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How the Changing Presidency Affected My Anxiety Disorder

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This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

When you struggle with an anxiety disorder, the world often feels overwhelming and out of control. People with anxiety disorders crave the simple norm, because any misstep or complication can send anxiety spiraling downward. There are times when everything seems to be piling upon each other, until the weight of it all is too much to bear. Other times, it is like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining both momentum and size as it goes, until one issue that realistically should not be that big a deal all of a sudden feels too large to handle. When you have an anxiety disorder, there is a constant battle to regain control and to stop that feeling that the world is spinning.

There are a few techniques I have embraced over the years to help lower my anxiety in times when it has become heightened and I am feeling overwhelmed. One thing I have found particularly useful is conscious breathing, because when I am focused entirely on the motions of my breathing, my mind shifts away from the issues that are triggering my anxiety. I know many others who recommend doing exercises based on the five senses to distract themselves. But perhaps the most helpful technique I have picked up and embraced over the years is to focus directly on the things I can control in a situation.

If, for example, a pipe burst in my house, then the dishwasher stops working, and then I cannot get ahold of the landlord right away to fix anything, all the issues will compound on themselves until everything feels too overwhelming to bear. Realistically, I have no control over the pipes or the dish washer or the landlord, and those feelings of helplessness only add to my anxiety. So I will shift my attention to what I can control. I can’t fix the pipe, but I can shut off the water to that pipe. I can’t fix the dishwasher, but I can take the dishes from inside that hadn’t been cleaned yet and wash them. I can’t reach my landlord to tell her the issues I am having, but I can leave them a message or an email detailing it all. Every single thing I can do, everything I can control, becomes a foothold for me to use to climb out of the pit of despair my anxiety had me spiraling into. It helps remind me that, while I can’t control everything, my life is not spiraling out of control and I hold the reins of my life. 

Knowledge and facts also play a very large part in combatting my anxiety. When my anxiety flares up, my mind will race through a multitude of options that it tries to convince me I must worry about. And my anxiety is a smooth talker and a great salesman, often leaving me feeling like every single thing it brought up is not only possible, but probable. That is where facts and knowledge come in. Though my mind may race through dozens of different what if scenarios, being able to look up whether those scenarios are likely, or even possible at all, helps to set my mind at ease. Being able to say with clarity and conviction that something is highly unlikely, improbable or impossible helps to rein in those fears my anxiety has me fretting over.

For years now, I have used these techniques to combat my anxiety because in normal times they honestly work wonders. However, in the last four years, they have become increasingly ineffective. This was in part because there were no norms or predictability I could depend on. There was no sense of control anywhere that I could use as a foothold, no knowledge or facts I could use to reason my way out of the seemingly endless chaos going on in the world around me. I spent the vast majority of the last four years at best with a ball of stress in the pit of my stomach waiting for the next shoe to drop, and on the bad days struggling to pull myself out of bed dreading what each new day would bring.

As someone with an anxiety disorder, the last administration was unbearable for me. The continuous discord and divisiveness had me consistently on edge. That utter chaos served to be the foundation of my anxiety, that first step taken each day towards the heights my anxiety would soar, the initial “what next?” in a sequence of events building upon each other. As someone who places great importance in togetherness, unity and equality, my mind could never fully wrap itself around the rampant hatred and bigotry surfacing everywhere. My anxiety kept telling me it would only get worse, as again and again it did. 

Relying on knowledge and facts did no good, either, not when half the country was happily and willfully ignorant, so quick to reject anything they did not like as fake or deny their very existence altogether. I couldn’t even trust in laws, guidelines, common practice or even accepted morality because it was all thrown out the window. History books might claim it was never done, law books might state it was illegal to do, yet we had an administration that largely thumbed its nose at the law and made up the rules as they went along. There was no longer any norms I could count on, no facts I could cling to in order to reassure myself that things would be OK. The steady current of this chaos that had infected our country greatly impacted my anxiety levels every single day. It is hard to control and maintain my anxiety on a personal level when my entire nation feels like it is spinning out of control.

I was cautiously hopeful for the new administration, yet at the same time my anxiety reached new heights in those last few days leading up to the inauguration. What ifs kept racing through my mind, imagining the multitudes of worsts that could happen, all the other shoes that could drop and stop everything from transitioning as it should. I would teeter even worse than before between moments of panic and numbness, scouring news feeds looking for information and updates to let me know our nation was still on track. As each dated milestone passed, from election day to electoral college voting to the certification of those votes, the ball in my stomach shrunk slightly, but still nothing felt safe, and the steady undercurrent of my anxiety continuing to flow.

Watching the inauguration, I finally felt like I could breathe again, as if a weight had been lifted off of my chest. It isn’t that I believe this administration to be perfect or infallible, but there was a calmness to it all, a normalcy the last four years had been lacking for me.  Science and fact once again had value. There were talks about unity and coming together again. The entire nation no longer felt like it was steeped in chaos, spinning out of control. 

I sat watching the events of the day and let it all sink in. There was a beautiful sense of normalcy in the routines of speeches and song. There were no inciteful tirades encouraging violence, no hateful barrages against diversity, no shouts of fake news or declarations of alternate facts. There was tradition and calls for unity. Part of me still felt numb, though, bracing for chaos to reemerge. My emotions bounced all over the place for the first couple days afterwards, wanting to trust in normalcy but being afraid to let my guard down.  But that sense of dread was soon replaced by peace. Press conferences, executive actions, Bernie Sanders memes. It was as if the spinning just stopped.

A calmness washed over me that I honestly had not felt in the last four years. While there are no assurances that everything will be OK or turn out alright, at least the worst of it is over for me. With the nation feeling somewhat back on track, I feel better prepared to focus more on my own personal anxiety again. Now that my nation doesn’t feel like it is continuously on the verge of careening off a cliff, I feel I can devote more time to focusing on slowing the seemingly chaotic spin of my own life. 

The mind is a powerful thing. When you have a medical diagnosis that affects the way your mind perceives everything, such as with an anxiety disorder, the simplest chaos and deviation can cause flare ups in your condition. The worse the chaos, the more turmoil you must process. When the world itself feels like it is spinning out of control, it can send your anxiety soaring to new heights. But please never lose hope because every storm, every administration, every period of chaos will eventually come to an end and you’ll be able to breathe once again.

Getty image via iluhanosmy

Originally published: January 27, 2021
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