What anxiety feels like
When my life was going too fast, I couldn’t understand the feelings I felt.
It was as if my ribcage, the structure anatomically intended to protect our precious matter, turned against me, with a vice grip around my lungs and my heart. Sometimes it was only momentary; I could brush it off if I were in public or if I had something readily available to distract me. If I was alone, I could find myself crumpled over on my bathroom floor.
Sometimes the feeling would also unwelcomely invite itself into my sleep, becoming a sort of recurrent dream. I would somehow linger in that lucid state, not asleep but not quite awake either. Then I couldn’t move my limbs, and it felt as if I was sinking further into my bed, as one would sink into quicksand. There was a dark presence in my apartment - ominous, shapeless, and always failing to materialize. Something that could have been dreamt up from an eerie film. I couldn’t see it, explain it, or name it. But just a darkness that made itself known, even when I was in the safe haven of my cozy bed with a heavy duvet for protection.
Because I didn’t sleep well during that time, I naturally was always tired. I quickly became worn down and was forced to redesign my day-to-day. I started cutting things out that didn’t feel like enough of a priority.
When I began to slow my pace and be more mindful of my time, it was only then that I could determine what was causing the vice-gripped moments. For me, what was causing the attacks was unhandled grief. Four years later, it is easily recognizable to me now. But sometimes when I was in the moment, it was hard to separate myself from it. I can’t change the events from four years ago, but I can choose to work more towards acceptance.
For some things cannot be fixed, they must be carried.
The only option was to discover ways to handle those moments. To learn to take care of myself better. More often than not, it was, and still is, simply a matter of checking in with myself to understand what areas in my life I feel are lacking. “Self-care” is a word thrown around often, but it doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Here are some of the things I do, maybe you will adopt some of them and maybe you won’t. Either way is perfectly okay.
01 A warm bath
I think there is something inherently comforting about being immersed in water. If I lived closer to the sea, I would spend more time there. But this will have to do in the meantime.
Reading is the most constant of comforts. It is the easiest way for me to tune out, be transported, or empathize with someone else’s story.
Somewhere along in our early development, I don’t think we thoroughly learned how to share our feelings adequately. Admittedly, it will even be hard for me when the time comes to hit “publish” on this post. But if we stop to remind ourselves that everyone is human and we all have similar emotions, it becomes more of a comfort than a worry.
03 Decrease the caffeine.
As a coffee lover, I know there is a line between just right and feeling too jittery. But when I wasn’t sleeping well, I increased the caffeine intake and it just added to the state of too tired, too jittery, and too frazzled to think properly.
04 Lighting candles
I have countless candlesticks and always have tall tapered white candles on hand. I light them in the morning when I am making coffee or in the evening when I am reading. Being busy is an easy way to mask anxiety, but it does not solve the underlying problem. Candles are a good reminder to slow.
05 Move your body
I found that exercise classes helped. I now take Ashtanga yoga classes. The class I take practices at a slower pace, and the instructor has us hold poses for multiple breaths. I can really feel my muscles and tendons in some poses - reminding me that I am strong and getting stronger.
06 Reach out
I like solitude - but I know that sometimes I am too good at it. Sometimes I have to pull myself out of my own headspace and meet a friend for dinner or the like. It is great to listen to the intricacies of someone else’s life, and they may even be able to offer you an outside, but keen perspective of your own problems.
07 Talk about it
Have you ever found yourself in an elevator or a line at a grocery store, admitting something aloud to a stranger that you wouldn’t normally have said to someone you know? Sometimes it helps to say the words that you have been keeping in, whether they sound incredibly sad, or angry, or your voices shakes when you speak them - knowing that the person will never tell another person.
I think I would have benefited from talking to a therapist those years ago and I can’t fully answer why I didn’t ever go. If I could transport back in time, I would have. If you ever feel like your anxiety is too much, never be afraid to seek out a professional.
Or if you would just like to vent anonymously, my inbox is always open too.
What do you do to help curb moments of anxiety? I would love to hear your thoughts.