My heart pounds like it’s going to jump out and my thoughts tear through my head like a monsoon. I feel my stomach curl up and grow heavy and my hands sweat constantly. I can’t imagine facing whatever blistering experience is coming next. Inside, I’m primed to fight or flight, but there’s nothing in the room to flee from or fight.
And all I did was wake up.
Next comes the arduous task of getting ready for work. I try to concentrate on anything other than the tornado of obsessions that have triggered my anxiety all week: money’s short, my relationship isn’t going well, the car needs new tires, I’m a bad mom, I’m going to lose my job, I’ll never feel OK again.
All this screams to the rhythm of my breath that I can’t slow down.
Taking a shower and putting on make-up seems to deplete my energy, so by the time I get to work, I have to thrust myself through the motions, force a smile, and try to hide how shaky I feel.
I’m nervous and exhausted, and every noise leaves me feeling a little more pessimistic and impatient. I wish I could enjoy my day, but I just can’t.
Home is no respite. The laundry’s piled up, but all I can do is sit and pace and obsess about the laundry piling up. Negative thoughts run through me. I need my people, yet my unease shoves them away. All I want is sleep, but it’s the last thing I’m getting tonight.
Suddenly, I can’t handle life.
Suddenly, I just want it to end.
I just want to die and be at peace.
That’s what my anxiety looks like for days or sometimes weeks on end, but I get through it…every time. This is how I do it:
1. Make anxiety my friend!
I try to reason with my anxiety. I call her Annie, and sometimes I talk to her, tell her to leave me alone, cuss her out, plead or reason with her. This makes my anxiety less intimidating and makes me feel like I’m in control again. (I did the same thing with my depression. Her name is Nicoletta.)
2. Let go completely and wait for it to pass!
Sometimes all I can do is sit with it and take it all in. Focus on what it feels like in my body, giving me a minute to reset and put my emotions in perspective. Again, it’s about taking control.
3. Get busy now!
I get busy, busy, busy. Whether I’m cleaning, walking, or playing with my kid, any movement is better than wallowing in my whirlwind of obsessions and nervousness, even if I have to force myself to start.
4. Breathing exercise!
I breathe deeply. Breathe in and count one, two three. Exhale longer. Count one, two, three, four, five while exhaling. After a while it gets better. We can’t feel miserable forever, even if anxiety sometimes feels like our new reality.
5. Centering myself – name the object technique.
When things get rough, I look around me and name objects in front of me. I say it out loud. Table. Brown tablecloth. Two cups. Wall is painted white. There is a glass of water. Sun is shining through the window. That gets me centered and the anxiety attack goes away.
That’s how I’ve learned to deal with a problem I’ve endured for thirty years.
Managing anxiety is about finding coping techniques that work for you. It’s about reducing stress and taking control again– of your emotions and your life–and opening yourself up to the possibility you’re stronger than you probably know.
I function! I am a worker. I am a mother. And I have anxiety. We live together and we are OK.