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Why Giving My Anxiety a Name Helps Me Cope

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If you’re wondering if I’ve designated a name for my mental illness, you are correct. I know it sounds silly, but it personifies an intangible voice in my head that is easy to listen to, unless I designate it an outside person who isn’t speaking any truth. This has helped me sometimes prevent anxiety from ruining an important day or situation. Whether it is working inside full-time in an enclosed building during a never-ending global pandemic or living among conspiracy theorists who also happen to be politicians, my anxiety tends to make my worries a reality if I don’t deem it what it is — a bully. I’m not sure why the name is specifically Margaret; I have never known a Margaret, nor do I have a vendetta against someone with that name. I also don’t know why I made it a woman — probably just some internalized ideas about women from the patriarchy.

Anyway, when my therapist first made this suggestion, it seemed silly, almost making a joke out of something I cannot control. But once I had my next inevitable panic attack, I gave it a shot. “Fuck off, Margaret,” I sounded in the car ride home after someone cut me off and I almost became enraged. It didn’t make all my worries instantly go away, but it allowed me to mentally put aside any extra overwhelming feelings by recognizing the anxiety and facing it head-on, as if saying, “You aren’t helping this situation and I want you to go over there.” It reminds me that I’m not thinking these terrible things about myself because they are true, but that these thoughts are coming from a cruel, unwelcome third party that does nothing but try to tear me down.

I’ll give you another example of how this comes into play. My current job is as an in-store shopper for Whole Foods. While I am shopping for people who don’t want to risk their health entering a store, there are plenty of others happy to take that risk. Sure, we cap the number of people allowed at the store at a time, but at times it seems like it doesn’t make a difference. Especially at midday on weekends, I can’t seem to get a healthy distance from anyone while also completing my job. I get so anxious, worried about not only COVID-19 but my personal space bubble that I forget to breathe. It’s unbelievable that I have to think about something as simple as breathing, but when I can’t seem to escape a shared air space where people don’t always wear their mask properly, my panic attacks make more sense.

During these times, Margaret is in my ear telling me that I’ll never escape and I’ll always have to interact with people who have no regard to rules and public health guidelines and that easy breathing is somehow a privilege I’m not deserving of. She reminds me endlessly that I will never get my order in on time while I wait for people to choose the type of orange juice they want, so I will inevitably fail at my job. I have this in addition to the overhead speaker giving everyone a “friendly reminder” to maintain the very necessary but burden-like 6-feet border. In a job where there are deadlines and items I need to get and customers to wait for, it is easy to prioritize work instead of my mental health.

Normally, I would take long, deep breaths to calm myself down in addition to simply hoping the anxiety would choose to deescalate itself. But the order was due frightfully soon and I was unable to go and meditate for five minutes; I had a job to do. So, I quickly told myself that it was my anxiety, or Margaret coming to visit again and being a mean Peggy, and gave myself reassurance that I was perfectly capable of fulfilling this task. Sure, I definitely have my flaws, and criticism is important, but anxiety is a different beast that can be aggressive and harmful if not taken into account. If unmanaged, it riles up my emotions and makes me an unfun worker to interact with.

I understand people with anxiety cope in different ways, so if you already have ways that work for you, then great! This has just helped me create a barrier between toxic, disruptive thoughts and the reality of my worth. So, take a shot at it and if it helps great! If not, also great! This mechanism doesn’t completely erase anxiety, but creates a way to better manage it when it is there.

In a time when we are still dealing with a deadly pandemic, witnessed an attempted coup on democracy, and saw people in Texas freeze to death while their senator vacations in Mexico, we all need to lean on one another, share ways that we are coping with not only what’s inside of our heads, but the scary reality of the world’s problems, and accept the help we may need.

Photo by Til Jentzsch on Unsplash

Originally published: February 26, 2021
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