How I Work Through Anxiety and Recovery: Day 35 of Self-Containment
Part 4 of the “Finding the Meaning of Life” Series
With each day of self-containment and social distancing that passes by, I am sure others are feeling the same way I am . . . uncertainty about what the heck the future will look like.
This uncertainty makes my anxiety grow.
I am a strategic planner. I am a timeline guy. I am a spreadsheet with budgets, debts and saving goals listed for each month, with projections taking me 30 years from now. I am a speaker that finds comfort seeing engagements on the calendar, while negotiating new events and performances. My career has highs and lows – but the highs have been becoming more abundant.
Then came a pandemic . . . and suddenly everything shut down.
Communication lines have become broken, and a blank or eroding 2020 calendar with uncertain financial streams is becoming more terrifying.
The more anxious I become, the more I find myself blaming me for everything. I am catching myself in the middle of what is referred to as negative self-talk:
“I am dropping the ball on everyone else.”
“I don’t matter.”
“I make other people uncomfortable and they don’t like me.”
“My career is now over . . .”
Are you finding yourself doing the same thing . . . with maybe different wording or phrasing?
If so, my advice is the following:
“Stop beating yourself up for the things that are completely out of your control. And, right now, give yourself some leeway for personal needs, over varying professional roles or other people’s requests.”
Communication lines are not going to be solid right now because we are literally taking each day at-a-time.
This is something new to a lot of us – unless you are someone that has, or is, going through recovery (I like to say “recovery of self”).
“One day at-a-time” is a motto that helps people in recovery move from feeling like they are hanging onto their lives by a string, to life with a sturdier rope, and eventually a stable to stable-enough ladder.
Sometimes the string gets ripped, the hands slip on the rope, or the ladder tips a bit, and a new recovery of self begins.
Anytime it does, one day at-a-time, reminds people to stay in the present, and to feel/explore their full range of emotions, while also allowing space for forgiveness because perfection is impossible to achieve. And as long as we are alive, we’ll always be learning something new about ourselves, which includes some stumbles along the way.
I know it is hard to want to feel a full range of emotions when anxiety grows. I know it is hard to make sense of feelings when everything is just so overwhelming. I know when this happens, we can feel like deer stuck in the headlights, uncertain if we should move or stay put.
What have I done in my own recovery of self to help with this?
First, I’ve worked in life to recognize when I start blaming myself for feeling like I’ve let somebody down, or that I’ve done something wrong. I am a type-A perfectionist, with a history of anorexia nervosa – which means I am really good at blaming myself for everything (things others will never remember, or I fear, never forget).
If I hadn’t undergone treatment for my eating disorder and then continued working on myself through both holistic healthcare and my academic teachings, I could have found a creative way to blame myself for COVID-19.
It took me 40-some-years to build enough self-awareness to recognize when I am thinking, behaving or acting in a way I know deep-down is just not really me. When this happens, I am slipping from my own recovery of self.
I now realize what I feel are my “not best” or “embarrassing” moments are due to being overly stressed, scared, anxious, or just misunderstood. I now recognize that I need to just – let myself be – for a moment. By letting myself be, I am able to re-center and declutter my destructive or self-deprecating thoughts.
After recognizing that my negative self-talk is linked to my anxiety, I start to shift my energy from being inside my head to getting in touch with my body by asking:
- Am I hungry?
- Am I thirsty?
- Am I tired?
- . . . Am I breathing?
Recognizing that I am definitely still breathing, I take in a few deep breathes and let them out.
I channel my former psychologist who taught me the ABC’s – which in the medical field is known as – Airway, Breathing, and Circulation – in my psychologist’s office I was taught – Awareness, Breath, and Calm.
So now, I say to myself, “Take a breath in (wait two to three seconds) and now let it out.”
Three to four deep breathes is usually all I need to feel better, and now I ask myself why I resisted the ABC’s (taught to me repeatedly for six years in my twenties) for so long.
I find, after I get enough oxygen, my body begins to calm, my stomach doesn’t feel as many knots, and my negative racing self-talk and confusion eases up.
As my body feels calmer and my mind clears out all the chitter-chatter, I am able to determine in that present moment what I really need.
- Sometimes it is going into my den and turning on a TV show, or simply just sitting on the couch in silence or with some light music on. A nap may sneak in, or I may just rest my eyes and get lost in slowly calming thoughts.
- Other times, I feel motivated to take action steps forward in my career or go down to my basement and work out.
- And then there are the times where eating or drinking helps give me either comfort or energy, so I can take care of my health in that present moment. I will add with eating and drinking – being aware of what and how much I am consuming is important. If I drink too much (for me that would be beer or scotch) or eat without being conscious of how I feel, I don’t feel better – I feel worse.
Self-awareness, ABC’s, and re-centering are all important. Something I am learning is also important – due to this pandemic – is FaceTime with friends.
I never really used FaceTime before this pandemic – personally, it has always creeped me out.
Calling people via video felt like a violation of privacy. My mind has always been boggled when on public transportation or sausage-stuffed into a terminal shuttle in Atlanta’s airport because I am always observing people using FaceTime . . . oftentimes without headphones. In the past, the thought of someone having a personal glimpse, beyond my voice, into my present surroundings made me very uncomfortable, like being caught without “my face put on”. Which for me would be asking if my hair was combed and if I was wearing a shirt that didn’t involve cut-off sleeves. (Who are we kidding – if I am stuck at home forever, I will never go back to T-shirts with sleeves.)
But now, I finally get FaceTime – seeing my friends and hearing their voices is very calming and helps me get in touch with our past and present lives together, while also fantasizing about future hang outs and hugs.
I know we all wish we had a crystal ball that could take us to a definitive future timeline that shows life back to normal. But life doesn’t work that way. Life will never go back to what it was prior to this pandemic, or prior to someone’s next step in recovery of self.
Or, at least it shouldn’t. I have so much to add with that statement, but I will wait.
Right now the main goal of writing this is to help people stay in the present. While you’re here, slowly begin to ask yourself – what is sustainable in my life, and what has just added to the clutter – up to this present moment?
That’s all we need to do right now.
For me personally, I am reminding myself what is right, what is wrong, and what needs improvement in regard to how we all have been treated. I am now strategizing ways to better communicate with all of you in the future, while practicing my ABC’s and also taking it one day at-a-time. I guess I did learn some helpful things from all my years of cognitive-behavioral therapy after all.