I’ve talked about my depression before, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about my on-going struggle with anxiety here. Why is that? Maybe because society seems to understand depression better than anxiety, even though both are still highly underrepresented.
As with depression, anxiety is impossible to understand unless you’ve personally dealt with it. Unless you’ve had those voices in your head, those nagging sensations in your heart, you assume it’s typical stress. And if you assume it’s stress, you assume that people with anxiety are really poor at handling stress.
While parts of that statement are true (trust me, I really DON’T handle stress well), it’s not entirely accurate. First off, there are a lot of different types of anxiety, and some are harder to diagnose, which is why so many people who have anxiety are never treated for it.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder– A constant sense of worry that results in physical tension. This causes restlessness, fatigue, tense muscles, trouble focusing, and obsessing over negative thoughts or comments.
- Social Anxiety Disorder- An irrational fear of social situations, for example being in a large group or talking on the phone, which results in palpable discomfort. This causes fear when in unfamiliar situations or with unfamiliar people, obsessions with being judged, being overwhelmed easily, and issues voicing questions, comments, or concerns.
- Panic Disorder– Debilitating fear that results in physical reactions, such as irregular heart rate, hot or cold flashes, numbness, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, chest and stomach pains, digestive problems, and depersolanization.
Here’s the biggest problem, though. Everyone suffers from stress, shyness, and fear. But for many of those people, it doesn’t cripple your ability to function in society.
I work as a receptionist and administrative assistant. That means I talk on the phone a lot. And talking on the phone is one of the most uncomfortable positions I’ve ever been in. I always say the worst things unless I have a script to read from. Yes, at work I literally read off a script so that I don’t say the wrong thing. If I don’t have my script, I physically am unable to do my job properly. So I found a way to combat my anxiety.
Last night, I fell asleep at about 7:30 pm due to a panic attack. For whatever reason, I got it in my head that there was a huge list of things I wasn’t doing properly and that I didn’t deserve anything in my life. It crippled me. I spent the entire evening laying in bed, not speaking, and not thinking. This was, of course, after I got frustrated with Husband of Mine for no reason. All my typical panic attack symptoms.
Everyone’s symptoms are different. But the most important thing is that we recognize these symptoms and work to help the person suffering to overcome that particular bout.
Anyway, the point of this blog post was to discuss how my particular forms of anxiety affect my writing. For example, my depression has always fueled my writing. Whenever I feel the need to escape my life, I dive into my writing. It’s my main motivation.
But my anxiety has the opposite effect. It makes writing much more difficult to do. I lose focus and motivation when my anxiety strikes, not to mention my fear.
Those little voices in my head start to eat away at my self-esteem. No one would ever want to read my writing. There’s no way it would ever be good enough for publication. Am I even trying to make this readable?
Those are the thoughts that overwhelm me when I try to write while anxious. And when I say overwhelm, I mean the dictionary definition- bury or drown beneath a huge mass, defeat completely.
Sometimes the littlest comment from a critiquer can set me off, even if it was harmless and helpful. In that case, there are two things I can do- walk away from that project for a period of time, or talk to someone.
When I walk away from a project, I don’t mean to abandon it. I mean, set a time to come back to the project, and focus on something else until the period of time is over. Usually, it’s not my writing that is stressing me out. Usually there’s something else that I need to uncover and declutter before I can focus again.
I like to make lists, so sometimes I need to take a look around at the room I’m working in or whatever else is going on in my life and start making a list of everything that is contributing to my stress. Maybe it’s a messy bedroom, unfolded laundry, maybe I’m just hungry, etc.
Then I start tackling small projects on that list. I’ll eat a quick snack, turn on an episode of tv and fold laundry, or turn on some music in my headphones while I vacuum. Then I move to another small task on my list.
When I’m anxious, my energy usually plummets, so I can only take on small, easy projects. But once I get one done, it’s easier to take on a second small project, and a third, etc. And taking on three small projects somehow equals one larger project.
Sometimes I don’t have the energy to do anything, and I give myself some time to recharge my creative energy by reading or watching a movie. Still a good escape from real life, but much less stressful than working on my writing.
After my dedicated period of time is over, I take a few deep breaths, and return to work. If it’s a critique that I took the wrong way, I make sure to reread it a few times before taking their words in a harsh way. Usually after reading it a few times (and some time away), I realize what they’re saying and how it improves my writing.
Sometimes, even after all that, I’m still too overwhelmed. This is when I need to talk to someone else, to get out of my own self-destructive mind. I have a few friends that I talk to when I’m feeling like this (including Husband of Mine). Sometimes I need to rant for a little bit to find out what is really driving me so nuts. Sometimes I need to focus on someone else’s life and remind myself that there is good in the world and that other people have problems too.
Things I distract myself with to remind myself that there is good in the world- Cat videos, obviously. Cute babies doing silly things. Pointless quizzes on Facebook. Reading comic strips. Any of those things always start to make me feel better. Usually it takes a while, but it does work.
Things I use to remind myself that I’m not the only one in pain- letting my friends complain about their lives, kids, pets, friends, etc. Everyone always has something to complain about, and reminding yourself that you’re not the only miserable one really does help.
Usually I need a good mix of the two to really start feeling better. After my dedicated amount of time is up, I’ll ask my friend what they think about what I’m working on, whatever feedback is bothering me, or whatever scene I can’t finish. Talking it over out-loud makes a huge difference, as does getting secondary feedback. If it’s a critique that is bothering me, I’ll ask my friend to rephrase it for me so I can see it from a different perspective than my own. Usually their rewording helps me identify the problem, and getting an additional outside opinion will spark ideas on what needs to be changed or let me know that it’s fine the way it is.
All in all, there are many different ways to cope with anxiety. Don’t let it overwhelm you and wear your down. Anyone else have any suggestions on what to do when feeling down about yourself or your work?