Through dealing with anxiety, we all have various methods in calming ourselves down when it gets to a fever pitch and becomes a panic attack. Similar to fear, anxiety invokes a comparable fight, flight, freeze response in the brain. Initially fight, flight, freeze were connected to life threatening danger, but anxiety has brought it to a new stage for the new digital age.
The difference with anxiety is it seems to exclusively select flight or freeze first as the battle is essentially internal. People suffering from social anxiety face the fight, flight, freeze stimulus every time they’re invited somewhere they’ve never been with people they’ve never met, for example. The flight and freeze are the initial instinct because the fight comes from within you. Choosing to confront the anxiety and challenging you through the discomfort.
All these anxieties and fears derive from the fight, flight, freeze response and that is a constant internal battle of no and yes. The constant question of our futures often cripples us from experiencing events that can often be positive experiences. Once we overcome the fight, flight, freeze response and embrace our surroundings, no matter what they are, we can overcome the situation itself.
One of the tools I’ve used to overcome my internal fight, flight, freeze response is statistically probability. Something I’ve had the fortune of experiencing in my life is swimming with sharks, stingrays and other tropical animals and fish. This is an event that would normally initiate a fight, flight, freeze response in many people but the thought of the statistically probability of being attacked is slim to none really comforted me and I was completely at ease. Statistically probability might not be your thing, but those numbers are out there for you to access if you ever fear something.
Whether the instinct is to fight, fly or freeze depends on your personal experience with anxiety and your response to the situation. No two people suffer in the same way, though there are overlapping similarities bunched into categories such as social anxiety, driving anxiety (road rage), travel anxiety, agoraphobia and claustrophobia, all things I will go into further detail on in a later blog.
Drawing inspiration from the Bell’s Let’s Talk event this year (2017) I am compelled to revitalize the Millennial Perspective blog from its grass roots. Though I’ve been on hiatus doing a range of things from writing for publications to school and travel, I’ve learned many things. Things I believe will enhance the Millennial Perspective and ultimately help people through a blog series about what started the blog, Anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a controversial topic for it is subjective. It affects everyone in different ways. Though you and I may find overlapping similarities in our Anxiety, it is never truly the same experience. Though we cannot always understand what each other is going through, a common theme amongs those in the mental health community is to always say “I’m here for you.” Over the years I’ve seen Anxiety in many shapes and sizes, and there’s no one clear, textbook example of it. Anxiety can be the little girl not wanting to go out to parties because she feels uncomfortable in crowds and the peer pressure that is associated with them. Anxiety is also the teenage boy too scared to try new things because of what might happen. Anxiety affects us all in many different ways, and there’s still no clear solution, or a cure to what ails us.
Anxiety is normal. Everyone experiences Anxiety at times. For example, it is normal to feel anxious when you miss a bus, or before a job interview. It’s a system in our body that helps us perform our best or avoid danger. The definition of Anxiety is: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
Put into such simple terms it can seem an afterthought to those that don’t experience Anxiety. Often people dismiss it, saying “It’s all in your head.” Those people have not experienced a panic attack. Though Anxiety is an imbalance in our brains, it is not a made up phenomenon that can just be thought away.
One constant of Anxiety is a fear of the unknown. Through overthinking, what could happen becomes what will happen. Anxiety is pessimistically perceiving an event in the future whether it’s a task, a conversation, traffic, a crowd, it is predicting the future through a worst case scenario filter. The most rewarding part of this often crippling fear is that when you can put the fear aside and do something you feel anxious about, you often benefit through positive life changing experiences. This, however, does not make the next time any easier unless it was a common fear you overcame such as acrophobia, arachnophobia, galeophobia, etc.
What does Anxiety mean to me?
Anxiety is heavily triggered by unpredictability, but Anxiety itself is unpredictable. This is why Anxiety about Anxiety will trigger panic attacks due to an endless cycle. It is a constant internal barrier to overcome. People with Anxiety constantly overthink situations and doubt their ability to carry through their responsibilities. Meeting new people is often very hard, not due to shyness, but from the fear of crowds. First impressions are very important but if you’re someone with Anxiety, you can affect others which makes them uncomfortable, tarnishing someone’s view of you possibly forever. This is why crowds so often frighten people that suffer from Anxiety. Things that normally stress people out such as money, school, work, etc. affect people with Anxiety to another level and if you don’t make it work to your advantage, it can really go downhill. Communication is key but is it always easy to identify what’s causing the Anxiety? People ask how they can help you but if you can’t identify the problem then how can you find a solution?
On a personal note, Anxiety runs in my family. I’ve been afforded the luxury of having the elders pass on knowledge about Anxiety and what to do if you’re diagnosed, what coping mechanisms are effective and who to talk to when I can’t handle it. Several years ago I saw several doctors to get on a proper balance of medication and self-awareness due to a string of panic attacks really scaring me. I learnt that breathing through the stomach in deep, slow breathes required more thought than I had expected. When we’re born as babies, we breathe that way naturally and over time we start to breathe more through our chest. This actually results in a shortness of breath.
After learning several techniques on how to tame Anxiety and calm myself from panic attacks, I felt I only needed see my family doctor, Dr. Kanagaratnam, who’s amazing. Much of my remedy for Anxiety is less medical and more mindfulness as I started practicing meditation which is very therapeutic. All the methods I’ve used to tame my Anxiety will be shared throughout this blog series as I hope I can help others the way others have helped me.
Whether the series is successful or not, I have several blogs planned on Anxiety through my experiences and observations since initially writing about it. I plan to discuss further what it is, as it is a very complex topic. I also intend to discuss the triggers of Anxiety, the fight vs flight instinct, Self-Awareness with Anxiety, how to help others with Anxiety, Travel Anxiety, City Anxiety, Anxiety about making plans, how others can effect those with Anxiety, and several more. Hopefully through the series and discussing ways I have overcome Anxiety, I can help others do the same.
I’m starting to realize as I continue to recover from my anxiety disorder that things that used to give me horrible anxiety no longer even seem to affect me in some cases.
I don’t like curveball’s, I never did. As long as I can remember, once I got something in my head, anything that got in the way of it was an obstacle. Growing up, that obstacle was crippling anxiety. It’s hard to describe. A lot of people think 3 steps ahead of what they’re presently doing, but in my case I can’t even think about doing other things before I do those three things I was already thinking about. This likely stems from a memory issue that has also been repaired through post secondary education.
There’s a difference between getting annoyed from an obstacle and having anxiety about it. To put it into perspective, there was a time my mother asked me to walk the dog. This is a perfectly acceptable thing to request since I walk the dog every day, but the timing was against me. I had thought 3 steps ahead, so now I had to rush those three things. As I rushed doing those things, I felt winded and dizzy from the panic attack that was now in full tilt. During the walk, the stress of the day already seemed to fall away even though it wasn’t even lunch time yet. The sun was shining, Chloe (my 16 y/o multipoo) was happy, and the tide at White Rock Beach was out. The serenity of nature is something that has been a large part of learning to deal with my anxiety. Often I’ll go out of my way to take a stroll through the park to ease my mind, sometimes listening to music that reminds me of simpler times, or the music that opens my mind.
Anxiety alone is a complex thing. I estimate that I have had anxiety issues with panic attacks since I was 6 years old. My earliest memory specifically was moving for the first time when my parents divorced, I kept everything packed in my closet. Unpacking and putting things away felt weird in the new house, and when I was asked to unpack, every item I retrieved from the closet to place somewhere in the room felt like a punch to the gut. As if unpacking was forever binding me to the spot, a slave to my space.
A form of anxiety that’s rather common, as it reaches those that don’t otherwise have the pleasure of experiencing anxiety, is test anxiety. It’s the big day of the final and you studied all night, barely getting any sleep. You walk into class and instantly are struck with fear. Desks are organized with tests for every seat, you sit in the back corner by the window for some natural sunlight, as if it will help you. As you gaze onto the paper, the first question doesn’t look familiar and you instantly panic, assuming you studied the wrong chapter. This is when people need to take a breathe and just read all the questions, go through it and note the questions you DO recognize. With every answer you feel progressively less confident in your test, knowing that you will fail. When you give the test to your teacher finally, (s)he looks up at you with a sinister grin, they know you failed just from looking at your answers. You grab your stuff as quietly as possible so as to not disturb the peace and quiet, and hurry out of the room. The worries of the test are over, you feel sweaty and tired, but you survived. That’s the feeling of surviving a panic attack, but a far more tame version.
As a writer, I get in ‘the zone’ similar to the ‘wired in’ term used in the successful film “The Social Network” about the origin of Facebook. This is the only thing I still get significant anxiety if it’s interrupted, fearing to lose the roll I was on, scared to lose my inspiration and end up playing video games instead. Usually this means I’m writing in my room with my stereo playing Blink-182, surrounded by the soft glow of my laptop, or sitting on a hill with notepad and pen in hand the old fashioned way. I require a bubble to be in this zone, and get anxious the second someone steps into it. I minimize what I was writing if they hover over my shoulder, because to me, none of my work is worth reading until it is finished. When asked what I’m doing on the spot, usually I’ll lie and say I’m just on Facebook, or doing nothing at all, revealing to the same person later that I was writing an article; proceed to show them the finished article no problem.
People think my anxiety is a social anxiety, a sign of a lack of confidence. People who hang out with me frequently know that is not the issue. The problem is I’m afraid of what people assume. People see what they see, they don’t live your life, so if they don’t see you do something and you don’t talk about it, then it didn’t happen to them at all.
Instead of acknowledging a sign of ignorance, us humans seem to wish to piece everything together ourselves without asking questions or talking about the subject matter. So something as simple as walking to the store can be blown out of proportion. If your boss doesn’t witness you doing your work, they will assume you are an insubordinate and lose faith in you until the results come in, in which case the boss takes credit because you were clearly on Facebook while helping customers, or because you had your phone out as (s)he passes by your cubicle. Teachers in college assume students aren’t paying attention when they use their laptops during a lecture. Girlfriends assume you’re mad at them if you’re having a bad day. Boyfriends assume you’re PMSing just because you’re having a bad day. Instead of assuming things like this, what is the harm in simply asking what’s the matter. That takes a significantly less amount of energy to do than creating your version of the story.
With a society that seems to be plagued with a constant sense of entitlement, it’s based upon these outlandish assumptions creating a jumbled world where people would rather come up with stories than listen to the real side of the story. We’re all guilty of assuming too much, even myself. I often catch myself assuming certain things, but better to catch myself before I let it take over and become truth in my brain. Maybe it’s because a lot of people are incapable of articulating their feelings, or thoughts without getting angry and into a heated argument. That’s how things were with me until I understood myself a little more. Maybe the first step is to look within.
Like I mentioned yesterday in my shout-out to Bell for another successful annual Let’s Talk event, spreading awareness about mental health is in a lot of cases more important than raising money for the cause. The more people know about it, the more we might be able to diagnose things before they consume too much of someone’s life. It took almost 20 years for me to conquer my anxiety and I still whimper to the effects on bad days. People suffering from any mental illness come with them their own set of ticks and social issues, but if society understands the difference between someone that’s bi-polar and someone that’s a paranoid schizophrenic less people will be outsiders, less people will face rejection, and we can create a more suitable environment for all of us.
There’s a lot of emotions one goes through in a breakup. Amongst the tears and sighs, there’s a sense of heartbreak people often confuse for depression, though it is fair to say you’re depressed, there is a difference. However, people suffering from depression may be affected a lot more in instances like breaking up with someone. Some have even killed themselves from such an event. This blog is not is not about the depression aspect or hard feelings felt after a breakup, it is about the anxiety from multiple triggers in these events, and how to neutralize the anxiety from a first hand perspective, the millennial perspective.
After my break up I felt all of the above things and more. I was in a really low state for quite some time. The anxiety within me was more victimizing than the breakup itself however. It was hard to even contemplate getting back into the swing of things. Not only dating, but living a new routine, or my old routine. I was once again limited to my setting in White Rock, and I felt like I had no one. Especially considering the timing when I was already trying to come back from a slump, only to fall deeper into the slump with heartbreak. I stopped talking to people as much, I hid away as much as possible. I once again had issues trusting people with anything. I’d always worry about running into the now ex-girlfriend. I didn’t want to leave the house for fear that I’d see her. I was worrying about what she might say or do, or if her friends would get involved. I had asked her to leave me alone before only to be threatened by her and her new boyfriend. Since they’re theater crew, they must love drama. But then, today I ran into her. I was walking to the Skytrain after my midterm and she was coming up the hill as I was going down. She looked just as miserable as I was before, and for some reason that lifted a lot of anxiety of my shoulders. I believe it’s because nothing happened and now my fear of being harassed more by her is gone, or it could be that I finally understand the breakup took a toll on her as well. But whatever it is, when I ran into her today, I was already in a better place. I didn’t avoid her, or run away because I already fixed my anxiety about the situation, and this is how:
Accept that situations were beyond my control.
This was a really hard one to accomplish for me. I’ve always tried to put myself in situations that I was in control of, but the reality of it is, when you really think about it. We don’t control much. In fact, out of everything that happens in our lives, we control very little. We don’t control genetics, or where we’re brought up, but we also don’t control who we run into (in my case, I couldn’t control if I ran into my ex or not) or who we meet that help take the pain away. However, we DO chose to keep those that take our pain away, or at least you should, I highly recommend it. The first step to ending my breakup anxiety was easily realizing I can’t do anything about it.
Being distracted is usually a bad thing. We distract ourselves from essay’s, work, etc. But if you have anxiety after a breakup, distractions can work wonders. My distractions were meeting new people, hanging out with friends, playing video games on my days off, and doing good deeds for others. Sometimes the best way to make yourself feel better, is to make someone else feel better. Maybe distract yourself with more structure in your life. Stick to a schedule, focus on what mattes most. Distractions are a nice way to repel negativity.
Write about how you feel.
I’m not sure if this works for everyone. Maybe some people don’t write ever, but it’s something I do on a daily basis. With the last blog, for example, I found simply writing my insight down helped get a lot of the breakup anxiety out of me, then I started writing more things down on the side like a journal my counselor wants me to keep. Writing about anxiety in my experience definitely helps neutralize it.
Remain true to who you are.
Lots of people after breakup will try and become someone else as a defense mechanism, don’t do that. It won’t help eliminate the anxiety you have, and has potential to create even more. There’s a reason someone appreciated you for who you were, and there will be people in the future appreciating you for who you are. If you decide to change, change in ways that might be productive. Change to being more mature, change to being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, be more accepting. Don’t turn into a disrespectful jerk who just wants to go out and have fun. And if you do, at least avoid alcohol, it’s a depressant after all.
Pretend to be happy if you need to.
I read somewhere that pretending to be happy is very likely to make you happier. It attracts positive energy, and negative energy is repelled. In my experience this is true because when I am down, people tend to try and lower me even more, but when I am up, everyone else is too.
My example: the last time I was down I was threatened with a gun, a knife, and mace all within two weeks.
It might be worth it to give it a shot since nobody likes to be threatened. Faking a smile could be your best weapon.
Finding love in the right places.
Think about where you went wrong in your last relationship and learn from it. Also learn from how the ex might have changed throughout the relationship as their true colors started to show. Separate what you like and want to see in a person to date from negative things you wish your ex didn’t start doing. Only then should you allow yourself to see other people. You don’t want anxiety from a last relationship transferring over and causing issues with a new one. Be mature, and responsible, and think about what you need rather than what you want. Don’t break any hearts just because you don’t know what you’re doing. Be patient, and keep your chin up. All the good things you wish to see in a future spouse are in somebody out there, and they’re waiting for you.
I’ve been away for a while because things have gone from bad to worse lately. Only in the last couple days have things gotten better.
I’ve been thinking about doing this blog for a very long time, as I believe it can help people, however, I’ve always been somewhat insecure about talking about it. It’s a sensitive issue for most people, and I’m afraid people will see it as my way of complaining about my issues, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. With a little help, and guidance from my friends, they told me to go ahead and talk openly about my issues with anxiety.
Before I go on any more, these are certainly MY issues. I’m not interested in blaming people for them, despite the fact that I sometimes do as a defense mechanism. I acknowledge the fact that in most situations, I am the problem because most people do not understand anxiety. If people cannot see something, usually they don’t believe it. In my experience, this is a fact. Even when something is explained, most people still have issues understanding or believing. As I’ve said, this post is about trying to help people in the future on the sensitive issue of anxiety.
Anxiety, what it is in my experience:
For me, anxiety is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion induced by stress usually. In my life, most of my anxiety came from things not going as planned. If I put a lot of effort into planning something and it ended up exploding in my face for whatever reason, I would have a tremendous panic attack. Things have always been, and continue to be this way for me. Anxiety stifles my breathing, makes me lightheaded, gives me tunnel vision, often it nullifies my ability to think rationally, and almost always it makes me very sleepy after a big panic attack. Overly negative people have also always been a trigger to my panic attacks, as well as people over reacting to something I say (like taking a joke seriously). This is a part of being unable to control my surroundings, which is something people with anxiety have issues dealing with. They think they need to be able to control everything, even things well beyond their control. I’ve been in relationships, and friendships with people who don’t understand, this is my attempt at helping people understand not just for me, but other people who suffer from the same thing.
Being in a relationship with someone with anxiety:
I guess the first thing to mention is you should be honest no matter what. When people with anxiety catch you in a lie, they will forever think you’re lying to them, besides, there’s no point lying in a relationship to begin with. It’s unhealthy. Communication is definitely necessary for both parties, particularly the one suffering with anxiety. It’s best to talk about potential triggers of panic attacks and ways you can both avoid these triggers together, this requires a fair level of understanding from the less anxious party, as you have to think how things can affect your significant other. It’s hard to imagine what they’re going through, but think of it like this: The more anxiety we experience, the more damage it does to us, potentially taking years off our lives. Not to say that you’re killing anyone by triggering a panic attack, but you’re doing more damage than it seems, and most people with anxiety are too afraid to tell you, especially if you’re their significant other. To be fair, most people have an inability to see what’s wrong, so talk about it.
A lot of relationships are one sided. Most unsuccessful relationships, I can say from experience, are unsuccessful because one person has to do most of the work. Factoring in anxiety, if you’re the one with anxiety AND you’re also the one doing all the work, you’re going to have a really hard time.
In my experience I was in a relationship with a girl that lived about 2 hours away, and I bused out all the time to see her, but she never bused out to see me, past a certain point she didn’t even drive out to see me even when she could. This alone caused a lot of unneeded anxiety having to bus around so much Occasionally I’d have to bus to work early in the morning, and sometimes she’d request me to come out at very late hours of the night, sometimes impossible hours, in that the buses literally had already stopped running. To any average person, they’d just say no and be done with it, but to someone with anxiety they freak out because presenting them with an idea that they would consider, but can’t because of extenuating circumstances, they overreact. Like I said, we want to control things. SO thinking about what I said from my experience, you should consider both working together. Putting too much pressure on one person is enough to exhaust them, let alone someone with anxiety.
As I’ve said, communication is key, however, I should elaborate that FAIR communication is key. This means no pointing fingers. I’m guilty of doing this, as I’m sure many people with anxiety are. We tend to point fingers when experiencing overwhelming anxiety, or when we’re in a panic attack. Though the worst thing you can do when someone is having a panic attack is ignore them. Just change the subject and give them a bit more time to think before responding, make sure they’re okay, but don’t treat them much differently either. Just maintain a calm setting and avoid arguments even when the person experiencing the attack seems hostile. It will pass. Often times we say things in panic attacks we almost instantly regret. I can’t explain the science behind it, but I’ve personally said some hurtful things to some people when having a panic attack, I suspect it’s a defense mechanism. People with anxiety tend to push people away, especially when people get too close. Work together by talking about it. If something is compromised, work it out as a team. When things get rough, wait it out. The bad episodes pass and it’s best to weather the storm together. Encourage seeking help in the mental health sector, be there for them through the long mental health process, it’s a life lesson for both of you. All storms pass, and I like to say: There’s always bomb shelters in shit storms. And there’s nothing someone with anxiety needs more than having someone there for them through the good and bad. Too many times have we been abandoned by people, or we’ve pushed then away when things got rough. Finding someone that is willing to stick by you through the hard times is something I KNOW we all cherish.
If you’re early in a relationship with someone with anxiety, don’t rush things. Give yourselves enough space to go at a comfortable pace. Don’t be too emotional or overreact (or pretend to be offended,upset,etc.) with someone with anxiety early on, they may push you away before they want to just because they’re afraid you won’t be able to handle them at their worst. Give yourselves air to breathe. Think of anxiety in this case like the Sims. In the Sims you can give your characters a list of tasks to do, this list can get rather long, however, usually something goes wrong with the Sim and they decide they want food instead, or they break the toilet again. This can be related to rushing into a relationship because you are giving yourselves so many tasks so early on, and preparing for a long future when you don’t know what’s going to happen between now and getting married, particularly the thought that you might not even get that far.
Sure, it’s nice to think about and talk about but it’s overwhelming to people with anxiety to think years ahead, often times it’s hard for us to think days ahead, and as I’ve said, in my experience I try not to make plans because my panic attacks are most frequently induced when things don’t go as planned. Most relationships don’t go as planned, that’s part of the fun. Carpe diem as they say, seize the day, seize the moment. Living in the moment is usually better than dreaming of the future anyways. Relationships are not about the destination, they’re about the journey.
Seems hard? It’s not:
Most of the things I’ve talked about are actually basics of most successful relationships, just in more depth. Communication, working together, taking things slow, these are all things most people should consider anyways, but if you’re in a relationship with someone that suffers from anxiety, these are a few great pointers to consider when having to go through the rough times, but you’ll find that it’s worth it. We seem complex because most people don’t understand, but anything that stresses most people out just stresses us out significantly more. Nothing is particularly unrealistic, in fact, pampering should not be a way to deal with someone during a panic attack, as psychologically it could have the reverse effect.
I’ll be working on more blogs about anxiety as it is an issue I have to deal with every day, and I’d like to help people that have to deal with it as well. I’ll be talking to others with similar issues to site them in future anxiety blogs, also I’ll be writing one about break up’s from the perspective of the person with anxiety, as well as a blog about being friends with someone with anxiety. I hope some of these pointers help, please share this with anyone you know that has to live with anxiety in hopes that it may help them.