Medical visits during the pandemic are a special kind of strange. My son had to have his wisdom teeth removed this week. We had been postponed once because it was not considered emergency care, but once the restrictions loosened, he fell into the eligible category due to how much pain he was in.
Pandemic rules mean only the patient is allowed into the dentist's office, but since he is a minor, I am allowed in for required things only. Basically, I came in with him, filled out the paperwork, signed all the forms, and was allowed to wait with him until they took him back for the surgery.
Then I had to wait outside. In July. I knew this waiting time would be very stressful for me because he is my only child and has never had any kind of surgery before. I prepared myself mentally. I saved a shit-ton of things to read on my phone to distract myself. I thought I would be okay.
I failed to plan for discomfort. I was so focused on other things, it didn’t even occur to me that I’d be waiting outside for a very long time in the summer. My car was in direct sunlight so I could not sit in it. There is a large ramp that leads to the office door and I leaned against that. At first, I was okay. It was shady and there was a breeze.
If the procedure had only taken the hour I was told it would, I would have been fine. I worked my plan for keeping my anxiety under control, but as the morning dragged on, the sun shifted and there was no longer shade there. The hour went by and no sign of my son being finished. My mind started running through all kinds of worst-case scenarios. With no cover from the sun, the temperature rose. The hotter I got, the more anxious I became. Eventually, I was on the verge of a panic attack.
Those of you who are familiar with addiction may have heard about H.A.L.T. it stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. When one is recovering from addiction they need to be careful to manage their triggers to avoid relapsing. Managing triggers is much more difficult when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. It is important for recovering addicts to be aware of this and try to mitigate the effects of those emotions so that they do not fall off the wagon.
I’ve found that there is something similar at work with my anxiety. I’m usually fairly in control of my anxiety. I am aware of situations that are going to stress it and I prepare beforehand to maintain control.
The one wildcard for me is physical discomfort.
Sometimes my anxiety provides its own pain. Such as when I get stomach cramping and pain from social situations.
Other times, outside discomfort will challenge my ability to manage my anxiety symptoms. I’m middle-aged and get the lower back that seems to afflict many of my cohorts. Being unable to exist comfortably in space is definitely a contributing factor. When it hurts to sit, stand, or lie down, it’s pretty hard to keep your mind from rumination.
Temperature extremes, both hot and cold, add to my difficulty.
Hunger does, too, though it is the only one of the H.A.L.T. emotions that bothers me. I’m trapped in the dystopia that is America so I’m used to being angry. I’m a single mom so I’m used to being tired and lonely. Those three do not significantly affect my anxiety.
Awareness and mitigation are the only things that can defend against a physical discomfort. Be aware that feeling bad physically can affect your anxiety. Try to talk yourself down if the pain pushes you to a ledge. That is how I dealt with the situation at the dentist's office. I had failed to consider the heat as a potential problem so I had not planned ahead. When I became aware that the heat was likely making me feel extra anxious I attempted to keep that in mind as I walked myself back from a panic attack.
Had I recognized the heat might be a problem I would have tried to figure out a way around it. Mitigation is important. I know that I hate the cold, so I keep an extra jacket in the trunk of my car. Then I’m never caught out somewhere shivering and trying to control anxiety.
If pain is an issue, look for ways to handle it. I’m aware that some forms of chronic pain can’t be mitigated. I understand that and I’m sorry if that is your situation. But for many of us, it is just a matter of finding the correct thing to help.
I had battled back pain for so many years. I tried different pain creams. I tried different exercises. Even standard painkillers rarely touched it much. I rearranged how I sat and set up my work area. I even got a different chair. Nothing worked.
Then one day on a whim I bought a lumbar support pillow because it was on sale. I had seen them before but always dismissed them because they looked like it would be uncomfortable to have my back pushed in like that.
Turns out that pillow is the best thing I’ve ever done for my back. It is like a damn miracle. I rarely get back pain now and when I do, it’s very mild.
Sometimes solutions come from unexpected places. Don’t give up looking for them.
Physical discomfort can add to your anxiety. It is important to be proactive in looking for times and places where it might be an issue. Do your best to avoid those situations or limit your discomfort. Your anxiety will thank you.