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Last weekend, I went to a speed-dating event. Just walking up to the door made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I like to think of myself as a social, outgoing person. But when it comes to anything related to dating, I can be painfully shy.


A speed dating event in the U.K. Photo by Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images.

As I got closer to the building, I started to feel like there was some horrible, inaudible, invisible static in the air that only I could sense. To anyone else, I'm sure everything looked perfectly normal — the bar was nice, all the people I met were very lovely ... but I couldn't help but feel that static playing across the back of my neck.

I was, in other words, anxious.

Everyone gets anxious sometimes, and that's OK.

Image via iStock.

In fact, anxiety is a normal and evolutionary biological response to stressful situations. Our brains are really good at linking bad experiences (like awkward dates) and stimuli together, mostly because it keeps us safe.

If something bad happens and then you're in a similar situation in the future (like, say, having to talk to nearly 20 strangers in five-minute increments), your brain holds up big signs to help you remember to stay safe — signs like that prickling feeling on the back of my neck.

Other signs can be mental symptoms, like hypervigilance or intrusive thoughts, or physical ones, like a racing heartbeat or feeling nauseous or dizzy. And these can sometimes be really, really hard to ignore.

"[Anxiety is] a whole-body, a whole-mind, a whole-person experience," Dr. Michael Irvine told Upworthy.

Irvine is a clinical psychologist who knows a lot about anxiety. He's worked extensively with combat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis that, at its heart, is about anxiety.

“It’s not just battling your thoughts. The work isn’t just trying to convince yourself not to be scared. Anxiety is a reflex."

Irvine explained that fighting off anxiety isn't as simple as just ignoring those anxious feelings.

“It’s not just battling your thoughts," said Irvine. "The work isn’t just trying to convince yourself not to be scared. Anxiety is a reflex."

And anxiety doesn't just affect our bodies and minds; it can actually affect how we see the world every day.

An anxious job applicant, circa 1940. Photo by Rondal Patridge/National Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

An experiment from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel showed clearly that having anxiety can affect our ability to process sights and sounds.

Researchers from the lab set up the experiment by training volunteers with specific sounds. They taught them that some sounds had good outcomes (gaining money), and some had bad outcomes (losing money).

Then they played the good and bad sounds, plus some benign and neutral ones, back to the volunteers. And what they found was fascinating: The volunteers with anxiety were more likely to identify benign sounds as bad sounds, too, even though those sounds were neutral.

Why? It wasn't a conscious decision. Instead, the anxious volunteers' brains had automatically overcompensated. In trying to keep them safe, their brains had changed the way they perceived all the sounds, not just the bad ones.

This might sound like an odd scenario, but it helps to explain why the speed-dating event was so weird for me. To outsiders, the event looked like a couple dozen young people enjoying themselves. But to my brain, through the filter of anxiety, the event was suddenly attached to bad dates of years past and uncomfortable social interactions. What might seem benign to everyone else actually looked much worse to me.

Sometimes, though, our brains take it too far.

Anxiety is normal — especially after a bad event — but, similar to how an overactive immune system can give us allergies, our brain's natural protective response can sometimes overcompensate. And when anxiety progresses to the point where it disrupts your everyday life, that's when it becomes what psychologists would call an anxiety disorder.

The U.S. Army now requires soldiers take suicide awareness classes. PTSD, an anxiety disorder, may be associated with higher suicide rates in soldiers. Photo from Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

About 1 out of every 5 adults in the U.S. is affected by an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders come in a lot of different forms, too, ranging from social anxiety disorder to PTSD.

I don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but for folks who do, the symptoms can be really paralyzing. Those intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms can keep people with anxiety disorders from leaving the house. The symptoms can make them struggle at work and seriously affect their quality of life.

The stigma of having an anxiety disorder can be just as tough as the symptoms, too.

Image from iStock.

Even though 1 in 5 people struggles with it, people who are living with anxiety disorders often feel like they should be able to fix themselves alone — to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In a 2007 survey, only 25% of people with mental health symptoms said they believed people would be sympathetic to their stories.

But in reality, anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it's just your brain working extra hard. Plus, talking about your struggles and looking for treatment early are some of the best strategies for managing it.

"The earlier we intervene on the timeline, the more likely an individual is to get a better outcome," said Irvine.

So biologically, it's not too weird to have a prickly-neck feeling or an upset stomach while meeting a bunch of strangers.

But when your brain is dealing with anxiety, especially an anxiety disorder, it actually functions differently. Things that might be benign suddenly seem scary. Meeting potential dates might make you really sweat. An overwhelming feeling of being unsettled might come over you just as you enter a new place that reminds you of an old place.

That is OK. Because even though we can't always control how our brains see the world, or what warnings signs they throw in our faces (needed or not), we've got nothing to be ashamed of when we start to feel anxious.

And if you ever run into me at another speed-dating event, I hope you'll cut me some extra slack.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Memories of childhood get lodged in the brain, emerging when you least expect.

There are certain pleasurable sights, smells, sounds and tastes that fade into the rear-view mirror as we grow from being children to adults. But on a rare occasion, we’ll come across them again and it's like a portion of our brain that’s been hidden for years expresses itself, creating a huge jolt of joy.

It’s wonderful to experience this type of nostalgia but it often leaves a bittersweet feeling because we know there are countless more sensations that may never come into our consciousness again.

Nostalgia is fleeting and that's a good thing because it’s best not to live in the past. But it does remind us that the wonderful feeling of freedom, creativity and fun from our childhood can still be experienced as we age.

A Reddit user by the name of agentMICHAELscarnTLM posed a question to the online forum that dredged up countless memories and experiences that many had long forgotten. He asked a simple question, “What’s something you can bring up right now to unlock some childhood nostalgia for the rest of us?”

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