Most of you that have been reading here long know I have a history of both social anxiety and bouts of generalized anxiety, the strength and duration of which varies. Pandemic times caused a prolonged interval of it, as it did for many people, and was an easily understandable catalyst. Other times the causes are not so easily discerned, and still others there is literally no “reason” for it: it just exists.
I treat it in a variety of ways. The best way is preventative: consistent, vigorous exercise is the single most effective tool I have to prevent anxiety before it manifests. Getting into my body that thoroughly, in a space that has no room for thought, chases the anxiety triggers away for awhile.
It also works as a cure for the symptoms in the moment: if I can get myself out of my head enough to go to the gym, get on the bike, take a run or a walk, activity helps calm the fight or flight (or as is often the case for me, fawn) response, at least for a short time. Maybe the adrenaline and other chemicals and hormones mimic those responses, and fool my brain?
I try to avoid medicating the symptoms, either with prescription medication or by self-medicating with alcohol, but I’m not too proud to do either if I can’t find relief any other way. An unfortunate side effect of alcohol is a muzzy head the next day, and with either I sometimes feel more anxiety once the medicating effects wear off. So both are a last resort.
I’ve also tried meditation, and while I have experienced some benefit from it, I have not found the self-discipline to do it consistently enough to make a lasting change. Still, if I can manage it, finding and maintaining in-the-moment stillness during a bout of anxiety can be helpful, at least superficially.
Hypnosis has been similarly helpful, and is in fact an easier route, it seems (if the Hypnotist is within reach), maybe(?) because it is something imposed on me as opposed to something I have to struggle to find on my own. He did give me a stone to use as a focus once to help me find that space when he’s not around, actually. I need to locate it and put it to use again. Even the thought of him soothing and quieting me as he does, or running my fingers over that stone, helps calm the little trip-hammer anxiety stutter I feel in my chest.
Interestingly, self-talk has not been very effective in the past: affirmations and such feel contrived and forced. One thing that has seemed to help though, is the acknowledgement that what I am experiencing is a bodily response to the “fight, flight or fawn” reaction. Acknowledging that these things that I am experiencing: rapid heartbeat, darting thoughts, clenching belly, the sweats, shaking: these are all physical responses to my brain doing what it was made to do biologically: to keep me safe from perceived threats. Preparing me for fight or flight.
When I break it down to that, it becomes easier to be kind to myself, to appreciate that my body/brain wants to keep me safe, and is just misreading the situation. To breathe gratitude into my body for how well it is taking care of me: I won’t get eaten by a tiger, not today! Thank you body, thank you brain. The other day when in the midst of an anxiety attack at the grocery store, I utilized this exact method, and was able to finish the excursion without having to leave before I was finished.
Other curatives include spending time caring for growing things: my garden, my houseplants. When my back is unhurt, weeding is amazingly good for my head, and enjoyable for that reason.
A good bdsm scene is also effective.
With my back hurting a lot of those methods have been unavailable to me, though, and in fact being unable to scene or exercise has meant that anxiety that might normally be under control has been nipping at me hard the last little while (see above, grocery store.) It sucks. But, as with all things, it too shall pass. I just gotta get through to the other side.
Meanwhile, some pictures I took while walking. Nature helps!