Updated: Sep 23
I have a kind of short term memory loss when it comes to anxious spells or "episodes". I'll be descending into another anxious mental health suffering period, featuring the usual suspects of chest pressure, shortness of breath and a feeling of doom thinking:
"GOSH, THIS IS THE END, IT'S NEVER FELT LIKE THIS BEFORE.
THESE PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS ARE ABSOLUTELY FOOLPROOF EVIDENCE OF MY IMPENDING DEATH/A DISASTER.
This time is DIFFERENT, I KNOW IT."
For the record, it never has been. It's the same bullshit. And YET! Around the anxiety merry-go-round we go! Again! And again! And agaaaaiiinnn, never fully learning that it's the same monster, different day/colour/shape/name/anything.
Okay, not a merry-go-round, but you get the metaphor.
Newsflash to the uninitiated, but anxiety is a VERY physical beast. My response to stress can be tension headaches, numbness in my hands or limbs, tingling sensations, shaking (anywhere on my body), palpitations, shortness of breath, fear of too much movement (freeze response)... there's a million forms it can take. This article is fairly thorough.
A bout of specific health anxiety can start many ways (imagining worst case scenarios might be your poison) but more often than not, where it ends is in a physical manifestation somewhere on your body that likes to create whatever terrible thing you're imagining.
So how, (and I am not great at this yet) do you manage your body's physical response to your anxious thoughts, when your natural response in the face of terror is to FREEZE and NOT LEAVE THE BED/COUCH.
Back to safety plz.
Well... I don't know.
I don't know. In the moment, trying to return to some kind of state of energy, hope and easy-breathing feels so impossible.
Like a lot of things in mental health and/or mental illness, it seems to be a recipe, not a cure. Exercise, meditation, having a strong support circle, journaling, time in nature, fulfilling hobbies, physical affection - hopefully it's a cocktail of all of these.
Often, when you're in the thick or it, past the point of "no return", these things can abate but not release you entirely from the anxious episode. But recently, I might have come up with a new tool in the tool box and that is... DRUMROLL...
Let me explain.
Just last month I had a very heart-anxious week leading up to a big trip and a very long flight worrying about my appendix... yay!
But in writing about it, here and in my journal, I've been able to reflect back on the process. The trick is that it isn't enough to write it down, you have to
READ WHAT YOU WROTE.
That reinforces that "hey, I made it through, and look, I can see the exact brain patterns that lead me to this state, and how I eventually returned to my 'normal'."
It might look like this...
May 5th: started to feel really heavy in my chest, thought I was having some kind of pulmonary issue. Really feeling low. Going to call the doctor maybe.
May 9th: Still going to work but my chest is so so tight. My heartbeat was so, so slow at work as well. I think I should call in sick.
May 11th: Didn't leave the couch today. Too afraid of moving. If I stay still, I feel safe.
May 12th: Called the doctor hotline. There's nothing medically to make anything serious happen, so I just need to wait it out. I did a meditation video and did the dishes. Cool.
May 14th: Back to work today and it was fine. My co-workers are great. Had some palpitations but think it's probably because I was too tired. I did a "worst case scenario" exercise from my therapist. It really helped.
For Tom Hanks, if he ever reads this. Hi Tom.
I think journaling of any kind is good, but I also think that not all journaling is created equal. It's an underused tool in that it is brain data, YOUR brain data. And maybe, just maybe in amongst the "I met a cute human todays", are useful clues and ways to train your brain so that maybe, just maybe, the next time that similar "heartbeat" or "breathing" or "chest tension" feeling comes around, you don't go for it, hook line and sinker. Maybe just the hook and the line.
Be like the fisherman, not the fish. Does it make sense? Maybe not. But you're the one reading it. Muahahahahahaa.
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