For many people, anxiety can be a roller coaster ride. Sometimes the anxiety is somewhat under control and you can function. Anxiety will not allow you to live a totally normal life, but when it is lower and under control, your life is a reasonable facsimile of normal. It is as close to normal as us anxious people will probably ever get.
Then there are the times when anxiety kicks it into high gear. Sometimes the acute levels of anxiety only last for a few days. Sometimes they settle in for an extended stay.
That extended stay version creates some unusual feelings in me. Once I’ve been dragged around by acute high-level anxiety for a couple of weeks, I start to have intense feelings of impending doom. What I suspect is happening is that my body is burned out from being in flight-or-fight for too long.
I have these episodes frequently. Three or four times a year on average and have been having them for decades.
That sense of doom is not a premonition. Most of the time, nothing bad happens, no matter how sure my brain is that catastrophe is just around the corner.
Bad things are a part of life and when things that are bad enough to be considered a source of doom have happened to me, they are usually not preceded by the high-anxiety-induced feelings of impending doom.
However, a few times, the two have coincided. I would have been feeling like something bad was going to happen and then something awful did happen. My anxious brain fixates on those times. My anxiety convinces itself that those couple of times are proof that it was right to sound the alarm.
I am battling one of these episodes right now. I jump at loud sounds, I tense at phones ringing or text notifications coming in, I’m stressed when my son is out, and I white knuckle drive everywhere because I’m scared of a car accident.
There are only two things I can do at times like this. I can work to dial down my flight-or-fight response which lessens the feelings of doom and I can wait it out.
Dial Down Flight-or-Fight
The first step in managing any anxiety is to breathe. Learn to control your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply. Some people meditate. Some focus on their breath going in and out. Some count and hold before releasing. If those work for you, great. In me, they just create more anxiety because I’m trying to breathe “right.”
Instead, I just focus on trying to slow my breathing down and then make it deeper. Fast and shallow breathes increase my anxiety and can lead me to have a panic attack.
The second step is to try and relax. Play with your pet. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Whatever works to relax you and give you at least a few minutes of peace.
I’m a little limited in what I can do to relax these days. My cat is not a cuddler. He will allow me to pet him for a little while, but when he’s done, that is it. Unless I want some skin removed. The only music that relaxes me is classical music and I can’t listen to that right now because it reminds me of my late boyfriend and weeping is not relaxing. I have found some success watching old shows that I loved and know the plots by heart. I can pick out the episodes that don’t have any grief triggers and since I already know what happens, there is no stress involved in watching.
My final step is to try and think my way out of the anxiety. I try not to let unfounded fears go unchallenged. Loud noises are usually easily identifiable as the trash truck or the construction guys who are remodeling the complex next door. My son is out almost every day and always returns home safely. He is very responsible about keeping me updated about changes in plans or locations. My driving fears are totally unfounded. I haven’t had an accident in 25 years.
Telling myself these things doesn’t necessarily make the fear stop, but it is better than letting anxiety convince me that my fears are logical or likely. Challenging your fears with facts makes them seem less credible.
Wait It Out
While not a great answer, it is often the only one I have. This has happened so many times in my life, I can safely say that this too shall pass and believe it is true. I know that sooner or later, the anxiety will go back to a lower, more manageable level for a while. I just have to wait for that to happen.