When anxiety means trusting the thing that makes you anxious

Sometimes I just cannot figure my brain out.

Most times when anxiety rears its head these days, I’m like oh, you, breathe for a bit, and then I’m good. But sometimes it seems like I can do all of the things I know to do, things that usually work, and still the anxiety is like ralph-wave

 

Take a few weeks ago, for example. The dude had volleyball, and usually afterward he goes for drinks with the team. I know this. I even know which bar they usually go to. But my brain just was not having it.

I’ve discovered in the last few months that I don’t sleep well when he’s not home (all together now: awwww), so I knew I’d be waking up every half hour or so until he got back. The first time, I was like oh, he’s not home yet, snuggled up to the dog, and fell back asleep. The second time, I was like huh, that’s weird, he’s still not home. I checked my phone and had no messages, so I rolled over and went to sleep. The third time, my eyes snapped open and immediately I was like something happened. Now, rationally, I knew this was not the case. At least two people on his team have my phone number and would have absolutely called if something happened. But, as I have said so many times before, you are your own worst enemy when it comes to anxiety. You know exactly how to rationalize the worst case scenario and make it sound totally legit and inevitable. When I tried to remind myself that the dude’s friends would get in touch if anything happened, I thought what if what happened was really chaotic and he left his phone and they have been in such a state of craziness that they forgot to call? I rolled over and took some slow breaths, and eventually drifted off. But then our heater clicked on and woke me up, and again, I just knew that something was wrong. I sent him a text asking if he was ok, expecting a fairly quick reply. Nope. Nothing. Five minutes, ten minutes. In every day life, this is totally acceptable. I’m not one of those people who needs an answer right away. But my brain just needed any little excuse to up the ante. After 20 minutes I sent another text saying I was starting to get anxious, and lay there just waiting for that little “Read at” to appear under what I wrote. (It did; his phone was in his backpack which is why he didn’t answer sooner.)

There are a few things here that I want to focus on. First, in no way is it the dude’s responsibility to let me know his every move or tell me when he’s on the way home or whatever, though I appreciate it when he does. As a team, we have a good system whether we’re together or apart: we talk about the plan, we check in if the plan changes. Easy, simple, and, for the most part, effective. The only time it doesn’t work is when my brain is like everything that’s normally ok is now NOT OK. And whether I’m anxious or not, it is not his job to micromanage my anxiety. That’s my job. And I want him to have the freedom to do whatever without worrying if it will make me anxious. That’s much more important to me than avoiding feeling anxious.

Which leads me to thing the second: even after he got home, it took me ages to get to sleep. Which makes sense, because adrenaline, etc. But it brought up for me something I’ve never actually considered: what happens when all the things I know to do don’t work? What happens when the yoga doesn’t calm me down or I can’t fall back asleep? What happens when my brain just keeps insisting on whatever terrible thought it’s come up with?

The short answer is that I continue to feel anxious or it escalates to a panic attack. But, as usual, I’m interested in the long game, and this particular play in the long game is about trust. I know that eventually my body will calm down and whatever physical symptoms I’m feeling will go away. And I know that I can accelerate that by doing yoga and breathing slowly and regularly. I’ve learned to trust myself through a panic attack and through the more intense side of the anxiety spectrum. That night was really the first time where I realized I need to trust myself through the smaller moments of anxiety, too.

And, honestly, that’s kind of the bigger picture for me: learning to trust myself not just during anxious times, but when something is wrong and I need to speak up, or I need to say no, or yes, or whatever else. Often I am the thing that’s making me anxious (a weird physical symptom, a thought, etc), and I have a lot of trouble trusting, in that moment, that I’m not that scared person. That it will pass. That I’m still who I am the rest of the time: confident, compassionate, etc. etc. I have that trust in myself pretty solidly at work, but less so in my personal life and definitely not when I’m feeling anxious. I know that I can only do so much on my own, and I’ve kind of always had in the back of my mind that I’ll go back to therapy at some point to deal with some things that aren’t really connected to the anxiety. There are definitely times since I left that I’ve missed it and wished I could talk to my therapist, and I’m really glad about that; it means that we had a great rapport, a healthy relationship, and that I know I don’t have to do it all on my own.

For now, though, I’m working on listening to myself and trusting myself. I keep a gratitude journal where every night I write down three things that I’m grateful for from the day. If you look, it’s full of the dude and the dog and yoga and my friends, and that’s great. But for the rest of the month, I want to challenge myself to include at least one thing about myself that I’m grateful for. I think actually seeing it written down will help me to trust the things I know to be true about myself when everything feels like it’s going to hell.

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3 thoughts on “When anxiety means trusting the thing that makes you anxious”

  1. I get the same way when my husband is running behind or gone. I think it is awesome that you are so self-aware. I feel like it took me forever to get there and a lot of the time I find it so easy to slip back into panic mode about the most random things. I like the gratitude journal! Maybe I will try that 🙂

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  2. I also have a hard time when my husband is gone. He’s a musician and often has nighttime gigs. I generally know when he’ll return, which helps. That said, I have only actually gone to bed without him home a handful of times. Otherwise, I sleep on the couch with the tv on.

    Our brains are funny things. I also do a daily reflection thing at night. I write down five things I love about the day. I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years or so. It’s been a great practice that helps me recall my day and find the goodness in it. On the days I struggle, it’s most important.

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