Anxiety – The Dinner Guest No One Invited

I, like millions of people, deal with anxiety on a fairly regular basis.  Whether you’ve been officially diagnosed with it by a doctor, or you’ve ever felt like your heart was going to explode out of your chest, I think we can all agree that anxiety is a very unwelcome visitor.

Whether anxiety is a frequent or seldom visitor, it has the power to leave you exhausted, scared, and paralyzed (figuratively speaking).

I’ve written before about how panic attacks feel like being stuck in a box that’s slowly filling with water, but it dawned on me that that’s not really a relatable analogy.  People aren’t often trapped in boxes and then drowned.  Or are they?  God I hope not.  Either way, I wanted to write something that people who have or don’t have “official” anxiety can relate to.  That way we can all commiserate because at best, anxiety is EXTREMELY inconvenient.  So let’s all get on the same page, shall we?

I think we’ve all been at a dinner party, as either a host or a guest, where someone who wasn’t invited shows up.  Suddenly, your mind starts to fill up with questions – who is this person?  Did I invite them?  They look weird.  That’s not fair, I shouldn’t be so judgmental.  But I thought we weren’t going to bring randoms anymore?  Whatever. Stop thinking so much.

You shake it off because when you really think about, does it really matter if there’s just one extra person?  Probably not.  But what if that person sucks…

Did he really just say he supports Trump? No one was even talking about the election? WHY WOULD YOU LEAD WITH THAT?

You feel your pulse increase, your temperature slowly, rise, and you breath get shorter.  You don’t say anything because you don’t want to be rude or you don’t even know how to respond.

What was that?  We need to get rid of WHOM?  You racist prick.  I’m going to lose it on this asshole.

You look around, but everyone else doesn’t seem phased.  They go about the dinner like everything is normal and there isn’t some giant asshole making people uncomfortable.

How is no one else freaking out?  People like this guy are dangerous.  Does anyone else see that??  WAKE UP PEOPLE!  Wait…if no one else is freaking out…does this mean I’m imagining it?  Am I overreacting?  Am I being too judgmental?  Am I being crazy?

The overwhelming thoughts keep pouring in, your pulse keeps increasing, your heart rate feels like you just ran up a flight of stairs.  Before you know it, you’re hyperventilating and people are staring at you asking if you’re alright.  You feel like your head it going to explode and your heart is going to burst out of your chest, so you abruptly get up from a table, embarrassed and scared, and seek shelter in the bathroom.

That’s what anxiety feels like.  At least for me – we all experience it differently.  Regardless, I think we can all agree that feeling anxious is uncomfortable, scary, and embarrassing.  Even if you’re alone, it can feel shameful and you think to yourself, “Other people don’t freak out about this kind of thing.   What’s wrong with me?”

Nothing.  You are not wrong for feeling anxious or having a panic attack.  You are not crazy for having racing thoughts or feeling like your heart is going to explode.  It happens to a lot of people, even people who don’t have anxiety disorder.

Instead of beating yourself up, try to think about what triggered your anxiety.  See if you can pinpoint the moment you started to feel off, and think about what you could do to sooth yourself next time.  Personally, I’m a fan of deep breathing.  So much that I got the word “Breathe” tattooed on my left wrist.  People often tease me about it and say, “Is that in case you forget?”  Ha ha.  Jokes on them, that’s exactly why I got it; it’s my personal reminder.

Breathing doesn’t always do the trick, though.  There are times when my anxiety is so bad that when I tell myself, “Calm down, remember to breath,” the part of me that’s panicking says, “FUCK YOU, YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE!”  Instead, I count.  I usually count backwards from 100 (or 50 or even 10) because I need to focus more since I’m terrible with numbers.

Once I’m able to calm down (or I fail to do so and wait for the panic attack to end – it’s a process), I try to thinking about what made me feel that way and I what I can do next time to try and prevent anxiety from taking control.  A former therapist and I made a list of things to do, which I carried around in my wallet.  They vary based on my environment, i.e., if I was home, at work, on the subway, lost in the middle of nowhere, etc.  Some things that work for me are:

  • Playing with Sasha (my furry companion)
  • Listening to music (usually show tunes) I know all the words to and singing along (either out loud or in my head)
  • Walking around the block/neighborhood/apartment
  • Going into a CVS/Duane Reade/Walgreens and reading the ingredients or instructions on different item.

That last one probably sounds weird, but all of these things have the same purpose – they redirect your mind away from whatever is causing your anxiety.  Once you’re calm you can figure out the cause because trying to do it mid-freak out usually just adds stress and unpleasantness.
When anxiety shows up unannounced, know that you’re not the only one who deals with it and there are things you can do to shoo it out the door.  After all, it’s just an unwelcome asshole – fight back and tell it to get the hell out of your dinner party.

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