My husband and I took a shopping trip to a large store for the first time in eight years. For so long, I had been limited to shopping in three small, local stores due to my anxiety. My husband utilized his knowledge of my anxiety to organize a trip to a large store in a busy mall I longed to visit. Our careful planning and use of strategies made the seemingly impossible possible for me.
What did he do that helped? Here are the things my amazing hubby did that helped me reduce my anxiety:
1. He suggested options so I felt in control of the situation as much as possible. My hubby offered to drive or asked if I wanted to drive. Since I chose to let him drive, he let me know frequently that we could turn around and go home if my anxiety got to be too much for me. I also chose the destination, as challenging as it was!
2. He offered reassurance and support. Frequently hearing positive statements along the way helped me. He was specific and clear with his reassuring and positive statements: “We only have four miles to go. You’ve got this.”
3. We tried distracting strategies. Distracting strategies can include listening to music, singing, sharing favorite memories, solving riddles, breathing exercises, and playing road games like “I Spy” or “License Plates.”
4. He was my cheerleader! He reminded me how proud he was of the progress I made at various points of the journey. And when our trip to the mall was accomplished, he told me how proud he was of me for working through my anxiety to accomplish this trip.
5. When the number of choices at a store provided stress, he helped me reduce the number of choices. He asked me questions like, “What would you wear most often? What do you love?”
6. We were patient with each other. It is difficult for me to cope with anxiety and overcome obstacles. Being patient with ourselves and our partners as we work through this is key to reducing stress.
7. We talked about what helped make the trip enjoyable. We took time to reflect and review. When we did this, it emphasized for me not only what I did, but what he did as well. I thanked him, and I realized I could ask him to help me by using these strategies in the future.
We all know what it’s like to be anxious, but unless you’re one of the 40 million adults in the U.S. who has an anxiety disorder, it’s hard to understand how significantly persistent anxiety can affect your daily life. Because anxiety is more than worrying. It creeps up in different ways, and even has varying physical effects.
1. “I’ll use a self-scan at the store to avoid having to talk with a cashier or feel like they are judging me for what I’m buying.” — Rachel H.
2. “I seem to become hypersensitive to loud sounds. I jump at sounds that wouldn’t have bothered me that much before, e.g. car door slamming, someone sneezing nearby.” — Chantelle S.
3. “The breathing is the part that always gets me. I’m always super aware of my breathing and when it gets harder I always panic and make it worse. Every waking moment I’m always worried when the breathing and panicking will get worse.” — Liza G.
4. “Unexpected calls, texts or emails can send me in a complete panic and derail my entire day. At work the worst thing a boss can do is ask me to swing by later. I immediately start to feel sick to my stomach, even though I am doing a good job.” — Will D.
5. “Whenever I hear raised voices, or something my brain perceives as that, I immediately get anxious that I’ve done something wrong and someone is angry at me. Even more than usual, this makes me feel like I have to be silent, and take up as little space as possible because that’s the best way to appease them.” — Liselle F.
6. “I avoid taking the elevator at work just to avoid possible interactions with other people. I keep my head down when I pass through the office. Avoid and put off phone calls because I’m too anxious about how the person on the other line will be or what they want to discuss. I jump when phones ring, when doors slam. My daughter misses out on spending time with other kids because I’m too anxious to meet the other parents. My husband misses out on many opportunities because of my anxiety; he backs out of plans or doesn’t make any because he knows it will probably make me anxious to either be alone or meet new people. It impacts my family, my career, myself. I’m trying to get better for all of those reasons.” — Nichole G.
7. “I end up not being able to understand simple concepts and crying over tiny things. I also replay every conversation in my head and convince myself that everyone is laughing at me.” — Vicki B.
8. “It takes me two to four hours to fall asleep every night. Random events play in my head as I try to sleep. Usually it’s something awkward I said or did by accident ages ago (we’re talking years and even decades). I’ll obsess over how I could have reacted differently or fixed it. Usually my only coping mechanism is to read something on my phone to replace the thoughts in my head. Eventually my eyes will be too tired and I’ll go to sleep. Some nights though, I have stress dreams about things I was thinking about before falling asleep. It’s not hard to see why I’ve had severe insomnia since childhood.” — Argy IP
9. “My mood fluctuates so much. I get extremely irritated and angry when things don’t go the way I planned them to go, and I snap at people. I have extreme anxiety about being on time, and will turn into a major witch if someone is making me run late.” — Kelly K.
10. “My chest will tighten for no reason and it’ll become hard to breathe. I will have to convince myself that I am not dying, and that I am getting enough air into my lungs.” — Chantel P.
11. “My anxiety makes me doubtful of my own abilities. Whenever I think about doing something… anything, I always have the thought of ‘what if I cannot do this, I’m not good/smart/strong enough?’” — Christina P.
12. “Unexpected guests stress me out. Changes to plans, too.” — Mel F.
13. “Stuttering, shaking hands, unable to remember what word I am trying to say, sensitivity to sound. — Devra Lucas
14. “My interactions with people at work. I actively avoid elevators and take the stairs to avoid being in an awkward small space with strangers. I avoid conversations with people when I walk into the office kitchen, or walk the halls to the copy room. My anxiety also makes it very hard to be motivated or focus on my work. I spend a lot of time procrastinating because of that. Also, I go over what I’m going to do when I get home a million times in my head, stress about what I will eat, how much money I have, any stressful conversations I’ve had with friends/family/partner that day, how much time I will have to relax before sleep if I decide to work out, cook dinner, etc. When it is time for me to sleep, I get anxious that I haven’t accomplished enough in the day or haven’t done all the things I wanted/needed to do, making it hard to actually fall asleep.” — Haylee P.
15. “I’m terrified of phone calls, especially from people I don’t know” – Courtney S.
16. “It makes me feel like I’m not good enough to do anything. Even simple things like brushing my teeth. My brain tells me I didn’t do something perfectly so it was wrong. It makes it hard to do anything because nothing ever feels worth it when you feel like everything you do is bad.” — Sarah S.
17. “Anxiety whispers doubt into every action I take, telling me that nothing I do will be good enough and uses every past action as a reminder that if I was only better the result would have been better, too.” — Kris G.
18. “Being disappointed and angry when not including in plans that my friends make, but also knowing I would probably panic and cancel if I was invited.” — Lexi K.
19. “The anxiety over having anxiety. Small reminders all day long. Feeling anxious over feeling anxious. And it doesn’t manifest itself physically, it just pops in my head and tells me ‘you’re gonna ruminate over this in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…’” — Cheryl P.
20. “When making any decision, big or small, I spend a great deal of time debating with myself. Oftentimes, despite this being a familiar pattern, it doesn’t occur to me until much later that I’ve been ‘arguing’ with my anxiety, not my own concerns about my choices. Even just writing up this quick response, there’s that ‘little voice’ adding uncertainty and doubt into what I want to share, even though I feel confident in what I have to say.” — Marina F.
21. “Going to work super early every day, just in case something happens on my commute. It is usually only a 15 minute drive, but I leave my house two hours in advance.” — Cassandra T.
22. “Nausea and unsettled stomach… fatigue and brain fog even though my mind is racing and on edge, making it difficult to concentrate.” — Heather W.
23. “It’s like I’m in a fog. I stutter and can’t fully concentrate. My words are slurred and I feel like I’m in a dream. Work is hard. I feel extra slow like I’m moving in slow motion, but at the same time I can’t hold still. My thoughts are scattered, yet I can’t put them into words. My palms get sweaty and hands shake as I try to communicate with people I work with. I get nervous to talk to co-workers because I just know my words will come out faster than my brain can put it together to make sense. I stare at nothing but I think about everything. When someone asks what’s on my mind, I might have a million thoughts racing, but I honestly can’t tell them. The answer is always ‘I don’t know.’” — Marci J.
24. “At work, if I feel like I’ve made a mistake it haunts me all day… or if I feel I’ve said something just wrong. Like if I’ve made a joke about something and it ended the conversation, I wonder if it was inappropriate, too far, or if everyone just thinks I’m not funny. My anxiety makes me lack the confidence I know I should have.” — Milinda M.
25. “Not being able to concentrate on any given thing for more than a few minutes because I always feel like I have a million other things to do and need to address them as well, and my anxiety builds if I don’t. Wash, rinse, repeat.” — Emily K.
26. “When I get invited to something, anything, I am immediately filled with dread. I overanalyze whether or not I should go, then I usually torture myself over that decision leading up to, during and after the event.” — Lindsey P.
27. “The physical pain that my anxiety causes is sometimes overwhelming. For instance my arms, hands and chest have been hurting for the last couple days. It just makes it that much harder to get anything done.” — Natasha A.
28. “I put off everything in any way possible, I stay in bed as long as I can or spend hours pointlessly scrolling through social media because I feel anxious about doing anything for fear of being judged.” — Alex S.
29. “I pick the skin round my fingers compulsively. My hands rarely look nice and sometimes I make my fingers bleed. It can get really painful and awful when my anxiety is at its worst.” — Caro H.
30. “I get anxious when I get notifications on my phone. An unexpected call, text, Facebook message or email can tip my anxiety over the edge. I have to ignore friends who are trying to communicate with me at times and it’s difficult to get others to understand that I’m not trying to be rude; I’m just trying to manage my anxiety.” — Manda W.
31. “I need very specific instructions for so many things or I just stand there looking confused because I don’t want to do something wrong so I’d rather not do anything.” — Jamie H.
32. “Ordering food at a restaurant or fast food place. I’m always so awkward and now my husband knows to just do it for me. I just get so anxious and I forget how to me a normal human.” — Chelsea S.
33. “Being too anxious to leave the house for something important, but worrying about not going. It’s a constant battle in your mind.” — Ammy N.
The holiday season is most commonly known as the best time of the year, but for many living with mental illness, getting through the intense shopping craze and extended family dinners is not that easy. From paranoia to personal ticks, the holidays can mean something different to those combating anxiety or depression.
It means a lot of weather watching. Tornado expected six states over? Eh, better not risk it. Blizzard in Greenland? Best stay home today. A single gray cloud in the sky? Sorry Grandma, just save the presents for my birthday. Gust of wind? Looks like Santa can’t make it this year.
It means a lot of staying at home and binging holiday movies while everyone else is socializing. There’s a large amount of people on the roads right now, shopping, frolicking, socializing, that’s a lot of noise and a lot of bodies. However, just because you don’t want to be out in the snow, doesn’t mean you don’t want to get in the holiday spirit! A 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon should do the trick.
It means really long bathroom breaks. The only place where you can escape from the loud noises and overflow of family members who love to hug. Also, this is an opportune time to stop by the fridge and chug a couple glasses of water because you’re feeling nauseous.
It means a lot of playing on your phone. Even if there’s no service in the middle of a cornfield at grandma’s house, you’ll find something to do. It’s been awhile since you played Angry Birds. Who knows? Maybe you’ll go pro.
It means a lot of panicking about the future. Every grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt and weird family member you don’t know how you’re related to will ask what your plans are for the future. Unfortunately, it would be inappropriate to say, “A professional Angry Birder,” so you have to come up with an excuse that’ll make you seem smarter than the rest of your cousins. This lie will haunt you into the next century.
It means a lot of breathing exercises. Breathe in 1-2-3, and out 1-2-3, every time Grandpa uses a racial slur. In one nostril, out the other, each time you flinch at the clattering of forks against plates. Loud noises are the worst.
It means a lot of hand wringing, leg bouncing, foot tapping, and all together, fiddling. Fingers, feet, the hem of your sweater, your split ends, anything that can offer a distraction will suffice.
It means a lot of self-loathing. Why can’t I just go outside? Why can’t I hang out with friends? Why can’t I go shopping on Black Friday or stay out until midnight on New Year’s Eve? What if I don’t have any resolutions?
Instead, you are holed up, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling because that is what’s most conducive to your mental health. At the end of the day, you’re going to be around a lot longer than a pair of trendy boots or fuzzy socks. You’re here for the long run, and next year, you get to go through it all over again. So you should probably start preparing now before the crowd hits.
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Anxiety: We aren’t here to cause any problems. We just want to help. We need to talk about some things.
Slowly, but surely they push the door open. I allow them to have a seat so we can have a quick chat, and they can be on their way. The problem is the quick chat always turns into them needing a place to stay for a while. They promise it’ll only be for a couple days and then it turns into weeks, sometimes months.
The longer they stay, the more their stuff accumulates in my house. It becomes more theirs than mine. If I’m lucky, then I’ll be able to muster up the strength to evict them myself. Yet, more often than not, I have to call in the troops, my old friends medication, therapy and a few close friends who can see my struggle without me saying a word.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to get them off of my doorstep for good. I pray that my home will be full of permanent residents like joy, happiness, gratitude, adventure and love that there is literally no room for depression and anxiety any more. I long for the day when I’m not fearful of their visits, afraid that they will send me spiraling back into a tunnel of darkness I can’t escape. Maybe one day I will be able to say, “You are not welcome here,” close the door, and return to my life without giving them a second thought. One day.
You undoubtedly have seen or read a lot of articles on New Year’s resolutions. Goals can sometimes be good things for people with depression and anxiety to focus on, as long as they are within reach. Otherwise, from my experience, unattainable goals can cause even more depression and anxiety.
I fondly remember a comedy movie from my late teen years, “What About Bob,” starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus. The movie was about a psychiatric patient who follows his psychiatrist on a family vacation. In the movie, Dreyfus advises Murray to take “baby steps,” which were small, attainable steps as a way for Murray to start to conquer his fears.
In late 2015 and early 2016, my anxiety attacks and major depressive disorder brought upon a re-evaluation of a lot of things for me. My conditions led to a leave of absence from work, partial hospitalizations, changes in therapists and medications. Ultimately, in late December, I began transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy.
Along the way, there were some resolutions, or “baby steps,” I found I could implement relatively easily. Yet, there were other steps, or breakthroughs, that came in their own time.
Some of the steps I could implement right away included:
Keeping a log or even just writing down my feelings was a necessary part of the partial hospitalization experiences I had. It’s a tool I continued to use on a pretty regular basis throughout the year. At first, I was afraid that by writing out my feelings, I would ruminate even more than I already did. However, by writing out my emotions, I felt like I was able to relay information better to different caregivers. I could also look back on the journal entries and see patterns, as well as fluctuations in my thought processes.
This is the concept and practice of being present in the here and now. This is another concept I gained an appreciation of in a partial hospitalization setting. There were (and sometimes are) times in my life where, for example, I would worry about work when I was at home and home when I was at work. Leading up to my leave of absence, I struggled with anxiety attacks in part as a result of worrying about “what if/worst case” scenarios. A few somewhat simple exercises assigned to me while in a partial hospitalization were mindfully eating a piece of chocolate and mindfully driving from home to a day program. These gave me a sense of peace if only for a few minutes. They were like mini-vacations, just existing in the present moment.
I spoke with my therapist about how I often put myself down. Negative self-talk, anxiety and depression have gone hand-in-hand for me. My therapist recommended that when I see myself in a mirror I tell myself something positive about myself. She emphasized the comments can be something basic, such as, “I got up and went to work today.” When I began doing this, and even some days still, my positive comments were basic. Yet, the simple positive self-reinforcement does help settle my nerves and reinforce that I can accomplish things.
A simple meditation practice I learned in partial hospitalization helped ease some level of anxiety. I often experienced severe heartburn and chest pain as a result of anxiety attacks. A social worker in a day program I attended gave us an exercise that stuck with me: Whenever you feel tightness/burning in your chest due to anxiety, hold your hand over that area of your chest. Keep reciting to yourself positive affirmations such as everything’s going to be OK, and breathe slowly in and out. This exercise helped get me through anxious moments when I returned to work from my leave of absence.
Those steps helped me begin to think of and deal with my anxiety in different ways. Yet, there were other steps I took throughout the year that had to come in their own time when I was ready. These included:
1. Downsize responsibilities.
My anxiety attacks and depression make me feel like I am overwhelmed with life. Four kids, a spouse, house, job, coach and appointments. The list seems like it goes on and on. Things I used to have a passion for brought on anxiety themselves. While talking to a friend and therapist, they advised me to simplify things as much as I could. I swallowed my pride in some cases and for the betterment of my mental health, I took a step back from a few commitments to simplify life a little bit.
2. Confide in family and friends.
As I entered my leave of absence and began a partial hospitalization, something inside of me told me to reach out. I felt like I needed to be authentic with select family and friends to begin the healing process. Most people I reached out to were kind and understanding. I felt like I could be myself (or my new self) to release some feelings. By reaching out, I found out I have a family history of mental health issues and that I wasn’t alone.
3. Social media, knowledge and stigma.
This was also inspired by my therapist. Based on my interests, she suggested I use social media to educate myself on mental health and be a proponent for mental health. This could be as simple as “liking”/”following” and sharing certain people/organizations on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.
4. Listen to music.
At the peak of my anxiety, I found any type of music, as well as loud sounds, unsettling. From the beginning to middle of 2016, I became aware that the only thing I liked to listen to was monotone sports talk radio in my car. I became keenly aware of this during a music therapy session at my second partial hospitalization. The music therapy didn’t provide any relief. In fact, I had no interest in even listening to my favorite musical artists whatsoever. It wasn’t until my birthday, in late August, driving around in my car, that I had a sudden urge to listen to a favorite artist who I hadn’t heard in awhile. I took it as a sign of some sort, a step forward if only for the moment.
5. Group outings with kids.
With four kids, full of boundless energy, I often feel in over my head with my symptoms. In a group therapy session in early 2016, a fellow patient suggested a good goal for me would be to take all four kids out, by myself, for an outing somewhere. At the time, with my anxiety attacks, that goal seemed so out of reach. It wasn’t until after Christmas that I took all four kids out on my own for lunch and shopping. We somehow survived and had a little fun along the way.
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