golf has been a game-changer in helping me control my anxiety. There are many advantages to disc golf, like exercise, but the most significant gift it has given me is the help with my "mental game." Taking those concepts I apply on the course and using them to my overall life has helped tremendously.
I started playing disc golf about three years ago when I was introduced to the sport by my boyfriend, Travis Hayes. Travis has been playing since college. He began teaching me how to play the sport, and I instantly fell in love with it.
I've always been a very active person and have always loved playing sports, so it was a perfect fit! It was nice to find a sport I could enjoy as I get older, and it has taught me some very beneficial mental techniques to help control my anxiety.
When playing tournaments, I learned to create a warm-up routine before every round. When you develop a routine, it helps you control your focus, and when you have focus, it can help your mind not "race" and be all over the place. Thus, helping you control any anxiety you may be feeling.
My routine consists of stretching, practicing putting, and throwing to gain some confidence. I also do a few breathing techniques, which help me control my breath, visualize my throws, and tell myself, "you've got this." As silly as it can sound, encouraging yourself can make a massive difference in training your brain to have confidence and helping your body stay calm.
It is comforting to know you are not alone. I was highly inspired when pro disc golfer Chris Dickerson spoke up about his struggle with anxiety. It just goes to show you that even those in the "spotlight" can still relate to the struggles you may face personally.
It's inspiring to see how he acknowledges that he struggles with this and watches his perseverance to still walk out on that course and play with his whole heart. On one of Chris' Instagram posts, he openly spoke about his struggle. He stated, "For anyone facing anxiety, you are not alone. Never be afraid to reach out to those around you. You are not broken, you just need some help", and I couldn't agree more.
Since starting to play disc golf, I have found myself to be more outgoing again with the help of new friends, friendships that will last a lifetime. The disc golf community comprises people from "all walks of life" and is one of the most supportive communities I've been a part of in my life. If you are interested in learning more about disc golf, I suggest checking out Throw Pink's blog and social media to learn more!
Steps You Can Take
Each person's anxiety can vary, which can also mean how coping and preventing anxiety attacks can vary from person to person. Below is a list of ways to help manage anxiety.
Some of the management options for anxiety disorders include:
- learning about anxiety
- relaxation techniques
- correct breathing techniques
- cognitive therapy
- behavior therapy
- dietary adjustments
- learning to be assertive
- building self-esteem
- structured problem solving
- support groups
I highly encourage anyone facing these struggles to seek help and find a solution to live their best life! If you are dealing with or know someone with anxiety and are seeking help, make sure to check out the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (adaa.org) to find the right support for you! Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and deserves just as much attention. Most importantly, anxiety does not define you!
Never trust your fears, they don't know your strength.