What is Anxiety?
The definition of anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of intense, excessive, and persistent worry or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one's daily activities or everyday situations. Anxiety is only an indicator of underlying disease when feelings become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere with daily living.
It's just my anxiety and me. We've become best friends. She goes everywhere with me and we make all of our decisions together.
I have a phone game. It’s a run-of-the-mill run a farm type of game. Your character is an elderly person living with regret, they want a chance to return to the simple life. In the game, a magical butterfly-winged fairy appears to turn back the hands of time and allow for you to make changes to the choices you’ve made. She returns you to your grandfather’s land, where you must now cultivate produce, livestock, and more from a derelict farm.
We notice that the level of anxiety is growing globally due to current situations caused by public health concerns. As it is on a massive scale, I want to provide a practical framework based on my studies and experience to deal with anxiety in these difficult times.
In my exploration, I have come across several techniques that work really well for regulating your emotions and soothing the over-arousal and your anxiety.
Sometimes your body is trying to tell you something and you just aren't understanding. So a little bit of background on me… I break out in hives. Like a lot. It started when I was in college, it was sophomore year i believe. If i'm remembering correctly that is which doesn't always happen because it's been so long since its first happened. When I first broke out in hives I was shocked but not overly surprised at the same time. I have always had really bad allergies and so I would break out in rashes whenever I came into contact with one of my allergens. What did surprise me was how large they were. I have something called giant urticaria. That basically means that when I break out in hives, they're really big. Meaning they are almost always different sizes but i've had some that are bigger than my hands before.
I have been dealing with anxiety for about five years now and to say that it has impacted my life would be an understatement of the century. It first hit me when I was a junior high school, during the first week back to school. I have yet to figure out what triggered the panic attack. I was in the hallway during fourth period, right outside the door, I was having trouble breathing and crying when the principal found me. Originally, I had left class to go use the restroom and that is when the panic attack hit me.
I am going to be one hundred and fifty three percent honest; living through a pandemic is hard but living through a pandemic with a brain riddled with anxiety adds a little more weight to the existential doom that is already hanging over all of us. This is not an essay on how to deal with anxiety through a pandemic or some sort of lesson that I learned through this most recent anxiety attack. This is just a writing to reach out to all my fellow nervous people and let them know that they are not the only ones having an extra rough time this year.
I am in the grocery store doing my regular shopping when it happens. I can feel it coming. There is no large fanfare or noise or even a whoosh. It is a slow build. It starts small most of the time. A little catch in my breath that makes my lungs contract quickly. Then it feels as if they forget how to work even though I can feel that they are just fine. Fine enough that is. A full, deep breath isn’t going to happen anytime soon without a lot of concentration and effort. Then the tingles start. They are spotty at first. A finger twitches then maybe a shoulder. Small enough that no one around me notices. They don’t always happen but they feel as if they may explode all over my body and throw me to the ground in convulsing heap. So, I move. I walk, but it isn’t my normal walk because at this point that is nearly impossible. I need to concentrate on this too. Move my foot. Good. Now the other one. Doing fine. No, the feet are supposed to come up off the ground. No looking like Frankenstein’s monster. No dragging the feet or shuffling. Oh, wait, stop walking. Am I still breathing? Yes? Good. Okay back to walking. What is my wrist doing? Why is it twitching my hand? Ok, the hands are under control. Back to the walking. Slow careful steps and look normal. Oh no. The next phase is here. Close the mouth. Close the mouth! Don’t let what is in your head get out. Keep the scream in! Bite the lips. That will work. Bite the lips but remember to breathe. The screams are in my head wanting to get out. I won’t let them so they send a noise to my ears instead. Now I feel distant from everything around me because I don’t hear any of it. I need to focus. Frozen foods. Good choice. Read labels. Walk slowly. Remember to breathe. Reading labels is a good thing. Make my mind concentrate on something other than the massive desire to scream. Doing good. Oh no. No not that. Please not that. Stop. Close eyes for a second and force myself to take a deep slow breath. Exhale out of the mouth in a slow steady even exhale. Good that stopped them. The tears try to sneak out all the time. They steal the breath and hide in the screams and attempt to sneak past when I am concentrating on the body. Sometimes I let them run free. But that is in the car or at home. Never in public. I can let the screams out when I am alone as well. And the twitches. I can shudder and shake and throw my hands around as much as I please in my own home. I can cry till my eyes are red and scream into pillows or while standing in the shower. But in public none of that is allowed. I won’t allow it. There are the looks. The stares. The sidelong glances. The mothers hurrying their children away from the lady who is acting odd. Now I am in the checkout line. I shift my feet and act impatient but it really is just keeping me from throwing my hands up in the air and running up and down the aisles. The idea of running wildly about waving my arms and screaming at the top of my lungs sounds so appealing that It makes me smile. Then there is that part of my brain that reminds me I cannot do that. So, I shift to the other foot and take a slow deep breath. I am standing in one place so I must do something to keep calm. Focus on something other than what I am feeling. No labels to read here. Good to know frozen food labels work. I have used the soup aisle in the past as well. The numbers game! That will do. Counting backwards from one hundred by threes. Ok, begin. Darn, I can’t do that yet. It is my turn to check out. Smile, nod an don’t throw the food. Place it smoothly and steadily on the conveyor belt. Can’t make eye contact or I may lose my concentration. Pay, smile and thank the cashier. Pick up my groceries. Got ahold of the bags? Yes, good. Now make it to the exit. Don’t run. Slow even steps but not too slow. Don’t swing the bags. Good. Out of the store. Begin the numbers game again. Walk to the car. Made it pretty far through the countdown. I may need to come up with another trick. Groceries in car. Close door, start car. OK, one indulgence. A major shudder is released and my shoulders shake and a noise comes out of my mouth. Not sure what to call the noise. Somewhere between a moan and a scream. That’s better. Safe to drive. I can concentrate to get home. It’s beginning to ease up now anyway. I think I will be ok shortly after I get home. Then I will be fine. Fine until the next one. Fine until I feel it coming on again. Fine until the next anxiety attack.
"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath."
― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation
It's all in your head." Just get over it". "Stop worrying so much." These here are some of the things people say to you when you have anxiety. Anxiety affects over millions of people world wide and it can become a reason people become disabled. As if having a racing heart, sweaty palms, and having trouble breathing is bad enough, somebody picks up the courage to tell you, "stop worrying about it, it will be okay." It makes me want to slap them. This illness has prevented me to hold a steady job and keep in touch with friends and family. It has prevented me to sleep at night- due to racing thoughts and bad decisions that happened years ago. It makes the mind show you these awful scenarios that could happen- especially going to a big city and you're on the highway. There's many ways to treat anxiety. Some get lucky and have it only for a short time, others could have it for a lifetime, like me. The way I chose to help with my anxiety is marijuana and anti-depressants. I know what you're thinking- "Anxiety is a side effect of marijuana". Actually, yes and no. Yes, it could be with some people who smoke it, and no because people who smoke it, like me, it relaxes me and allows me to be an actual functioning human being that will get shit done. This is my daily life. In the morning I enjoy those sweet five seconds upon waking up until anxiety comes breaking down the door, demanding to be heard. Asking me what could go wrong today and listing all the things I need to do before I die. Midway though the day, as I am relaxing, it goes wait I hear a noise, is someone breaking in? Is it the animals? What are we going to do? As usually I reassure myself that it was my dogs just moving around. All day long anxiety will be tapping at my shoulder making sure I knew it was there and anything or everything can come crashing down any moment and I could possibly die. Then lastly at night, as I am laying there, it finally asks did you lock the doors? Did you feed the animals? Did you shut off all the lights? Did you double check the locked doors? So, I will have to get out of bed and double-checked, triple-check everything. Anixety is very hard to deal with because it's fighting with your mind all day and everyday of your life. It's this dark cloud that hangs over your head and you can't get rid of it. It's having people looking at you like you're crazy because you refused to go on that one thing or into that one store because of this fear you having running though your head. It's having the doctors to tell you to control your anxiety and learn to cope with it. They don't understand how horrible it is to have your mind to tell you you're going to die if you step out of your comfortable zone. It's having to hear all the sounds all at once in a crowded area, feeling you cannot breathe or even think, and all that's running through your mind is YOU NEED TO LEAVE NOW!!. This dear people is the daily life with anxiety aka hell.
It's on our minds, it's in the air, it's everywhere around us. The feeling that we are at a stand still, everyone is stuck on pause - or repeat. No matter what we do, what we try, how we manage, where we go in our minds, it's a part of us - all of us.