April 2020 – The current events going on in the world, brings my thoughts to the topic of anxiety and living with it. I’ve actually been trying to write about it since I started this blog in 2019. I finally organized my thoughts to write and tell you about what I know about living with anxiety.
I am, as many others around the world, a person who lives with anxiety. As I write and tell you more about my childhood, my memories, and my family, I have to write about anxiety and how it affects my life. I see it affect the lives of many others in different ways.
Now is the time to tell about my education. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, inspired by my kids’ struggle with anxiety and attention deficit. I also completed a Masters Degree of Education in Counseling. In the hope of understanding what my kids were going through, I discovered that I was also dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety is, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the body’s normal response to stress. It’s an emotion that causes people to feel nervous, worried, fearful, or excited. When anxiety cannot be controlled, it becomes a disorder. Then a person cannot control their fear or their worry.
Stress is a natural response of the body. It can affect anyone at any age. Negative effects of stress can cause anxiety, depression and other physical and behavioral problems. When a person is worried or scared, there are times when thoughts are concentrated on what’s causing the worry, not allowing the mind to think of a solution or what to do to resolve the issue.
Let me share a little bit of history: in 1936, Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye studied stress and its effects and published his findings under the title “A syndrome produced by diverse nocuous agents”. He defined stress as the body’s response to a demand placed on it. He studied the effects of hormones in the body and the responses of the body as logical reactions. Then he studied and found that people have different reactions to the same stressor because of their different way of thinking and giving importance to situations.
One popular and well known response to stress is the called “fight” or “flight”. A person might release enough adrenaline to make them face the situation. Some other are too stressed or scared that they rather run away or hide from the situation.
A person with anxiety can live a normal life. Although normal is relative to each person. My normal might not be your normal. Correction, my normal I am sure is not your normal. Each one of us, even the ones that grow together in a family, learn to deal with things and situations in a different way.
Anxiety becomes a problem or a disorder when a person can’t deal with it, cannot find ways to adapt to situations and then is overwhelmed with worry and fear. It starts interfering with daily life, including job performance and relationships. A person becomes fearful, even paranoid, of doing certain activities, interacting with others, or going places.
Symptoms include: feeling restless, fatigued, irritable, having difficulty concentrating, or controlling feelings of worry, having muscle tension, sleep problems, including difficulty falling or staying asleep. For more information, see the National Institute of Mental Health page on anxiety https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
As one of the older siblings, I was taught to look up after the younger ones. I was under the impression that I was not suppose to complain, but look for ways to make things work. Yes, we still complain when things don’t go our way. But I learned to work with what I had and move on.
A couple of years ago, I went to see my primary care doctor complaining of palpitations. She asked “has any of your daily activities changed?” I answered “No. Everything is normal.” She ordered me to check my blood pressure everyday for a week at the same time. She also sent me to see a cardiologist, just to be sure that my palpitations were not caused by a heart condition.
As I started recording my blood pressure readings, it was always high. I realized my “normal” was a chaos. I had a teenager, a toddler, I was working full time, going to college at night, plus my mom was sick and I lived far from her. That was my “normal” at the time. The cardiologist didn’t find cause to be alarmed, but did tell me to watch my stress levels.
It wasn’t until I went back to college that I discovered the name for all that was affecting me: anxiety. My anxiety started as I was growing up. I didn’t know it was anxiety until I was an adult. I’ve always been shy at first, so it was always a bit difficult to make new friends. I get nervous when I have to deal with new situations. I get nervous when I have to stand up and address a group. I get nervous when I have to confront someone about any problem or issue. I’ve learned to deal with it. I prepare for presentations, I give myself a pep-talk (yes, the “you can do it” type).
There are many types of anxiety disorders that can show up as phobias. A phobia is a fear that paralyzes you, overtakes your rational thinking. Phobias include fear to specific animals, specific situations (like heights, open or closed spaces, flying), or social events (too many people or being alone).
I have phobia to a specific animal or creature. Our house was in a rural area, and I loved our house and our surroundings. But there was one thing I hated: bugs, creepy bugs. If we went out to the patio or to the hills to explore, I’d send my brothers ahead of me to clear the way. If one of those bugs got in the house, my mom would make it go away. Now, I’m the one who makes them go away. My kids know about my phobia, so they try to help get rid of those creepy bugs.
I have a phobia of being in the dark, where you cannot see a thing. Living in a rural area, at night the view was incredible! There are so many stars visible, and I believe the moon shines brighter than in any other place. But it was very dark. It took many years to get an outside light post. So as a child when it was bedtime, my mom would send us to bed, order us to close the windows, close the door to the room, turn off lights, and get into bed. Yes, I shared a room with my sisters, but the room was very dark. So dark I couldn’t even see my hands.
That caused many nightmares, still does. I had terrible nightmares of creepy bugs, or even wild animals in our room. No, there are no big wild animals in Puerto Rico. There might be some dogs, cats, rats, but no lions or tigers. Just the ones in the zoo. But I had terrible nightmares of all those animals getting into our room. I also hate watching any horror movie, just because the images stay in my brain and I’d get a nightmare for sure.
I’ve had social anxiety for years. I was always very shy (I still am). It’d take me time to make friends. Thankfully, I grew up and went to school with the same group of kids until high school. But it still took me some time to feel comfortable around others. Nowadays, with the interaction on the internet and social media, we get to make friends without having to see others in person right away. We get to meet people and chat online. Usually, we tend to hang out with people that have similar interests to ours.
When I was in high school, I signed up for Drama Club. I loved it! I’d learn all the script lines (yes, I was that nerdy), so I knew whose turn it was to speak, and I knew their lines too. But, guess what? I hated getting on stage. Our Drama teacher, Mister Luna, gave me his tip. He told me not to look at the audience, but to look at the lights or the back of the room. It worked.
What else have I discovered over time that gives me anxiety? Lakes or deep water, because I can’t see the bottom. So I’ve never learned to swim. If water was shallow, I could get in no problem. I used to jump in ponds and go immerse under water until I reached the river bank. No, I’m not interested in going on a cruise ship either.
I don’t like airplanes either, partly because of the height, but mostly because I feel enclosed in a capsule, and my mind thinks there’s no way to get out. If I’m in a room with no windows, I’m looking for the exit, just in case I need to get out. I don’t like bridges or tunnels. I’m claustrophobic and agoraphobic.
Anxiety becomes a bigger problem if the person doesn’t have ways of coping with it. When it prevents you from enjoying your daily activities, when you stop going places you enjoy, when you can’t control your thoughts and start feeling worry and fear all the time. Then it’s time to reach out for help. Talk to someone, find ways to figure out what to do, distract your mind with hobbies, or go see a professional.
I’ve been able to manage my anxiety, find ways to deal with it. I always try to have a plan and it has worked. I think before hand, and study if I can handle the situation. Many times, being a working mom, I do worry too much. Thoughts of “what if” situations fill my mind. We cannot control everything. We have to trust we are doing our best. I’m a person of faith. I pray often. It works for me.
My older son suffers from anxiety and depression. He started having episodes of anxiety during adolescence. Then started having signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was trying to compensate for things he couldn’t resolve. His grandmothers got sick, we had a baby in the house (his brother) who changed his routine, he was starting high school. It was a lot for him. He’s been able to manage it, but it has been a battle.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a disruptive form of anxiety. It affects everything you do and you feel like you cannot control anything, unless you count things, don’t touch things, don’t go places. Our thoughts control our actions. Many times our minds have what is called “irrational” thoughts, trying to make sense of things or situations that are too scary for us to confront.
I have one good example of this “irrational” thinking, as it happened to me recently. I experienced a series of events that triggered a very bad anxiety/panic attack. I had to travel on airplane by myself. I’ve done this before, but I was feeling anxious because of other events. The flight was delayed because of thunderstorms. They decided to put us passengers inside the plane, but we ended being stuck in there for 2 hours before the plane took off. I couldn’t even stay seated for too long. My mind kept thinking that I was “trapped”. I had to get up, I was a nervous wreck. No, I didn’t cry nor I caused a scene. The gentlemen who were sitting by me were nice enough to keep me entertained and distracted.
But I couldn’t stop thinking of what was I going to do when I had to fly back home. I decided to cancel the flight, and my host, my dear cousin, decided to drive me 14 hours from Louisiana to Florida. I arrived home safe, but I couldn’t stop worrying. It ended up being a fun trip, but I was so shook up that I ended up going into the Emergency Room and was given medication to help me calm down.
This is the first time I lost control and couldn’t calm myself. Many times, my brain thinks too much. I know this, and I try to find ways of distracting myself so I don’t end up worrying. I read, listen to music, watch TV, and I’ve been writing. All these help. I know I’ll be okay. I know I’ll be able to manage my fears again. It was just a bit much for me to handle. This time I have to trust and I sought professional help. I have to take medication, because my usual techniques were not working. I always try to have a positive attitude and I believe there’s a positive outcome. I trust everything will be okay. Even if the outcome is not what I wanted or expected.
Other ways of distracting your mind from worry is to find a hobby. Find something you like to do, or would like to learn: cooking, play an instrument, exercise. For more ways and ideas to fight anxiety, check this information from Healthline web page here https://www.healthline.com/health/natural-ways-to-reduce-anxiety.
With all that’s going on in the world around us, I know many of us tend to worry too much. I know it’s too scary sometimes. Between crimes, finances, job loss, sickness, we live in difficult times. The global outbreak of this new Coronavirus is putting all of us in a difficult situation. But not all is bad. My personal advice: don’t be ashamed to recognize your symptoms and ask for help if you need to. Try and have a plan for when panic or fear overtakes your thoughts. I usually recur to music or prayer. Prayer helps. And if you feel you can’t control your anxiety, ask for help. Hopefully, you have people to help you. If you don’t, then find a counselor. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
I trust that this difficult situation that we are all living through shall pass. I trust that I’m following safe procedures and protecting myself and my family. I’m keeping my thoughts positive, as difficult at that is. I’m here trying to keep it together. Reach out for help if you need to. It’s time for mi tacita de café. Salud! Please, take care and stay safe!
Para versión en Español, vea https://fullofcoffee.blog/2020/04/05/viviendo-con-ansiedad/