Anxiety is one of those things that is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it. Some people are naturally relaxed and easy going. I am not one of those people. I freak out about everything, get overworked about the small details and spend a lot of time trying to control things from going wrong.
I previously wrote about being diagnosed with anxiety after quitting smoking, now I want to talk a little bit about what I am doing to control it.
One of my biggest struggles with anxiety is not letting it rule my life.The panic attacks or fear of the panic attacks can really make each day a struggle. Worrying about embarrassing yourself or freaking out can cause the anxiety to get worse. It is like a viscous circle. It would be so much easier if I just locked my doors, quit my job and sat at home all day with my animals. But that isn’t who I am. I enjoy working and getting out of the house daily. I would go a little crazy sitting at home every day. So I am fighting anxiety with the only tools available to me. Every day I have to remind myself to keep at it and on the worst days I have to really pep talk myself into not giving up. It will get easier has become my mantra. And it has little by little.
I think the biggest tool in my belt has been learning to break things down into smaller portions. For example, I hate a messy house feels like pure chaos to me but I am also exhausted after a long day of working. I have dogs who drag their toys out all over the floor, a cat that rolls his toy balls all over the house, a laundry basket that seems to fill up far too fast and a husband who just kind of sets things down where he is at instead of where they belong. Not to mention the things we do daily that cause messes (cooking being the main one). So instead of walking in the door and seeing a huge mess that freaks me out, I break it down. I tell myself to get things done a little at a time. So every day I do little things, I make sure the dishes are all done after dinner, I wipe the counters, I fold one basket of laundry, I pick up the toys left around the house and I sweep parts of the house each day. That makes the problem smaller. It also makes it so I don’t feel like after an 9 hour day and an hour long workout that I need to come home to scrub everything in sight. If I do something that makes the house feel more put together every single day it makes a huge difference.
I try not to overreact. I have to ask myself two questions when faced with problems, is this a huge problem or a little problem. This one is hard for me, in the past every problem was the same size. Now I try to separate them and think on them. When I find myself getting upset or hurt over something I think about it before I react to it. This has made it so I don’t react to things as often as I used to. Things that seemed to make such a big deal to me before don’t seem like such a big deal. Tied in with this has been learning to walk away when I am upset. I used to fight it out. I really would stand my ground and fight it out till the last minute. Convinced I needed to get my point across. Now I just find that it is too much stress. So I think about it honestly, is this worth the fight or isn’t it? My mom used to tell me, “choose your battles wisely,” and it perfectly explains what I am doing these days. I can control me. Not others.
I don’t spend as much time on Facebook as I used to. I used to check it every day, several times a day. It is great to keep in contact but I have noticed we aren’t our real selves on Facebook. My feed was filled every day with drama and bragging. Which made me feel like my life wasn’t good enough or was exposing me to other peoples stress every day or I was having to hide pieces of myself for fear of criticism. I would get caught up in it all and pretty soon was checking Facebook instead of having a conversation with my husband or playing with my dogs. So I stopped checking it. At first it was really hard. I ached to press that blue F on my phone but I resisted. It has been probably a couple weeks and I don’t miss it much. Sometimes I feel out of the loop but a few people have just started texting me instead of trying to Facebook me. Which is smart considering I haven’t been checking it. My husband and I have both noticed that I am more present, I spend a lot more time doing things with my loved ones and I don’t seem as stressed.
I make sure to work out. I now consider it me time. I don’t have to talk to anyone or be professional or think about problems, I can just put on trashy TV or turn up my headphones really loud and sweat it out. Whether it is my evening run/walks with Arya or a kettle-bell workout in front of the TV or a yoga class, I make sure to do something physical each day. I can feel the anxiety increasing the longer I go without working out, so I just make sure not to go long without some form of exercise.
I do yoga every day. Or at least I try to. Something about the breathing with the physical moments has taught me a few things, patience, calmness and how to breath again. After I quit smoking I forgot how to breath right so I spent a lot of time obsessing about my breath. The more I concentrated on it the more I freaked out about it. So I started doing yoga and yoga has been teaching me to be comfortable with my breath. It has taught me how to control it again. How to stop holding it when I am stressed. How to breath deeply when I need to. I use a lot of the breathing techniques during really anxiety filled moments or panic attacks. Along with breathing yoga has taught me calm and patience. The yoga I do isn’t fast or quick, it is slow controlled movements, the teachers at my yoga studio really concentrates on being physically in your body and calming your mind. It reminds me to stay rooted in each moment and not everything needs to be fast paced.
This one may sound odd but on days that are extra hard for me (Mondays, a lot of stress at work, etc) I dress extra nice and put on extra make-up. That way when I look in the mirror I don’t see myself freaking out, instead I see how my eyes pop with the blue eye shadow I am wearing or how great the outfit I am wearing makes me feel. I guess I dress how I want to feel, confident and calm, not anxiety ridden and stressed. Something as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed on a bad anxiety day makes a difference. So does leaving the house and being busy.
I asked for help. I made an appointment with my doctor, we talked about ways I could control it without getting on some sort of anti-anxiety pill. She was very helpful. I have talked a lot to the people I trust about their experiences with anxiety and panic attacks. I sat down with my husband and talked about things we could do as a team and couple to lower the stress levels around the house. I read articles. Like a good paralegal is trained to do, I did my research and asked questions. Made a huge difference on how I approached my anxiety.
Last but least I talk myself down. My panic attacks were stemming mostly from reacting without rationalizing. I wouldn’t be able to catch my breath and that would cause me to start panicking. It is super easy to go from simply being winded or stuffed up to full blown panic attack when you have anxiety. So I rationalize. When something starts making me nervous I examine it in my head. If I can’t breath I try to think why, is it because I am holding my breath due to stress? Am I stuffed up? Did I not turn on the humidifier last night? If I feel like my chest is burning I think, did I eat something that causes heartburn? When I was starting to feel sick in the mornings on the light rail, I stopped reading my book and it helped. I also realized it might be from having heart burn the night before. Sometimes it really does work to talk to yourself. Sometimes I even sing to myself or do math in my head to distract from obsessing about the problem. If I can examine the problem I usually can identify where it is coming from, sometimes it is as simple as I am really tired or my stomach hurts or I am feeling just a little worn down. Then I know that I need an early bed time or to let me stomach calm down or some down time in my PJ’s.
Each week it gets easier. I get calmer. Things get better. I still find myself having troubles. A couple of weeks ago I had plans to attend something with a friend, I was tired, cranky, it had been a long week at work, and I wanted to cancel because it was making me feel anxious. But instead I pushed through. I stuck to the plans. I went and I had a good time. There is some good things coming from my anxiety, I am learning how to take better care of myself and I am learning my limits. I am learning to say no to bad situations and yes to other good situations. I have watched a few people in my life get diagnosed with anxiety as well, then spend years using it as an excuse to hurt others or be a flaky person. I am determined to not have that happen to me. My anxiety is not an excuse to hurt others or take my frustration out on others or to be inconsiderate.
I work a high stress job, life in general is high stress, things move fast, situations pop up, hell driving home from work in rush hour traffic causes anxiety, but I don’t have to let it all cause me to lock myself away in the house or to have a panic attack. I have a choice. I can control it. And that is what I am working on every single day.