Anxiety is a bear. A big, ugly, growling, slobbering, terrifying bear. It grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. It keeps you awake at night. It takes over your thoughts. It causes confusion, inaction, and despair. You want to be alone, but then you don’t. The thought of having to live alone in your head is unbearable. It’s scary in there. You’re forced to relive your embarrassing utterances, thoughtless gestures, stupid questions, hurtful comments, over and over and over. It’s like watching a video on an endless loop. The bear wakes you up to watch it again and again. It starts playing while you’re eating or shopping or watching tv. It’s relentless. Your heart races. Your appetite wanes. You want it to stop, but you don’t know how.
And the bear is clever. He sees to it that you not only worry about the stupid things you’ve done, but you also worry excessively about your loved ones. You’re overcome with thoughts that they may have had a horrible car wreck if they don’t answer your text right away. Or were kidnapped, or fell down some stairs, or were hit by a car while riding their bike, or . . . You name it, your over-anxious mind will concoct it. You pace and wring your hands and text them repeatedly. Then you start calling. If they don’t answer, you start calling their friends.
This ruminating and excessive worrying is hard on your mind and body. It causes cortisol to be released into your blood stream. Cortisol, one of the flight or fight hormones, is released by your adrenal gland. It can do damage to your hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories. It causes your heart to race and an overall ‘jumping out of your skin’ response. It makes it hard to fall asleep and then interrupts your sleep if you do.
Time heals all wounds, you think, you hope. And eventually you do start feeling better. Yet, days or months later, the bear is back. Something will remind you of one of your past stupidities and you’re back inside the jail you’ve built in your head. You’re once again being held prisoner and forced to watch replays of those bad memories over and over.
You try mindfulness, yoga, meditation, camomile tea, every anti-anxiety herbal supplement you can find. Your counter is soon over-flowing with supplement bottles and boxes of tea.
Nobody around you seems aware of your torment. Life goes merrily on. You decide you must be the only one who feels this way and it’s just what you do.
Sometimes, when it gets really rough, you bring it up to someone in your life. Unfortunately, you will sometimes get an answer like, “Are you still on that?”; “Let it go!”; “Try thinking about something else.”; “It’s not that big of a deal.”; “Move on, already.” Or you’ll get the dreaded blank stare and the even more dreaded shrug.
These people aren’t meaning to be inconsiderate or impatient (I hope). They just don’t know what to say or do. I’m sure they feel as helpless as you do.
If you have these overwhelming feelings of anxiety or worry, talk to somebody who will understand, be it a therapist or an empathetic friend or family member. Take deep breaths. Exercise as often as possible (I like hiking through pine trees. Take your bear spray – wink). Drink plenty of water. Do the things you love to do (pine trees – I’m not kidding).
And, most of all, know you’re not alone.