Just the word makes me tighten up. It screams for my attention. My emotions and body gear up for intense suffering. My heart rate increases. My stomach begins to digest itself. Muscles cramp and painful spots get a even more painful.
A lot of people would not understand this kind of response. To them, anxiety is merely a word or a fleeting emotion. To me, it is a state of being, an existential crisis that threatens to unravel me entirely. An anxiety attack feels like death has camped on the doorstep, just waiting for the inevitable heart attack or stroke or whatever illness must be causing this incapacitation.
Yup. Friends and family. Often they do not get it. Most times people note that they are also under tons of stress and they handle it just fine. You need to suck it up. You need to cope…as if “coping” is some sort of admirable trait. Yeah. I want to “cope” my way through life. Give me a break.
There you go. There is a difference between being stressed and having a full blown anxiety attack. If you have never had one of these debilitating episodes, please do not assume you understand. You cannot. Sorry. You cannot. It is a personal thing that usually does not even make sense to the sufferer.
I would go for tests. Everything physical checked out. Then they would do deeper scans, looking for anything abnormal. I can’t keep food down. It feels like my stomach is so cramped, I cannot even conceive of putting food in there. My brain is racing. There must be something physical wrong. I would search the internet, looking for something else that might cause these symptoms. You are fine, they would tell me. Nothing physically wrong. I am doing this to myself, in a sense, in that my brain is imposing suffering because of any number of factors.
People are stressed. We may think this is an unusual thing, but I am pretty sure that this has been consistent down through the ages. The idyllic images we have of the ancient pastoral lifestyle are laughable, when you figure that tyrannical leaders, barbarian tribes and things like famine, severe weather and such have always been present.
The difference, it seems to me, if that you and I have suffering shoved in our face 24 hours a day. It has become so much easier to keep people afraid and angry all the time. This is how people in power control the rest of us. But being stressed is not anxiety. Many of us deal with the daily stress of life adequately enough. Anxiety attacks are a different sort of beast.
But there is hope. Feeling helpless and overwhelmed is not the same as being helpless and overwhelmed. In my own life and experience, I have found some things which help me, and will hopefully assist you if you struggle with anxiety. There will be a lot to cover, so we will take at least a couple of blogs to cover things.
I have found this one of the most effective helps for me. You do not need to take yoga (although I totally recommend it) to learn how to breathe helpfully during an anxiety attack. But you do need to practice when you are not having a panic attack. Trying to put these things into practice while in the midst of a crisis is foolish. Kind of like buying fire insurance after a fire.
Turn off distractions if possible. Sit or lie down. If you stand, you may get dizzy and fall over. Put one hand on your chest and the other just below your rib cage. I know it is allergy season, but try to breathe in slowly and deeply (count to five as you breathe in) through your nostrils. Inhale, feeling your stomach expand first, and then filling your lungs to a comfortable capacity, hold for a moment and then (again counting to five) push the air out through pursed lips. Do this for as many times as necessary.
It might feel silly at first. It will likely make you light headed, as we are not used to so much oxygen. Oxygen helps to calm us down. Your brain and body will respond positively to the increase in oxygen and this will help to make you feel calmer. Again, this is a technique which benefits from consistent practice (like your brain couldn’t use a little more oxygen all the time…lol).
2. take out the trash
We carry a lot of baggage.
That was me interjecting a little Dad humour into things. Don’t you love me just a little more?
This cartoon is not so funny.
It illustrates a simple point: it is your garbage. And sometimes it seems easier to live in the garbage than it is to get rid of it. Maybe not get rid of all the trash, but there are things you can do without. Anxiety attacks come, in my experience, when my garbage becomes visible to others. So my solution is to dispose of as much of the garbage as I can.
I doubt we are ever free of all our insecurities and doubts, but there is plenty of stuff that pulls us down into the quagmire of negativity that does not need to be part of our life. Therapy can help. Coffee with a good friend can help. What is not helpful is to nurse those negative thoughts until they overcome us. Having a hobby, reading a book, doing puzzles- anything that is positive and distracting really- can be helpful.
And, if you can…take out some of the trash which helps keep you disabled. Recovery means taking responsibility for our own actions. Other people cannot take out our trash. The very most helpers can do is assist us. It is our garbage that we have accumulated, purposefully or not, in our passage through life. No matter where or how we acquired it…it is ours.
Negative and unthoughtful people. Get them out of your life. Now. Any way you can. No matter who you are, you are valuable and worthwhile. If others are of a contrary opinion and are constantly impeding your attempts better yourself, then they need to go. Abuse is abuse is abuse. People who constantly bring pain into your life need to go. Sorry. I should probably have some more patient advice for you, but I do not. Who you spend time with is your choice. Negative people will never be helpful to your recovery.
You may be hyperventilating at this point.
No one said today. But tomorrow never comes, so some sense of purpose needs to be present, right?
3. be grateful
I have written a lot about gratitude and how it has helped me in my recovery journey. Gratefulness is a big part of managing negative thoughts. By purposefully turning our attention toward the positive aspects of our life, we cause things to happen in our brain and in our body. Grateful people have lower blood pressure. Grateful people live longer. Grateful people release chemicals into their system that promote well-being and a general sense of well-being.
Some people are like this naturally. I was not. I have needed to practice gratitude until it has become a part of my lifestyle and mindset. I still get upset about some things. I still have my negative times. And I still have the occasional anxiety attack. But, most of the time, I am happier and feel better physically. There are so many books and other resources available to help cultivate a grateful attitude. All it takes is practice.
Now. Most of the ideas I am suggesting will not work all alone. Recovery from a mental illness is like recovery from any other kind of illness. And it is important to be gentle with yourself as you begin to integrate these practices into your daily life. The internal voice of the critic will try to slow down your progress with guilt and shame statements, but remind yourself that all recovery is a day at a time.
Hope you are doing ok,
John of the Asylum
KID’S CORNER (Sarah and I have raised a blended family of four boys and four girls. We have three grandchildren and likely more on the way. I made my fair share of terrible parenting decisions, and could likely be described as one of those “toxic parents”. But we never get a “do-over” with our children, so I thought I would take a little time in each blog to say a word to my kids)
I have been reminded recently about the importance of having a supportive family. You may not realize this, but there are some families that do not support their other family members. Seriously. But you guys are amazing!
Parents can be a pain in the ass sometimes. I know this. And sometimes parents, by their actions, model unhelpful behaviours that will not serve you well as you go through life. Sorry about that. It happens. But it is up to you alone to decide what behaviours you will keep and discard…it is up to you to decide what behaviours you want to pass on to the next generation.
Don’t wait until you are about to raise a family to correct these things. Work on these behaviours now, because you will be exhausted when you have children. Until they go away, at least. Trust me on this one. I love you all to death, but no way would I want to go back to living in close quarters with so many people. It is why I am not in a home.
Anyway…you know memes solve everything. I really like this quote:
Post this somewhere. On your fridge. The bathroom mirror. Your computer desk. Post it especially upon your heart.
You kids prove over and over to me that family is everything. Even though I have passed on some less-than-admirable ways of coping with life and dealing with people, you kids have grown into wonderful, supportive, encouraging people. And I love you for this; for the example you give to me. You love one another, help one another, and speak kindly about one another. And in the midst of crisis, you are always there for one another. Good for you.
Remember your Dad loves you…but it does not mean you can move back home…lol.