Conquering Anxiety: Being Proactive Vs. Reactive

My anxiety has been a bit better controlled lately. I’d say that my generalized anxiety disorder manifests as a constant daily hum, much like the continual buzz emitted by overhead electric wiring on the street. It’s always there, so in some ways, I’m conditioned and immune to its presence such that it doesn’t really disturb me, though it does influence me. By its “generalized” nature, there aren’t necessarily triggers that cause or eliminate this low level anxious buzz, but there are a host of factors that significantly amplify its volume, swelling the anxiety to a disturbing and interfering level, which becomes impossible to ignore. Some example triggers for me personally are driving, a knock on the door, crowds, loud spaces, social engagements, deviations from my routine, eating foods or in areas that might be contaminated, medical appointments and blood draws, people touching me, feeling sick when I’m alone, calling strangers, and trauma-related memories to name just a few. The truth is that I have so many triggers which is why the likelihood of experiencing an acute bout of heightened anxiety is so great and the frequency of suffering from more crippling anxious symptoms is problematic yet also routine. With that said, as I mentioned at the start of this post, it feels like these more debilitating or at least bothersome swells have been both less frequent and less all-encompassing in the moment. This hasn’t come without deliberate effort and some work in trying to calm myself, so it’s something I’m feeling proud about. Anxiety can be like a really aggressive bear. If you see it coming, it can sometimes be possible to mount a counterattack or at least fortify your defenses. This equates to learning your triggers and then anticipating when such offenders may be encountered and then learning and practicing strategies to ideally thwart an attack or at least reduce its severity to more manageable levels.

Some techniques I employ with varying degrees of potency are taking a walk, watching a favorite show, petting my dog, online shopping (really browsing, as I rarely buy anything), writing, reading a book (I’m STILL in my U.K. chicklit phase), baking, talking to a friend, meditating, browsing the Internet to research my current obsession, playing Words with Friends, and taking pictures of flowers. It helps to think about the potential stressors of a situation if you’re as predisposed to anxiety and reactive to so many daily triggers as I am. For example, if I know I’m going to see a doctor, I may download an exciting book onto my phone for while I am waiting, pack my earplugs, bring a favorite snack or tea, and try to schedule appointments at unpopular times to minimize waiting room stress and stimuli. Being proactive helps empower me to feel like I have some control and command over the situation and like I’m steering my own ship. The more you know yourself and the situations and factors that exacerbate your anxiety, the more you can take care of yourself and direct the situation to meet your needs.

Sometimes, much like hiking in a dense forest mentally immersed in the trail and surroundings, the bear appears suddenly, with little or no warning; this equates to an unknown trigger that has not previously been encountered or one that crops up suddenly with little warning (like someone touching me unexpectedly). Since these situations evade the potential for planning ahead, they must be addressed from a reactive, rather than proactive, angle. Instead of feeling in control and like I’m steering my own ship, I feel like a powerless passenger in a dingy that’s being thrust and assaulted by tumultuous waves. Some of the same anxiety-mitigating strategies may still be possible to employ, but others may not be practical. For example, in the case of someone touching you or invading your space, it’s impractical to consider baking or watching a favorite television program in the moment if you are outside of your home!

I’m still coming head to head with the same triggers and a similar frequency, but I think I’m getting a little better at addressing them and diffusing the physiological and psychological effects quicker and stronger. I think my podcast project is also fortifying me with deeper and truer feelings of confidence (less “fake it ’til you make it” and more “I’m capable”). This is a fantastic development for me because as I’ve admitted, I have scarily low self-esteem. Any boost in feeling capable and socially “safe” is a huge boon. I’m hoping to keep honing these conversational and social skills so that I can forge more refined ships and gain confidence when approaching social engagements, particularly as the season of holidays and functions draws nearer. In that vein, I’ll need to keep exercising every last one of my anti-anxiety muscles in preparation for my nemesis: winter, where my anxiety always escalates into uncomfortable and fairly unmanageable levels. Those muscles will need to flex hard for months so I better fuel them and train them well in the meantime! Proactive is better than reactive…

 

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