We're All Just Animals: How I Handle My Free-Floating Anxiety

Yes, we all have anxiety and gluten allergies and we're all on antidepressants, but we're just animals, man! We were never meant to live this way!

Mar 9, 2012 at 2:25pm | Leave a comment

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I shouldn't be so anxious. I've never understood why publishing is as stressful a job as it is, and have tried to treat it over the years by ritualistically chanting "It's just a website it's just a website it's just a website" over and over again in my head.

But ever since I started working online 5 or so years ago, the combination of hourly deadlines and a live audience reacting instantaneously to your every decision have raised my base state to "frantic."

Because my anxiety feels so physical (clenched jaw, trouble breathing, agitated bird flipping out in my chest) and because it is already present the moment I open my eyes in the morning, I had this theory that like my depression, it was all about chemical imbalances and whatnot; that it was purely a physical issue with no connection to my mental state or life happenings at all. I shared this theory with my therapist on Tuesday, who looked at me quizzically before saying, "Why don't you ask your psychiatrist what she thinks about that?"

Well-played, good doctor.

I know from Googling the diagnosis codes on my therapy invoices that I'm being treated for PTSD, condition of choice for combat veterans and rape victims everywhere, because sometimes fighting in a WAR and being a woman are roughly the same thing.

But there are lots of stressers of in my life as well, and I do a terrible job managing them. I always have; even in kindergarten I'd be like, "I can't play outside right now, Mom, this collage of items that start with the letter "T" isn't gonna make itself!"

And sometimes I start to feel guilty to be struggling with anxiety and depression just like every other well-fed upper middle class American (as my ?Russian? psychiatrist told me recently, "Before I come here, I read about anorexia only, in book."). Yes, we all have anxiety and gluten allergies and we're all on antidepressants, but we're just animals, man! We were never meant to live this way, with jobs and clothes and foods that are scientifically engineered to be delicious. Put a dog in a suit and make him work in Excel all day while chomping Doritos and I bet he wouldn't be feeling too hot either. (He would look adorable.)

I used to treat anxiety (and depression and all other feelings) with drugs and sex and food and alcohol. Yep, I treated depression with a depressant, because addicts are very smart and logical people. Give us keys to things.

And now that I can no longer (EVER!) unwind with a glass of wine (I never had one glass of wine anyway) after a hard day, I pretty much just walk around quietly but intensely panicking all the time. As I told my therapist in the same session I was talking about earlier, I would KILL A MAN for a Xanax.

Popping a pill is so easy and quick, and managing this stuff naturally is an ongoing concerted effort and even the serenity I finally achieve is nowhere near as enveloping and complete as the synthetic kind. But I better start trying, because if I live this way any longer I am going to someday just explode into a pile of dust that Jane will have to gently blow off my crumb-covered computer chair.

So I've been asking around, and here are some of the suggestions I've gotten:

Herbal Tea
Being from Oklahoma, the only type of tea I know anything about is the iced kind that only comes sweetened with loads of sugar. But apparently some of these hot kinds of teas are relaxing? In the past, I have only used beverages to wake me up and entertain me, so this is a new concept.

So far I've tried plain ol' chamomile, Yogi's Relaxed Mind and Celestial's Tension Tamer. The taste sucks, but the relaxation part seems to be working.

B12 Lozenges
This suggestion came courtesy of my Twitter boo Anthony Artur of A Beautiful Life brands. I bought some cherry ones and have convinced myself I feel immediately calmer after one melts under my tongue. Just let me have it.

An Acupressure Mat
I've been using the mat, from Halsa whenever I feel really wound up during the day. According to the website, the mats are all the rage in Europe, especially among the Swedes, for relaxation and pain relief. It's basically a yoga mat with lots of little spikes on it that are supposed to hit your pressure points. It only really works if you take your shirt off, so I lock my door and stretch out for about 10 minutes. I'm not sure if it's the mat, lying down for 10 minutes, or the sheer awesomeness of getting nekkid at work, but about halfway through I am hit with a rush of well-being. Since you can get one for 20-30 bucks, it's worth a try. But taking a 10-minute break to think about nothing would probably be just as effective. Which brings me to:

Meditation
I've long used meditation as part of my recovery program. When Jane and I were working on the site pre-launch, I had a really good practice and used to sneak off to a sunny corner and sit for awhile whenever things got really intense. Along with a lot of other aspects of my self-care, meditation has gone right out the window since the site became a functioning daily reality.

But I want to reinstate, because mediation is by far the best way I've found to alter my mood in sobriety. For awhile I was doing this thing where I'd go to spin class and then straight to a meditation session and I swear to God it got me a little high. Which, if you're anything like me, is the highest recommendation you can hear. Healthy foods should try it. "Rice cakes -- WE GET YOU HIGH!"

It's easy to start -- just sit comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes and count your breaths for 3-5 minutes the first time. Try to keep your mind clear, but when you catch yourself thinking about how you need to buy safety pins or whatever, just gently nudge your mind back to blankness. Increase the time as you're able.

When I sit for about 20 minutes a day, I start to feel as if I'm sort of floating through my day surrounded by thick padding that protects me from life's little conflicts. I just bounce around in my own little pillow room, feeling all calm and happy. Meditation literally changes your brain in the areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and (ding ding ding) stress, and turn me into the kind of person who can't take a 5-minute bus ride without a book to someone who can sit happily and calmly for hours.

But it requires a consistency (bleh) and discipline (ugh) and part of me is still hoping for a natural solution that works just like a Valium. And yes, I know weed is technically natural, but I can't have it, so suggest something else. How do you treat your confused-animal angst?