The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 40 million adults in the U.S. struggle with anxiety every year. Anxiety is, in essence, the activation of the fight/flight response in the body and of course, people respond to this physical sensation differently. There are different types of anxiety disorders and they develop from a variety of factors including genetics, brain chemistry, life events, etc.
I first encountered catastrophic anxiety in my early 30‘s. For me, it is all about plane and car crashes and only comes up when we or my husband travels by plane, or we drive long distances. I have learned to cope with this anxiety pretty well, but recognizing it for what it is, can be tricky. It does not make me feel afraid, instead it makes me irritable and angry. For example, if my husband has an international flight, rest assured we will argue about everything in the days leading up to his departure.
The generalized anxiety lurks around my everyday life and is more recent. I believe this anxiety is related to the pain and sensory issues from the fibromyalgia. Central sensitization is a condition of the central nervous system that is associated with chronic pain. Essentially, the nervous system gets stuck in a state of persistent reactivity and anxiety ensues. Bright lights, loud/sharp sounds, funky smells, temperature extremes, these things physically irritate me. When stress is added to the mix, it feels like a panic attack, but technically it is an overstimulation or a sensory overload. My overreactions to an overstimulating environment are quite embarrassing. Again, my response to this the physical sensation is anger. My body is screaming, DANGER, protect yourself! There is no flight, instead, I brace myself for the fight.
Last year, I removed caffeine from my life and it did reduce my anxiety drastically. Deep belly breathing, leaving the environment and other self coping methods help tremendously if you can remain aware of yourself, which is hard for me. When I am in public, I am picking up on all kinds of information around me. I am an extroverted introvert who intuitively processes other people’s feelings, so I am not in-tuned to myself at all. Because of this obliviousness, I have trouble recognizing that I am becoming overwhelmed. There is a new product on the market called Spire , it is like a fitbit, but for your mood. It tracks your breathing and heart rate and when things start to go awry, it sends a message to your phone to ask you if you want to take a moment to focus on your well-being. I am seriously considering it.
I avoid medication, but lately I am wondering if I should reconsider. The last few months I have been juggling multiple stressful situations and it has been harder and harder to keep my cool. Last week, there was an encounter with a very large (the size of my palm) wolf spider in my house. My heart has been racing on and off ever since. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to relax.
Do you struggle with anxiety? What are your best tips and tricks? If you take medication for it, are you satisfied with the results?
Have a great week!