Saying "Yes" To My Anxiety
I know it sounds a little bit funny, saying “yes” to anxiety, but so often is it easier to stuff things away than to face them head on. That had become the situation with my anxiety and I. It would crop up, catch me by surprise and I would say, “no, no, no!” This was our relationship... get anxious, get annoyed that I’m anxious, reject it, and fail to deal with it. Something had to change between us. Someone had to give, and that someone was me.
For those who have never had an anxiety or panic attack, it can be hard to understand just what I am talking about. While anxiety effects everyone a bit differently, there is generally a physical aspect to it, and this was the case for me. I would get flushed--hot--and then my knees would start to shake, and that feeling would wash over me... like I was in a tube and couldn’t hear the world around me properly. Sometimes it would make me sick to my stomach. And they were just coming from no where. My psyche was betraying me and I couldn’t put my finger on why.
The more I had tried to ignore the fact that I was having panic attacks, the worse the panic seemed to become, and it was taking a clear toll on my life. I was unable to deal with the situations that caused me anxiety because I was so busy trying not to become anxious that it became a vicious cycle. So, ever the persistent woman, I tried a new approach: getting cozy with it. I began trying different ways to deal with the anxiety when it came... rather than trying to pretend like it wasn’t happening.
When I mean I said “yes,” to my anxiety, I mean this quite literally. At the time, I was working in a mental health facility as the office manager (I know, ironic, right?) and one of the therapists shared with me a focusing technique to lessen the effects of the anxiety I was experiencing. It’s a form of self-talk, in many ways, but also a way of acknowledging your feelings in a way perhaps you haven’t tried before.
When the panic attack would begin, and I would start to feel those symptoms creeping up on me, I would take a deep breath and close my eyes. Then I would try to give a name to what I was experiencing. For instance, if my stomach would begin to hurt, I would say to myself (either aloud or in my head), “Hello ache in my stomach. I acknowledge you.” And then I would experience the sensation, even if it was scary or unwelcome. The amazing thing was that, over time, the feelings themselves, as they were acknowledged, began to dissipate.
The more I acknowledged the anxiety, the less scary it became... once I had that long view, I began doing other things to prevent or quell my attacks as well. When an anxiety attack would be looming, but not full blown, I would take a walk and get myself moving. I started exercising a lot more to try and “wear myself out” (but also get in shape), and that helped stay my anxiety like nothing else. I also began confronting my fears in a way I never had before.
As many of us anxiety sufferers know, at the root of most of our anxieties are some irrational fears which are generally rooted in some experience. For me, there a few. One is abandonment. Because of childhood trauma, I sometimes worry about the people in my life leaving and never returning, and this includes my husband. So I encouraged him to take more trips out of town so that I could prove to myself that he would come back and everything would be fine.
I also had very long, flowing hair that had symbolized a security blanket for me in a lot of ways... so I cut it all off and donated it to Locks of Love. For my fear of heights, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge. For my fear of being alone, I took a trip all by myself to Baltimore to see my sister-in-law and her husband. One at a time, I am knocking out my fears and taking on life in a way that I never have before.
Though I still have moments where the anxiety rears its ugly head [like right after walking the Brooklyn Bridge being too afraid to go on a balcony!], at least I am prepared to take it on now. I am no longer afraid of the panic itself; by saying “yes” to the anxiety that had been plaguing my psyche, I was able to face it and get a handle on it. My life has changed radically since I embraced the prevalence of the anxiety that I was faced with, and in the end, I have to say, the presence of anxiety in my life has forced me to set myself free.