(Here’s an article my cousin sent me I’m reprinting so all of you can benefit from the honesty and wisdom in it):
I have clinical anxiety. If the coronavirus scares you, this might help
I’m not a doctor, but what I’ve come to learn over 20 years is that you really can master your anxiety.
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Globe Magazine special report, appearing in print on Sunday, March 29.
You might think that this is a terrible moment for someone with a clinical anxiety disorder. But here’s the thing: It’s like the rest of you have finally caught up with me. Hyper-vigilance? Insomnia? Catastrophizing? Extreme fear of uncertainty? Welcome to my Isle of Dread. Care for a cocktail?
I’m kidding, sort of. Panic disorder and extreme health anxiety have alternatively propelled and paralyzed me for two decades. For the most part, I exist as a fully functional human being thanks to 10 milligrams of Lexapro, an insightful therapist (now available on video chat), and long-practiced behaviors that keep me even-keeled.
But many friends, thankfully never touched by the cold paws of anxiety, are now asking me how to deal. They don’t know what it’s like to awaken each morning wondering what kind of mood they’ll be in, or to contemplate whether today will be the day that mortality — in the form of a rash, a lump, a tremor — descends. They have never gasped for breath, ridden the acidic wave of heart palpitations and clammy sweats, and clawed for reassurance like a feral cat only to retreat into a mind that offers no solace, only more questions.
Most people move through the world assuming it has a veneer of predictability, or what psychologist Luana Marques calls a “thin veil of certainty.” We are not wired to deal with open-endedness; under normal circumstances, for example, we can feel fairly certain when we go to the grocery store that we’re not going to contract a virus. That has changed.
“But uncertainty is there all the time, and we just don’t feel it,” says Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety sufferers know this intimately. You might be realizing it for the first time.
Please know that it will be OK. What I’ve come to learn over the course of 20 years is that you really can master your anxiety. I’m not a New Age guru or a doctor; I’m just a person who’s ridden it out. Here’s the trick: Don’t deny it. Accept that you are absolutely, 100 percent going to feel awful sometimes. I know, I know — the world is rife with mindfulness apps, breathing strategies, glamping retreats, and drugs aplenty to keep your unease at bay. These have their place. We cannot live in a state of heightened vigilance at all times.
But engaging with discomfort is its own therapy, too. It’s the most un-American thing ever, yet: You must sometimes feel bad. So accept the anxiety. Don’t blunt it; summon it. This sounds counterintuitive, I know, but anxiety isn’t a mark of shame to hide from people whom you assume are far more resilient than you. (They’re not.) It will continue to bounce on your shoulders like a thorny goblin until you grab it, stare it in the face, and have a firm chat.
“The first thing I’ve been making people understand is that anxiety is a normal response to a threat,” Marques says. “We want to run away from discomfort, but pushing anxiety away makes it worse. We’re living in times when most of us are comfortably uncomfortable at a minimum. Understand that by embracing our emotions and labeling them, we can ride the wave a little more smoothly.” It’s like surfing. You’ll be jostled by the ocean, tossed around, and eventually tumbled back onto the shore.
Of course, this is all academic until you’re hiding under a weighted blanket scrolling Twitter, wondering about that tickle in your throat. A behavioral way to cope is by doing something action-oriented, Marques says: cooking dinner with your kids, going for a walk. You’re forcing your brain to deal with what’s right in front of you.
Yet those of us with anxiety disorders also know that the only way out is by sitting with the discomfort until it dissipates. It’s like stepping into a hot tub and staying there until the water grows lukewarm. Acknowledge that you’re scared, and then tell yourself that you’ll sit, and you’ll breathe, and you’ll exist — yes, you will exist, minute by minute — until the feeling goes away. And, of course, reach out for professional help if you feel you need it.
Frame it as what we’re being asked to do in quarantine, on a smaller scale. Your mind is your own private bunker. You can’t just get up to leave, but when the door finally opens, think how much stronger you’ll be.
Next 20 Minute BlogTalk Radio Podcast Sunday, 11/24 8:30 PM EST: “Take the Dread Out of the Holidays with Some Simple Strategies”
Don’t miss this next BlogTalk Radio podcast!
In this 20 minute episode I’ll share my insights about some of the common sources of holiday related anxiety and stress, and how being proactive and intentional can transform the season.
If you have a history of some really negative experiences related to the holidays, and struggle with how to make it all more manageable, even magical, then this episode is for you! I’ll help you see how some simple planning, realism, and clear boundaries can make all the difference. You’ll see how you alone, or you and your spouse may have the power to turn it all around to meaning, connection and joy.
Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046. If you can’t make this (first ever) Sunday night podcast while it’s happening, you can stream it at your convenience anytime at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLag
Hope one way or the other you can join me!
This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)
I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.
Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life.
“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!
If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!
Next 30 minute BlogTalk Radio podcast Wed., 1/30/19 at 8:30 PM: “How to Interrupt Frustrating Impasses and Standoffs with Your Spouse”
In this 30 minute episode I explore the frequently experienced issue of standoffs or impasses in marriage – those times when couples get “locked in” to a negative sequence when nobody feels heard or acknowledged, and nothing gets resolved. These “lock-in’s” can be about critical issues of importance or minor things, but the feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness generally feel quite awful for each spouse.
Tune in to get some handy tools this couples therapist can teach you to interrupt the impasses, manage yourself more calmly, and move forward with your spouse in a more conciliatory manner.
Join me and have to option to be live on the air with questions or comments by calling toll-free 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live podcast you can stream it anytime at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.