I have anxiety. There are two major ways I experience anxiety. The first is physical. The second is mental. Both are distressing and need treatment, but I find the mental aspect more painful and harder to recover from.
I feel my rapid heartbeat, my itchy skin, my shallow breathing. During periods of heightened anxiety, my muscles tense up and my neck aches. My stomach squeezes in distress and acid goes up and down the GI tract. It’s easy for me to recognize these symptoms as anxiety and to treat them. (Take a “chill pill” and do something calming offline until I feel better.)
When the anxiety transitions from a physical to mental experience, it gets worse. If I don’t stop the spiral during the physical stage, it will take more to stop it and more to recover from it.
Suddenly I can’t think of a future more distant than a couple of days. I can’t remember what it’s like to have hope. My depression joins in. Now each thought I have is turned into a catastrophe. I cannot believe I will ever feel better, will ever feel safe. I forget that I have tools for dealing with anxiety, and by the time I remember them, I have moved into full blown panic.
This worsening of symptoms the longer I feel anxiety is serious. The best way to address it is prevention. I can (somewhat) try to reduce stress in my life by keeping up with urgent chores, the kind that turn into disasters if left too long. But I can also check-in with myself and my body multiple times a day.
I close my eyes, take deep breaths. And count to ten. Then I ask myself: how do I feel? How is my breathing? How fast is my heart beating? Do I need to eat or drink or pee or stretch? I can notice the early symptoms of anxiety – and treat them – long before a mental episode. I can prevent some panic attacks.
in its own weird way, my anxiety helps me take care of myself. It gives me signals and clues that I need to prioritize myself and my health, and when I need to take a break. I wish I didn’t have anxiety, but since I do, I’m going to manage it as best as I can, and forgive myself when I don’t.