Being anxious… and okay with it

Hey, where have you been?

Who us? Oh, we’ve been around.  In Scotland for these guys’ wedding:

Newly Weds

In Ontario for these guys:

Registry signing

And now we’re back!

I have a policy not to apologize for absences from my online interactions, because it stresses me out and makes me feel like I’ve missed a deadline – and if you know me at all, you know that missed deadlines, real or self-imposed are a huge anxiety trigger for me.  In fact, throughout my entire academic career, I never once missed a deadline.  It didn’t matter whether I got absolutely no sleep the night before an assignment was due, or whether my work suffered slightly because I had to rush it – these discomforts were nothing compared to the mental torment that a missed deadline would incur.

This may sound extreme to you – or maybe it sounds vaguely familiar.  Every single person processes anxiety, and mitigates its effects, in a unique way.  In my case, my mind and body overreact to anxiety, especially anxiety caused by certain stimuli – like a deadline.  Other triggers I have struggled (or continue to struggle) with include transportation (i.e., trains, planes, and automobiles); telephone calls to strangers (i.e., Thomas is in charge of ordering pizza); grocery store checkout lines (the scene of my first ever panic attack); reality television; needles, especially blood-taking varieties (and here is where I thank my parents PROFUSELY for taking me to England in 1989 and therefore giving me a lifelong “mad cow disease” excuse for avoiding blood drives, because “anxiety attack” is such a chicken shit cop out).

I talk a lot about anxiety and think a lot about it too, because it’s a presence with me every day, especially days like the last few, when I have been readjusting to being back in Vancouver, at work, and away from family, after 3 weeks of vacation. Beyond my various triggers, I hover at a certain level of anxiety all the time.  It’s like microphone feedback, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a hum, and on rare occasions it can be a piercing, all-consuming screech.  The way I picture my dealing with anxiety is thus:  My anxiety is a wall, and every day I have to climb over that wall.  Some days the wall is the height of a sidewalk curb, and all I have to do is hop over it.  Other days it takes a bit more effort – the wall is just over my head, and it takes some maneuvering to get over it, but once I’m on the top the feeling of having beaten that wall is incredible.  And then there are days when it takes all I have to get to reach the top, and once I get there, it’s all I can do to hang on to the edge by my fingernails.  In other words, I get completely and totally overwhelmed – and that feeling? I don’t know if this will make any sense at all, but it kind of feels like arm-wrestling yourself… and losing.  I had a friend in university who made this fantastic film for our 2nd year production class, which featured a guy in a boxing match against himself, and right now I’m wishing I could track that down and post it here and just say, here, watch, THIS is what that feels like.

When I have days like that, as you can probably imagine, I have a whole arsenal of strategies to deal with it, because despite the fact that all I’d like to do is put my PJs back on and hide in bed, life does have to go on (I spend a lot of time NOT GIVING IN to my anxiety).  I thought I would share some of them here, in case someone out there needs a little help.

[A vague disclaimer before I begin:  I have no professional training in this area, and very little exposure to individuals WITH professional training.  These are just things I do that help me out.  If you’re having a really serious problem, obviously you should go see someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and has the piece of official-looking paper hanging on the wall to show for it.]

1 LIST! The single most important thing I do to combat my anxiety is write lists.  In fact, more generally I think just writing things down, whether in list form or not, is a fantastic way of dealing with anxieties.  Putting it down on paper makes it separate from you.  When I make a list of things that are bothering me, I imagine the act of writing them down to be in fact removing them from my brain – like removing the proverbial thorn from the lion’s paw.  Once the thorn is out, you can examine it properly without the pain.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I write out two lists.  On the first, I write out all the things I can think of that are bothering me at the moment. This list is exhaustive – don’t just list the big issues, address the “insignificant” things as well, like even the temperature or lighting of the room you’re in. Too cold? Too dark?  On the second, I respond, point by point, to the first list, outlining what I’m going to do to address each item.

Set out logically like this, I usually notice two things:  First that the solutions to my problems are fairly straightforward and easily addressed; and second that my perceived stressors don’t seem quite as incapacitating when they’re out of my head and on paper.

2 BREATHE! When people get anxious, they often forget to breathe properly.  No joke.  Anxiety can actually interfere with your brain’s automatic instructions to your body to take in enough oxygen.  A lot of the physiological discomfort I experience as a result of anxiety is related to oxygen deprivation.  The next time you notice someone sighing a lot, you may be inclined to infer that they’re frustrated about something, but that might not be so – could be they’re just nervous.

I practice deep breathing to rid myself of some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.  In fact, the physicality of what I experience is often what bothers me the most.  More than once I have thought to myself that I could cope easily with anxious thoughts, and deal with them rationally, if it weren’t for the fact that I was having trouble breathing properly, my chest was tight, my stomach was twisted, and, in the worst cases, I had tunnel vision.

The Pioneer Woman (actually, the Pioneer Woman’s mom) has an excellent description of a deep breathing technique up on her site here which is perfect for sitting in your office chair (who needs stress relief at the office, right?).

3 HAPPY THOUGHTS! Okay, I realize this is going to make me sound totally never-never-land, but here is my rationale:  It is your thoughts which produce the anxious reaction, and anxious thought processes tend to be cyclical – viciously cyclical.  An obvious solution, if you can manage it, is to replace those bad thoughts with good thoughts to break the cycle.  Wow, there is no way to say that that doesn’t sound preschool.  Whatever.  Now, I’m not suggesting here that you completely repress any anxiety-causing thoughts you may have, because that’s not productive, and ultimately whatever issue is causing them has to be dealt with to remove the anxiety entirely.  However, should you be say, stuck on public transit, with no way of addressing anything until you are released, and someone’s sweaty form is threatening to pin you against a window, you might want to have the option of distracting yourself somehow.

So! For this reason, I keep a mental catalogue of little tidbits I can trot out to make myself smile – if only internally.  Sound like another list? My how you are catching on.  Sometimes I do actually take the time to write these things down for myself if I need the extra focusing power.
Here’s my happy catalogue right now in no particular order, and illustrated where possible (exclamation points optional):

> It is Friday!

> I’m married to the perfect man!


> I recently purchased Yummy Sushi Pajamas (which merit title case) and they are fabulous!

> My puppy is through the annoying adolescent phase and is absolutely adorable!


My new short hair has reinvented my face and I love it!

short hair

> We have three different kinds of fudge in our fridge!

> This weekend, my forbearing perfect-man husband is taking me to see the Proposal! (In fact, he just emailed me the show times this weekend, because he is, as aforementioned, awesome.)

Yep, that felt pretty f-ing good.  Hope you enjoyed it too.  Your turn!

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  1. By rick on July 28, 2014 at 4:34 am

    scourge@reconnaissance.confesses” rel=”nofollow”>.…


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