Anxiety: planning for it and taking away some of its tools
Yesterday was was one of the days I was not able to get ahead of Anxiety.
The day started out all wrong because — as happens sometimes — I forgot to take my meds the day before. Actually, I didn’t forget to take all my meds (i.e. I took my sinus meds, my chill pills, and my vitamins). But because I am still working with samples from the doctor’s office to see / show that my new main medication could be the right one, it is not in precisely the same place on my desk as the other pills and sprays that are part of my daily existence. I missed, I forgot, I glanced over the new medication.
The next morning (yesterday) I said one big “RUH-ROH!” as my head started off aching really bad, and I thought, “I’m pretty sure I made a big mistake during last night’s pill-taking.”
In addition, yesterday was one of the days I could not begin my day with exercise (more on that later in this post).
And … AND … there was some really big, important, and too personal for even me to share health news I was waiting to hear about later in the day. Everything worked out okay dokey on that front, so don’t heap any extra worry my way.
In other words, even under normal circumstances with a normal brain, yesterday was going to be difficult. For me, it could (and did) become unbearable.
I won’t dwell on the results. But I’ll just note that I could only spend a few hours in the office. I spent a couple hours in bed once I told a few of my colleagues I was not going to be fun to be around. And then I did the rest of what was absolutely required of my day — including a visit with my therapist, grocery shopping, and a small gathering of neighbors — pretty much in mental and physical pain.
But wait! There’s some really good news.
I began meeting with my therapist by saying, “I’ve had a string of really good days. But today sucks rhino!” I shared why yesterday sucked but was a temporary blip. Then I shared what had been working. That is really the subject of this post.
First, I shared with her how the advice she had given me the week before had been very helpful.
- I started viewing Anxiety as a bully that had to be acknowledged but not given the attention It thrives on; and as an extension of that,
- In seeing Anxiety as a being unto Itself that enjoyed coming out to Hell to drag me back in with It,
- I thought about the day ahead and when Anxiety would see me at my weakest and then try to grab me back down to Hell with It.
To make this less abstract, in advance I now have to think about all the major meetings, interactions, and situations that might put my brain in a reactive place. I then have to think about how to either stay silent (if even for just a couple moments) and / or find ways to let the proactive as opposed to reactive approach come out of my mouth and from my actions.
Admission #1: This is exhausting work. Both in the planning and in the execution. But I had a week’s worth of material to share with my therapist. The long and short of it was that I had fewer embarrassing public engagements with Anxiety. And my planning allowed to to assert my proactive self in the situations I wanted / needed that to happen.
Admission #2: I am an introvert in an extroverted world and in a profession that favors extroverts (I think). So staying even more silent than I already am, or waiting to say something for even longer than I want to is absolutely angering. I am sure it does and will result in some missed opportunities. But the impact of me just blurting out some reactive BS would be even more harmful and embarrassing. So I need to be okay with my current approach.
Also, when I asked my therapist, “Will this approach get easier? It’s exhausting, and I end my day physically and mentally spent …” Her answer was “Yes. But it’s never going to become natural. As a kid your brain developed to always be ready to be in panic survival mode.”
“It’s like taking up a new sport at your current age,” she said. “After hours, days, and months of practice, you’ll improve and look competent. But you’ll never look like the pros who had the talents and skills seen and developed as young children.”
Her answer sufficed: “It will get easier.” But it also sucked … even though it kinda made sense.
Now, about that yoga pose picture … mental health doctors and therapists applaud and encourage exercise. They really applaud it as a preventative measure for Anxiety. The basic reason is that exercise depletes some of the energy that Anxiety might decide to feed on. … Yet another reason to get active, folks!
But I’ve taken it to another level. And I think I’m on to something.
I’ve written extensively (for example) about the particular physical muscle reactions and pain that accompany my mental anguish during bouts with Anxiety: restricted chest and throat as well as a brick brain. Plus, I get what any tension brings: a sore neck and stiff shoulders.
For the past week or so I’ve been trying to go to early morning yoga classes … like 6 am or 7:30 am classes. I don’t take the kumbaya, relaxing type of yoga. My yoga work outs are intense, heart-pumping, muscle fatiguing practices. And, as the classes pretty much get at all the muscle groups, nearly every muscle feels twisted, rinsed out, and fatigued by the end of the practice.
Again, as I’ve noted before, Anxiety likes to hang out in my muscles. On mornings when I don’t exercise, before I have reason to let the emotional aspect of Anxiety envelop me, the physical, muscle aspect sets in. My chest will restrict for no reason. Sometimes my throat will clamp down. Sometimes my head becomes a heavy weight I can barely hold above my shoulders. In awful instances, I sweat up a storm. And then my breathing gets shallow and panicked.
The negative muscle memory kicked in, my mind then wanders to “Gee, what can we worry about to give credence to this already Hellish state you are in?” (You read that correctly: sometimes the physical tension happens before my mind even thinks of the emotional reason for stress.) Anxiety wins.
And so, early morning yoga is filled with exercises to fatigue the muscles that later won’t have the power exercise their natural tendency to stiffen up in preparation for emotional Anxiety. My sternum gets twisted and rinsed by long holds of Extended Triangle Pose with a Full Bind (top picture of this post). Blood is brought into my brain with inversions of many types … I love the variety of headstands at my disposal. And then when I stand normally, the blood washes out and with it some of the latent brick-brain. I sweat for the right reasons. And my breathing goes through the self-regulation yoga promotes.
After class, I may be presented with emotional reasons to succumb to Anxiety. But at least for several hours my muscles will not provide an anchor for those negative thoughts to present physical pain. (It’s not a full-day cure. But it works to start the day right … and start it right for at least 5 or 6 hours. … Yoga twice a day would be grand … oh, if only!)
Now, I am writing this post for myself and some self-validation. But I am also writing for some others who suffer. Many of you don’t do yoga and / or don’t to the type of yoga or exercise I try to make part of my life.
So what advice do I have for you? I’m just a guy who experiences Anxiety in a very physical sense. I am not a pro or a doctor or a trained yoga teacher. So take my advice with a grain of salt if you’d like. But here’s what I have to offer.
If Anxiety is a physical ailment to you as well as a emotional bugger, think about where that physical pain resides. Is there some simple exercise you can begin to do that fatigues and rinses out that part of your body so Anxiety cannot use the tension that might build up there as the anchor for the feelings Anxiety likes to attach to those muscles? Can you practice that exercise regularly and get better at it?
Can you outsmart your Anxiety so It has one less tool to use against you?
On the days I can get out of bed and at an early yoga class, I can. This is an amazing thing!