I hate anticipation, the wait for an uncertain variable to reveal itself. To me, it’s worse than an unfavorable outcome. Like hanging in the air- not knowing which way you are going. You can’t plan whether you are bracing for take off or impact.
The wait and the worry is enough to throw me into bouts of anxiety. It has been my companion for as long as I can remember.
My anxiety results into panic attacks, into physical manifestation of chest pains. Growing up, my heart has been tested quite a number of times. All doctors focused on symptoms, none on the root cause. When they finally did, my prescription was “Don’t stress so much!” ; as if I wanted to, as if that was a choice, as if anyone would choose this constricted feeling where you heart feels like it’s failing you and breathing becomes difficult.
I have learnt a lot about myself the last few years. Made friends with others with anxiety who helped normalize it for me; who is helping me device my personalized coping mechanism. Everyone with anxiety needs one. But the best outcome from all of this was that they helped me understand and acknowledge that although my anxiety makes me feel incapacitated, hopeless and frankly a bit of a loser sometimes, it does not make me weak in any way.
Bringing Caregivers to the Discussion
In the last couple of years we have made significant progress on mental well-being globally. There is a lot of focus, awareness and education around it now. We are raising awareness, taking mental health days off and normalizing talking about stress and anxiety. That’s good work, great progress and there is still a lot more to do. However, I feel we are only focused on part of the picture.
As someone with anxiety, one of my biggest challenges has been educating my loved ones on how to handle me when I am having an episode. I can tell from experience that it is extremely difficult for someone without anxiety to understand anxiety and panic attacks. It is a steep learning curve- one that Hubster, to his credit, has mounted and conquered. It has not been a smooth and pretty ride but he made it. We made it.
As much as we, people with anxiety, would like to raise awareness about our condition, it is imperative we bring others to the table as well. The conversation is not complete without our caregivers, loved ones, family and friends- especially those who do not experience it themselves; those who are witnesses to our sufferings but are not equipped with the necessary knowledge and education to handle us during those times. It’s unfair to expect them to know how to help if we have not helped them understand to begin with.
I have had my share of misplaced indignation with my loved ones but over the years I have learned to open up, be patient and teach them. It was another steep learning curve, this one for me.
I admire and appreciate all the work that is being done around mental well-being, stress and anxiety; but let’s not take the people without a need out of the conversation. The work around it will only be complete when we all do it together.
Personalized Coping Mechanisms
I am difficult to deal with when I am having an anxiety attack, I will say it outright, out loud. I did not make it any easier for my family over the years. I think the indignation came from a place of being misunderstood. You see, growing up, I did not have anyone around me with anxiety or anyone who understood it. So I appeared as someone “difficult” and “dramatic”. I did not know any better myself which made me feel weak and angry, anger that I projected towards my family.
It was not until I moved away and had fateful conversations with my purple haired family doctor and my newly made friends in TO, that I realized what that “drama” was all about. I remember spending a few weeks without interacting with my family back home, trying to make sense of it all.
That helped; that conversation with myself, that analysis of past experiences helped me truly understand aspects of myself that I did not confront before. It taught me to be kind and forgiving to myself for all the miseries I have caused to people around me over the years. Also, it made me acutely aware of the need to educate caregivers around people with anxiety. The labelling “drama queen” ” super sensitive” and “difficult” DOES NOT help.
My coping mechanism is a work in progress but here are a few pointers that has worked for me:
- Understand Your Anxiety Manifestations (what does your anxiety look like?) : I have spent most of my life believing my chest pains had something to do with my heart when in fact, it was resulting from my anxiety attacks. So believe me when I say, it is important to understand the manifestations of our anxiety so that we can identify them correctly and treat them accordingly. It looks different on everyone- for some people it could be breathing difficulties, while for others it could be a growing restlessness that they can’t seem to place. According to Anxiety Canada the commonly occurring symptoms can be clustered into 4 areas:
- Physical responses
- Identify Your Triggers (what makes you tick?): The first step towards managing anxiety is to identify what is causing it. We all have different triggers, some more severe than the others. While it may be possible for us sometimes, to remove ourselves from situations that can trigger an anxiety attack, it is not possible to do that all the time. This is why we need to be able to identify our triggers so that we can build a game plan to manage the resulting anxiety.
- Have A De-stressors List (your go-to list!): This is a fluid list for me and I have different ones for different situations. Going on long walks have proved to be very helpful- relives me from that claustrophobia that seems to build up when I am having an episode. Others times, I find ways to spend the nervous energy- coloring, calligraphy, origami and reading helps me to calm down. Writing, when I can do it, helps make sense of it of it too. Although there will be common actions, this list is usually very unique to a person because it depends upon his/her personality.
- Building Your Mental Strength (exercise, but for the mind!): Just like we exercise our body to gain physical strength and increased stamina, exercising our mind (meditation as an example) can help us to become stronger mentally. This results into a stronger mind which is better equipped to cope with anxiety.
- Educate Yourself, Educate Others (Spread the awareness!) :Learn about anxiety, you have no excuse in this century! Anxiety Canada provides a wealth of resources that you can use. I have recently learnt about their My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Adults that seems like a great course and its free! I myself have registered for the course and excited to broaden my knowledge.
Finally, educate others too, especially those who do not suffer from the condition. We could really use less labels, more understanding and acceptance.