another tactic to outwit Anxiety

A little over a week ago I posted eight somewhat-successful tactics (for me) to outwit Anxiety. The tactics ranged from going on the offense by beginning the day with exercise to get endorphins — chemicals that both help fight pain and trigger feelings of awesomeness — swimming through my body … all the way to calling in sick to work when you’ve lost the day’s battle with the brain-bully.

Looking back, I find the post kind of funny, because only two days before I (alone) wasn’t able to use any of the tactics leading up to “calling in sick” — even though I was at work as a panic attack had slowly been approaching me. And yet, I managed to defeat the bully and stay at my office.

I didn’t include how I accomplished this in the earlier post, because when the near panic attack still felt a bit raw, and the tactic — one I invented on the fly — would be seen as risky to some.

Well, I’m now 11 days past the near panic attack, and I’m really feeling proud of the result and grateful to the person who helped me carry it out.

First, let’s briefly review the eight tactics I listed in the earlier post:

  • go on the offense; fill your brain and body with natural and positive chemical reactions
  • recognize irrational worries about the future as such and bring your mind back to the present
  • notice anxious-thinking about life and ask yourself “why?”
  • focus your brain on something else despite every urge to feel Anxiety
  • recognize situations that might induce Anxiety and get ahead of those situations
  • use some creative jujitsu to turn present Anxiety into future Accomplishment
  • acknowledge Anxiety once It’s already pounced on you
  • call in sick to work when you’ve lost the battle

So here’s the situation I found myself in:

About mid-morning I felt Anxiety creeping up. I had a lot of work to do, so I didn’t feel I had the time to use the first seven tactics. My doctor has prescribed me some pills to “take as needed” to relax my mind. This seemed to be becoming one of those “as needed” situations; I popped the pill. (This usually works.) However, on that day it didn’t. The Anxiety kept rising, and 30 minutes later I still felt a panic attack a-comin’.

“Okay, better make time for your tactics, Michael,” I thought. I headed out of the office and took a brief walk. I tried to be in the present; but my mind wanted to worry about the future. I couldn’t fight it. I tried to ask “why,” but I could come up with no clue why I was worrying. On through the steps. I even tried to acknowledge the Anxiety and let it hit me and then pass. But this is hard to do at work — or on a quick break from work — and I couldn’t get myself to feel anything other than “URGENT! MUST GET BACK TO WORK,” even though I didn’t really have anything that pressing on my agenda.

Basically, I did not want to give up the day. I did not want to go home sick.

In addition to an onset of panic, depressive thoughts started flooding my brain.

It flashed in my brain: “I need to talk to someone.”

Granted, this is a tactic I’ve made possible. Nearly everyone who knows me knows I’m in a chronic struggle with Anxiety and Depression. Few would be surprised to hear I was “having a bad day.” Although I have to admit, asking someone else — a colleague, no less — to help me seemed an imposition and a risk. It’s hard to know if anyone will know how to respond correctly. Someone wanting to “fix the problem for you” is not a good approach; many, I suspect would try this. Some would desperately try to find a way for you to “snap out of it.” Perhaps they’d think a round of jokes would help you laugh the Anxiety and depressive thoughts away.

On top of that, I was at work. My colleagues had work of their own to do. Who was I to think, “So-and-So should drop everything and help me get to a better place.”

I was about to call it a day. I started to walk to my supervisor’s office and say with a raised eyebrow “I’m not feeling well.” She would have understood this and let me go home. But instead I said to myself, “I don’t want to give up today!”

I risked it. I went to one of my colleagues who I also consider a good friend. I tapped her on the shoulder and said “Got a few minutes? I need to talk.”

I’m pretty sure my demeanor communicated my situation. But for all I know, she was thinking I needed help with a work-product.

We walked to an empty office, sat down, and I (as calmly as I could) said, “I’m about to have a panic attack. I have no idea why. I could go home. But I really don’t want to. I don’t want to give up today.” (When I say “give up,” by the way, I don’t mean “concede.” It is perfectly acceptable to know you’re sick and call it a day. But I really did not want to “give up that particular day,” as in I did not want that Thursday trashed.)

It was a risk. I didn’t know if my colleague was prepared to help. But she was, and she did. She just showed empathy. As if by second-nature she employed two of the tactics for me. She subtlety asked “why?” but more in a way of “How are you feeling, Michael?” and then she stayed with me and talked with me as I answered and kind of acknowledged the Anxiety and let it happen and then pass.

Ten minutes later I wouldn’t say I was all better. But I was much better and on the other side of the incident. Plus, I felt incredibly grateful for my colleague. And feeling gratitude is a huge antidote to Anxiety.

Again, I know I took a risk. And I employed a tactic that won’t work for people who aren’t open about their situation … at a minimum, open with a select number of people about their situation.

So here’s my advice, even if you are not completely open about your situation: Try to find a couple of people who are with you daily who you can trust … I mean really, really trust. Tell them about your struggle with Anxiety (preferably not when you are full-blown experiencing it). Ask them if they would be open to just being with you in the future if you felt that might be helpful. Let them know you are not looking for them to fix things, you are not looking to them to heal you. But you suspect that a little empathy in the future could go a long way. Also let them know that there’s no obligation. If they have important things they must take care of, perhaps you could both come up with a comforting way to say “sorry” and acknowledge that going home and taking care of yourself is a completely acceptable thing to do.

I realize not everyone has these types of people in their lives. I also realize that not everyone cares as little as I do about what someone who stigmatizes Depression or Anxiety thinks. I don’t, quite honestly, feel I am treading risky waters by being as open as I am. I also, just as honestly, think it would be more risky (for me) not to be open … I’d hate for others to misinterpret my demeanor as something they were responsible for.

But that’s me. It’s not everyone else.

To conclude I just want to give one disclaimer: I don’t want to use others as a crutch. I am the one who is responsible for my health, my feelings, and my actions. And so, I do think it’s my responsibility most of the time to personally use the somewhat-successful tactics and for one of those tactics to be “go home sick.”

But we are also social beings. And I feel there is nothing wrong with being open about your illness. And just as people ask for help and accommodation regarding other health difficulties, sometimes the person with an anxious mind should ask for help. Yes, there are professionals who can help. But those professionals usually come with an appointment … not regular life. So, if you’ve tried all you can. If you don’t yet want to call it a day. And, if you know someone will listen to you (if they have the time). Give it a try.

I know it worked for me. This gives me great comfort about future situations when I think I might need help. And not just because of this one colleague. I know lots of awesome, empathetic people.

I can’t wait for the day everyone feels they have that type of support.