Inspired by Anxiety: Prelude

Here’s an understatement: Many things in life cause anxiety.

In fact, many of you attested to this yourselves, taking part in Chris Kulmann’s recent Whatismyhealth series, “Anxiety: An Examination.” In Volume III, “Managing Anxiety,” Chris highlighted over 25 triggers of anxiety mentioned by the 65 volunteers who took part in his questionnaire.

For some of us, anxiety can be triggered by a particular event. Sometimes, the event is simply change. It can be something as simple as having to run an unexpected errand that pushes our plans back by half an hour, or something as catastrophic as a death or family tragedy.

Different levels of change, both anxiety-producing.

Our surroundings can also spark anxiety within us. Bad weather, or revisiting a particular place from our childhood that stirs up unpleasant memories might set us on edge. In our daily lives, disorganization and clutter are popular perpetrators. 

And then of course, there are the usual suspects: illness, social situations, work, and the unknown are among the more commonly recognized catalysts for anxiety. Although the duration of these examples may be very different as some triggers are momentary while others are constantly present, in the short-term, the anxiety they produce can be quite significant, and even strikingly similar.

As somebody who is prone to bouts of severe anxiety, my list of potential triggers goes on and on and on. Of course, my OCD doesn’t necessarily do me any favors in this regard, but you don’t have to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to experience these things. We’re all capable of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious— it’s just human nature.

As Chris highlighted in Volume IV of his anxiety series, relaxation, distraction, therapy, and medication are all popular treatments for anxiety. They also happen to be methods I’ve tried in the past, to varying degrees of success. For example, relaxation, in theory, is a fantastic way to alleviate anxiety. The trick about that, however, is that it can be hard to relax when relaxing does not come naturally to you.

Personally, I’ve found that even attempting to relax becomes in itself its own chore that requires a lot of intense thought and focus. Trying hard to relax can be counterintuitive to the anxiety itself, and for me, the feelings of frustration that come when I can’t relax becomes its own offshoot of whatever was causing my anxiety in the first place. That’s not to say that relaxation doesn’t work— because it absolutely can work— but actually achieving that relaxation is sometimes far more easily said than done.

Distractions are a method for coping with anxiety that I’ve found to have mixed results. In my case, “distractions” tend to become sources of procrastination: playing puzzle games like 1010, streaming shows on Netflix, or incessantly checking fantasy baseball stats. These distractions can be a double-edged sword, particularly when my anxiety is stemming from something that needs to be done. I feel relief when I’m wrapped up in whatever the distraction is, but the anxiety returns the closer it gets to the deadline for me to complete what I needed to get done.

 
 My current game of 1010, in progress

My current game of 1010, in progress

 

Ultimately, I do get things done, but the distractions often only delay the anxiety for a finite period of time. For others, though, distractions are the perfect break in the action. These breaks often help people to reset and clear their minds so they can return to focus on the task at hand.

Therapy is another treatment, one which I’ve written about before; I was in therapy for ten years as a kid before choosing to stop, thinking I had the tools I needed to cope with my anxiety. I’ve recently gone back to therapy, both individual and group, as a way to sort through my thoughts and feelings and get perspective, and it has helped. Of course, the stigmas associated with therapy prove to be obstacles for many, myself included. It took me a while and a lot of self-convincing to finally make the decision to go back to therapy, but I’ve grown a lot since and I’m glad I did it.

With that said, if therapy is something you truly believe might help you, I would highly encourage you to look past the stigmas and consulting with your healthcare provider to help you find a place where you can feel safe and sort things through. There is nothing wrong with making the voluntary choice to do something to help yourself feel better and cope with the things you’re struggling with. Nothing at all. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

As for medication, it’s been nearly 14 years since I’ve taken anything for my anxiety. When I was on medication, I was too young to really process, understand, and decipher their effect on me to say definitively how I feel about them now. While I prefer to delay seeking medication until I’ve explored other options first, that is just that— a personal preference. I do also know that many people have found relief from anxiety medications in appropriate dosages under proper supervision (again, consult with your healthcare provider) and that this can be a viable option.

Lately, I’ve been rethinking some aspects of my life that have triggered my own anxiety and how to go about treating the symptoms. I’ve gone through a lot of significant, life-altering changes in the past year. I got married, moved (twice), started a new job, applied to school to prepare for a future career change, and became a father.

 
 #imadadnow

#imadadnow

 

So you know, almost all of the major life changes I can think of. Any single one of these changes by themselves can be stressful enough. Combining the stress of so many of them in such rapid succession? That can put you at risk for some type of stress reaction, and let me tell you, it has.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, there’s a scale called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. This scale is designed is to assign a level of risk for stress-related health issues by assigning point values to major life events. Adding up the point values for each event you’ve experienced in your recent life places you into a certain range of supposed risk for health breakdowns.

Keep in mind that what’s extremely stressful for one person may cause another person mild-to-no stress, so take this with a grain of salt. Still, it’s a fun (or horrifying) little scale you can use to assign a number value to your stress… which may cause you even more stress. Use this— or don’t— at your own discretion.

 
 https://goo.gl/FjY9VH

https://goo.gl/FjY9VH

 

Based on this scale, I scored something like a 312, which puts me at 80% odds for a major health breakdown in the next 2 years. Great. While the stubborn and sarcastic parts of my brain want to downplay it, laugh it off, and act like it’s “not that bad,” the realistic part of my brain knows that even if the numbers aren’t exact, I would be wise to address it sooner rather than later.

Why? I can’t ignore that my well-being has definitely taken a hit lately. As much as pride wants to get in the way of admitting these things, here are some of my undeniable truths at the moment:

  • I’ve put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to juggle work, my personal goals, and still be a present and attentive husband, father, and provider for my family.
  • I haven’t been to the gym since last summer or exercised in any substantial way since October/November.
  • My stress-induced eating is at an all-time high.
  • I haven’t gotten enough restful sleep (or enough sleep in general).
  • My social life has been borderline non-existent.
  • I’ve gained weight, but more importantly, my body image has suffered greatly.
  • My living, resting, and working spaces have become increasingly cluttered.
  • My energy levels have plummeted.
  • I've had several panic/anxiety attacks, something I've experienced far less frequently in the past, over the past two months.

Admitting these types of things is hard— honestly, it sucks. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. However, I do find comfort in knowing that as lonely as it might feel to be stuck in my cycles of anxiety, in reality, many of you probably know exactly the same kinds of struggles. Rather than hiding mine (which I did for many years), I would much rather speak out about them and use them to bring people together and help all of you overcome your own.

I’ve spoken before about the significance the name “Whatismyhealth” has for me, in that it is a question I believe we can all ask ourselves to help us become a little more self-aware of what’s going on for us. It can be quite easy to overlook certain things when other things are at the forefront of our lives. Getting caught up in work, finances, or a particular relationship can consume us, and leave us feeling empty in those other areas that are worthwhile.

I’ve learned a lot from my OCD over the past 23 years and right now my OCD and anxiety is trying to tell me something. If #myhealthis a combination of everything, right now, then if I’m being honest, that “everything” is severely out of balance.

And so, inspired (and a frankly a little bit nervous and concerned for my well-being), I’ve decided to consciously devise some changes I can make to my lifestyle. Starting next week, I’ll begin to break down anxiety as it relates to the 8 Dimensions of Health. For each dimension, I’ll share ideas for ways in which we can make some adjustments that may help alleviate our anxiety that may be caused by something within that particular area.

As much as I tend to resist change, my instincts this time are telling me that this is much-needed and that doing so will be a therapeutic exercise. By consciously breaking these things down into smaller pieces, I hope to alleviate at least some of my stress. Just as importantly, I hope that by opening up about it, I may help you alleviate some of yours as well.

What areas of your life bring you the most anxiety, and what changes can you make to treat it?
Inspired by Anxiety continues next week, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018.
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.

Whatismyhealth © 2018

Peace of Mind: You Gotta Have Faith

Peace of Mind: You Gotta Have Faith

Some things in our lives happen for reasons we can’t foresee, explain, or understand at the time.

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Best Gift Ever

I promised myself that I wouldn’t write a post about the holidays. I wouldn’t do it. Then, of course, I find it difficult to put pen to paper (aka fingers to keyboard) this time of year without blurting out the word “holidays.” And just like that, I’ve already said it twice.

This is *not* an article about the holidays… not entirely, anyway. It’s about what the holidays do to a brain that’s programmed for and prone to anxiety.

The other day, I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine about OCD. More specifically, the discussion was centered around the following question: How can we help a person who does not have OCD understand what it’s like for a person with OCD to be experiencing OCD? Essentially, we wondered if there were some way to simulate what the OCD experience might be like, so as to help others better understand what that person is going through.

I’ve written before about communication, and about how no matter how well we think we may be explaining something to someone with our words, it’s almost impossible to control the way that person interprets what we’ve said. I say “almost impossible” because my anxiety wishes that I could choose another person’s perfect reaction to the things I say, and I’m probably either too optimistic or I’m too stubborn to admit that something I want so badly is impossible.

Basically, though? It’s impossible.

Truthfully, it’s unfortunate, because it sure would make things a whole lot easier if we could control how well we were understood by other people. In fact, that might be one of the best— albeit most anticlimactic and horrible-for-the-movies— superpowers I could ever come up with. Doesn’t translate into a screenplay, but what an amazing ability that would be.

I mean really, when you think about how much conflict of the world’s conflicts can probably be boiled down to a lack of mutual understanding of one another, you can’t help but think about how different things might be if we did have the power to help others understand, simply by sheer willpower. Sadly, that’s not the world we live in, although I do believe we can do better to be more understanding people as a whole. That in itself is its own separate conversation, but I digress for the time being.

So how does this translate to OCD and the holidays? Simple.

For many of us, the holidays are “supposed to be" a time of celebration, togetherness, tradition,  and relaxation, and fortunately for many of us, they actually are. Still, for all of the sentimentality and comfort that comes with carrying out our rituals and customs, the door is also open to feelings of sadness when members of your family are no longer there, and nostalgia for happier times.

The planning process alone, especially for hosts, often comes with expectations, enormous stress and overwhelm, not to mention futile attempts at relaxation amidst what is realistically sheer and utter chaos. Yet, because humans tend to be creatures of habit, you tend to go along with all of that anyway when it’s your tradition, your crazy family, your chaos because you don’t really know anything else. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing; it’s just a thing that happens. 

Obviously, my experience will have been different than yours, but the point is that I can’t think of a better time of year that exemplifies habit and routine for the majority of people than the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. Even if the holiday routine is stressful and anxiety-inducing, for many people, so is change. And yes, as much as my family’s three-week-long deliberation over the Christmas Day menu drives me nuts, it was hard for me to spend the holidays away from home, which is what I did for the first time last year.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to experience my fiancé’s (now wife’s) version of the holidays with her extended family. They welcomed me, and I appreciated their enthusiasm and acceptance of me into their family traditions. It was just different than what I had been used to, and it brought about a wide range of different emotions, confusion, and anxiety. What’s ironic, in a way, is that between taking part in an entirely new tradition last year and spending the holidays back at home again this year, both have caused me anxiety. They’re just different kinds of anxiety for different reasons.

What I’ve found is that although there are things about my family’s holiday traditions that I would like to change, for the most part, I’ve still kind of gone along with the same old chaos year after year. More irony— I don’t consider myself to be a person who finds it easy to “go with the flow.” Yet, as much as I resist it, that’s pretty much what I wind up doing in the end anyway, give or take a few little details.

What this all boils down to is this: for as much as I’m used to my family’s traditions and missed them when I wasn’t a part of them, there are certain things that I’ve realized I want the holidays to be, just for me. Is that selfish? It may seem that way, at least a little bit. But the fact is that many of us sacrifice things we want or go along with things we don’t want, all in the name of togetherness, celebration, and tradition this time of the year.

So what does this mean for you?

I don’t know, exactly, because I don’t know you and I recognize that our personal experiences have fundamental differences. What I can offer, though, is a sentiment of optimism and empowerment that I’m trying to realize myself as well: If there’s something you want during this time of year, regardless of whether or not it fits into everyone else’s traditions, syncs up with their routines, or meets the expectations that people have of you, give yourself at least a little bit of time to indulge in that for yourself, even if it’s just for a brief amount of time. And not just give, but allow yourself to do something that’s just for you.

Think of it this way… there’s so much emphasis, time, thought, and energy that gets put into getting “the best gift ever” for someone else around the holidays. Now flip it inwards for a second and ask yourself, if you were to give yourself “the best gift ever,” what would that be?

Whatever your answer is, whether it’s an elaborate gift of thoughtfulness, an uncharacteristic overindulgence, or simply allowing yourself a day of quiet time to binge watch your favorite series on Netflix without beating yourself up over it (that last part is critical), I say go for it. I’ll be trying to take my own advice here, too— I make no promises, but I will be trying.

I’m not saying this will come naturally or easily— for some of us, especially those of us with OCD, this is likely to be far more easily said than done. After all, some of the *wonderful* (read as: extremely frustrating and debilitating) characteristics of OCD include irrational fear, self-criticism, and repetitive intrusive thoughts. Thoughts that cause us to pass judgment on ourselves as to how your time “should” have been spent being more productive, or whatever the case might be. You know, those fun little thoughts that stop you from being able to enjoy most things, period.

It may very well be a struggle and process to come to a point where you can allow yourself to do something for yourself. But, if and when you finally are able to bring yourself to do it, there’s something ridiculously satisfying about having taken an active role and responsibility for achieving our own happiness.

Easy? No.

Impossible? Again, I’m stubborn and optimistic, so no. Not impossible.

It’s the season of giving, after all. By all means, be generous in spirit and kindness to others. Just don’t forget about doing the same for yourself, too.

If you were to give yourself your own “best gift ever,” what would that be?
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.

Whatismyhealth © 2017

Starting Over

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