In the last several years, I have no idea how many anxiety episodes I’ve been through. Yesterday morning, it struck me that those two words were the key. When I suffered my first actual, acute panic attack, I started to learn how to manage panic. Certain tricks helped, but arguably the most helpful was to remember prior panic episodes. They rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. The moment — and the accompanying sensations and feelings — would pass.
Just a Few Questions, Ma’am
Nowadays, I rarely have a full-blown panic attack. Instead, I have periods where I feel the force of anxiety gripping me. The experience is generally longer in duration, less overt and more difficult to exit in some ways. Negativity builds on itself, and for me, it hits the hardest in the quiet hours at the tail end of an evening or the earliest moments after waking. It comes dressed deceptively as “facing reality,” with a barrage of interrogating questions:
You do know you have that project due today? How are you going to finish? What about your other goals for the day? Remember that task you were supposed to do two days ago? Why haven’t you exercised yet this week? When are you going to take your health more seriously? What if you end up with a sudden condition as a result? How do you plan on affording surprises like that? Do you really think your career is working?
No one would deal well with being handed rapid-fire, big-picture questions like this upon waking. In my weaker moments, I’ve foisted this examination on those I love — and occasionally, it’s spilled over to disoriented love interests opening their eyes (or trying to finally close them). In those moments, I’ve simply been overwhelmed with the internal interrogation and have sought to “outsource” the question fielding by means of projection. Often, their responses are no better equipped than my own; it’s virtually impossible to field an infinite stream of negative possibilities, particularly when your brain is slowing down or warming up.
Two Thoughts to Ease Your Mind
Yesterday morning, I awoke to this proverbial chair-under-the-lightbulb-style internal investigation. Fortunately, earlier this week, I had several reminders and lessons in the benefits of staying positive. Despite my anxiety, I attempted to find a way to do so. I made myself a cup of tea. I looked over contract work that came in subpar, considered redoing it and instead took a few notes. I read some positive bloggers online. I turned up some music, and used my notes to request revisions. My morning began to turn around.
Two thoughts helped me make positive choices yesterday. First, I remembered that sometimes, no single action lightens the anxiety load. Sometimes, we have to pull out a few successive methods from our mental cache of coping mechanisms. Secondly, I had this single thought:
Anxiety is transient. Eventually, I will feel positive and calm again. These worries will find solutions. That which is frightening will seem less frightening when I find a new perspective. I can choose to suffer through this anxiety or simply disregard it, trusting these concerns will be there when I find myself in a less fearful viewpoint.
Worry Like the Wind
And, eventually, voila! It happened, perhaps somehow because I trusted that it would, or maybe just because anxiety is not a fully sustainable state. The day went well, work got done, and I even went for a mile run and played a little tennis. This morning, of course, the episode virtually repeated. I find myself with two deliveries, birthday present shopping to do, and a mid-afternoon appointment in a neighboring county. There will always be stress, and for those of us who battle anxiety, there will always be moments of stress-squared. But these will only be moments, or at absolute worst, days or hours. Eventually, the worry passes, the wheel of fortune eventually gives us a break, a stranger says a kind word, a rainbow appears in the sky, or we have our own mini moments of epiphany. Essentially, the wind eventually changes. And, until we learn to fully “shortcut” our anxieties and forgo them, we can always take comfort in the fact that their presence — though, at times, potent and omnipresent — is only temporary.