Well, here we are. At long last, we have arrived at the first Monday of November in an election year. For those of us who haven’t yet voted, tomorrow is the day.
In any previous year, this would be a benign factual statement.
But not on November 2, 2020.
I am a person who does not need any reason to feel anxious. Anxiety is always present, always in the picture. It does its job exceedingly well for me, alerting me to any possible threat to my safety. Like a dog who looks out the window and barks at any passersby, anxiety is on the job. Just like Fido, we can thank anxiety for being so cautious because we know that the neighbor kids on their bikes are far from being a threat.
But right now, anxiety does have cause to work overtime, and those of us who live with the barking dog are just trying to take a deep breath.
The election, the out-of-control pandemic, the economy, the threats to human rights, and environmental catastrophes, are real and completely deserving of our concern. It’s a playlist stuck on repeat. And for me, I’m adding my total hip replacement surgery next week to the lineup.
I take medications to help my barking dog relax and not see every single thing as a potential threat. But I’m guessing that many people have reached or surpassed the limits of their medications. It hardly seems possible that we are entering an even more intense week than any so far, but here we are.
For those of you with little or no previous experience with anxiety, I’ll share some actions that work for me.
The very first thing that I do is to acknowledge the feelings, no matter how difficult, painful, and upsetting they are. Going back to the illustration of the barking dog, realize that the feelings are trying to get your attention and will not only continue but will escalate its efforts when it’s not acknowledged. I literally stop. I mentally thank my anxiety and feel the feelings. This is so important. Ignoring, muting, and stuffing uncomfortable feelings only allows them to continue to build until it all comes bursting out. Unfortunately, that discomfort, resentment, fear, and anger often ends up being unleashed on someone else, someone undeserving of our ick and usually someone we love. (Why yes, I am speaking from personal experience.)
This means releasing anxiety and other negative emotions after you have experienced them. The body will eventually release the stress physically, through heart attacks, ulcers, illness, and total breakdowns. Be proactive and let these emotions flow through.
Breathe. And by that I mean slowly and deeply, which is not easy when your heart is pounding and your thoughts are racing, but it is very effective. Five deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth are enough to bring oxygen into your lungs and settle the parasympathic response. When you notice that your mind gets caught up in worry or panic, keep returning to the breath.
Get moving and get outside. A walk around the block will interrupt the pattern of thinking, bringing you out of your head and into your body.
Write it down. Put your feelings on paper. No one needs to see this but you. Let them flow, if you can. I know very well that feeling of being without words to describe my feelings.
Don’t numb the feelings. This is just sweeping the junk under the rug and not only will you still have the feelings after you overeat, drink too much, exercise too much, or any activity used to ignore and forget, you have also likely invited guilt and shame to the party.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has links to many resources, blogs, and websites dedicated to living well with A&D. (link to ADAA.org)
If anything, I hope that you realize that the discomfort you may feel about stigma is nothing compared to recovering from a heart attack, healing an ulcer, or repairing a relationship. Please, take care of your mental, physical health and well-being for yourself and others.