Understanding Anxiety: Mental Health Awareness Month 2021

As I write these articles, format is at the forefront of my mind. Setting the right tone can make a huge difference in writing an article. Ideally, the goal with my Mental Health Awareness Month series is to be conversational and discuss what is still largely taboo. This article has been rewritten as my first draft felt bland, unengaging, and didn’t leave the reader with a hopeful message. The fun part of this writing journey I’m on, is ultimately, watching my writing evolve.

For this article, we’re covering anxiety from the heart. I want to ponder the idea of living with anxiety, a relatively new concept for myself. And by living with, I am talking about accepting anxiety as a part of life and not so much a detriment and hinderance. To start the article off, I’m going to jump into an overview of what anxiety has looked like for me.

My Anxiety

Genetics or environment, I do not know. What I do know is I’ve had it since a relatively early age. When I was younger, I would freeze, which covers a biological response I didn’t even know existed until many years later. Fight, flight, or freeze. I always thought it was fight or flight; you’re either working through a problem or you’re running from it. I ran cross country, so I figured I was the latter. It wasn’t until college that I learned about the third, freezing. Simply stopping and not moving forward, which is typically the category I’ve fallen under. If life is not structured, I tend to unravel at the seams. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at managing the lack of structure but it took a Pandemic to make me realize I am not the autonomous working machine I thought myself to be. For every mile I’ve treaded, I have another mile to go.

Freezing

Freezing is a terrible feeling and only one I’ve recently started coming to terms with. The earliest instance of freezing I can remember is walking along the corridors of classrooms, slowing my gait and transitioning myself towards lockers. I later pinpointed this to a form of social anxiety, the cause still unknown. If I was in the middle of the hallway, I did not fare well. I moved forward every time, but my body always signaled to stop. Breath tightens and tunnel vision ensues. It’s a feeling as if you’re going to pass out and alleviating it is tough. I’ve stumbled over words and until college, I typically ended sentences with “nevermind”. This, partly was a lack of confidence and came from my eagerness to participate in conversation without knowing talking points.

Fighting

With anxiety, simple tasks can seem herculean in nature. As I’m getting older, I’m learning not to give so much of a Fuck on how I tackle life. As much as I’ve gotten right, I’ve gotten just as much wrong. Fighting is the catalyst to moving life forward and in the modern sense (and most positive scenario) it is the ability to dig deep into the trenches and keep digging even when the odds are stacked against you. In its most idealized form, it is the ability to prioritize what you want and pave the path forward to get there. Concentrated action and effort are how I’m beginning to overcome my anxiety and stepping away from dwelling on the past and future. But it’s not always about fighting…

Flight

Flight is learning what trenches to dig and what battlefields are best left alone. It’s not easy but understanding why you don’t do something is just as important as finding out what motivates you. Anxiety sprouts from the unknown just as much as it does from the known proving futile. Anxiety is a feeling, a gut response and while it may seem impossible to tackle, I believe it to be possible. Life is not so much about doing away with anxiety as it is learning how to live with it. It’s not something to let fester but it’s also not something to cut out of your life completely. The more anxious I am, the more I need to change.

Lack of Focus: where my anxiety comes from

This is the literal bane of my existence. So prevalent in my life, I’m amazed I ever get anything done. I’ve had to create entire systems to manage my lack of focus and when implemented, they work wonders. I have a weekly planner and can set SMART goals and while not pretty, I begrudgingly accomplish those goals. My biggest issue nowadays, is I don’t know what goal to set. This last year with the Pandemic, I’ve taken the time to start exploring what I might enjoy and slowly, the anxiety has once again become manageable. I’ve done this in the past with varying degrees of success, but clarifying my hobbies as just that has done wonders for my focus. No more I’ll be a programmer or writer but rather I’m a hobby blogger and hobby coder. No pressure, guilt free. Professionally, I have Management and Marketing expertise. In my free time, my two main focuses are writing and coding. That is simpler than “I am literally doing everything”. Because when I sweep too broad, I end up accomplishing nothing. The goal is to live with anxiety, not have it rule my life. The more I see myself in a focused lens, the better I am.

Living with Anxiety

A lot of meditation has led to the realization that anxiety is an alarm bell, not a detriment. I’ve focused a lot on instances where I’ve frozen and have been unable to move forward. It’s only now that I’ve begun to explore the possibility that this could be a blessing in disguise. I am fearful of my future and my heart races every time I think of where I’m headed. I see my twenties fading and feel I have accomplished very little. Yet I keep moving forward and what seems awful now, might bear strong fruit down the road. Hope is all we have and this Mental Health Awareness Month I have to remember to breathe.

Meditation Evolved, a Musing into new methods and techniques: Mental Health Awareness Month 2021

As I’ve drafted this article, I’ve thought about what I want to cover and how I want to cover it. I’ve written about meditation in the past, an article covering 9 months of meditation and my thoughts on making it a regular practice.

With the Pandemic this last year, I set a goal to meditate consecutively for an entire year, a goal that I will have reached as of publishing this article. This year I wanted to dive deeper into my practice and go beyond simply taking time out of each day to inhale and exhale.

In college, I meditated sporadically whenever I was feeling stressed as a way to cope beyond journaling and exercise. It felt like a missing piece to a puzzle that I couldn’t quite solve. 5 minutes a day was not a long time and time I gladly spared to slow life down and breathe.

Since 2019, I’ve suffered from terrible anxiety. Panic attacks that led to me freezing and the cause as of yet, I do not know. And then, the Pandemic hit. My stress was through the roof, so I decided to try meditation again and this time see what could be with daily practice. 5 minutes became 10 minutes and 10 minutes became 20 with seemingly no fuss dedicating the extra time to just be with myself. I’ve tried 30 minutes based off of studies but 20 minutes is adequate for most of my needs.

I feel better and my anxiety, to my knowledge, is lessened. There are breathing techniques to calm to help with sleep and there are others that help manage anxiety and ultimately dispel it altogether. Whenever I’m stressed, I tell myself to breathe.

At the moment, I’m currently exploring the lessons on Headspace, craving knowledge of what meditation can be. Headspace recently released a Netflix special and it helped quantify and refine my methods.

For the first time in my life this last year, I’ve started having conversations about meditation with my friends, having previously thought I was relatively unique in the interest. While my friends are new to meditation, I’m happy to see that mental health is becoming a topic at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

A couple weeks ago, I finally reached the 365 day milestone, solidifying meditation as the longest continuous habit I have ever done. A year of my life spent, breathing and learning, it honestly feels great.

My life at the moment is extremely chaotic. My mood shifts from hope to despair from day to day and my anxiety prevents a lot of the complex goals I’ve set for myself from being completed. I’ve started running again but meditation has proven the strongest for calming myself. This May, take time for yourself and remember to breathe. The world is in chaos, so it’s imperative that we slow it down for ourselves. Look inward and start with 5 minutes. Listen to the sounds around you and simply note thoughts that arise. This is the year for looking inward.

Goodbye Social Media: Mental Health Awareness Month 2021

This year, Mental Health Awareness Month is planned. The topics I have picked in advance and am gradually adding to over the course of months. With this more organized approach to my series, it’s the perfect opportunity to gradually document my social media habits as I begin to shed them.

As of now, I’m about a week into uninstalling Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Hinge on my phone. On my Computer, I have unbookmarked the social media sites; if I want to hop on Facebook, I manually have to type the URL. I have always considered myself not to be an avid user of social media. I post a little but not a lot. The other night that changed. As I was scrolling through my dystopian doomsfeed I realized that I was miserable. I derive no joy from Instagram. Most posts are meaningless and add no value to my life whatsoever. I have friends who post a story a minute and others who have lost sight of the silver lining. At best, people are posting about food or doing another selfie. At. Best. In this brief moment I realized that we are living in a dystopia and that all hopes for a utopian information age have all but been lost. Then I looked at Facebook. For every post I saw, I would see a targeted ad. And Twitter? Literal Hell. Negativity is unavoidable and a platform based solely on growth and engagement? Disgusting. Hinge? More endless scrolling in what would ultimately be a relationship death spiral. Match, get bored, match again with the 1% chance I get lucky. The very principle of dating apps diminishes the premise of a relationship itself.

So here I am, a couple weeks in and I feel better. I still log on to Facebook and Twitter but not obsessively. Youtube has become more slightly frustrating as I’m noticing the recommended section is solely designed to influence behavior. If Youtube removed the entire right half of its site, I’d be perfectly ok with that.

LinkedIn

Since 2017, after graduation, Linkedin has become the bane of my existence. Habits Facebook and Instagram instilled carried over to my everyday. I scroll, I like, and am told that it should one day have a payoff. And it doesn’t; Linkedin is a showcase of the superficial, a shrine to those who are lucky. It glorifies an unrealistic percentage of people and even then it frowns upon whenever grit is shown. My recommendations are now for Call Center work and systems that I assume were meant to help, have become my literal Hell. Our Social Media lives have become an episode of Black Mirror.

The Mental Drain

It’s all been exhausting. That is the best word I can use to describe my experience other than soul sucking. Social Media has broken people. We’ve been made to believe that it is the world and since we cannot tangibly see those who have turned away, the lie is easy to swallow. Even with all my other mental health habits well established, Social Media I never saw as posing a threat to my overall well being. I thought I could control it and I was wrong. I thought I was smart enough to keep a fine line between reality and fiction. I was wrong.

A Couple Months Now…

About a month into my social media cleanse, something bizarre began to happen; sites that never emailed me before began to “check in”, to let me know “all that I was missing”. That was Instagram. Facebook? Where it once told me if someone was having a birthday, I have wrought its fury and now receive email notifications mentioning individual actions my friends have taken. In this dystopian hellscape of a world, I know it is only a matter of time before its probing yields success. The emails have gone largely ignored other than mere curiosity and now horror as I watch the information age turn against me as I ignore it data.

Every Other Ad

As my language skills progress, the algorithms become confused. I know this because I get ads in German, Spanish, and now the occasional French. What was initial excitement has now devolved into questions that I’m not really liking the answers to. I’ve been giving information freely to Big Tech all throughout my 20’s thinking overall the benefit outweighs the cost. It took a Pandemic but I finally see the value in privacy albeit a little too late. There’s enough data to be on the cusp of dictating my behavior and that scares me. I worked at a Call Center? Here are some Call Center jobs I think you’d “enjoy”. Here’s a book, here’s what your friends are doing, and the list goes on.

Dating Apps: When Hinge turns into Fringe

If Hell exists on Earth, surely it exists in the form of our ever connected age. Dating, has become a matter of quantity over quality. The sacred has become a mad dash for people to be coupled and as I’ve found, strictly virtual dating is opt for failure. I’ve longed for a meet-cute and a chance to hold on to a moment of love that is more than a fleeting, long lost grab at the wind.

I have no solution

As will no doubt be a theme with this month, I have no easy solution to the problems I now find myself facing. Will I cave and reinstall dating apps? Perhaps. Will Facebook and Instagram manipulate my habits enough to shift what is now strictly a computer only affair to a once-again obsession I never knew I had? Perhaps. Will Twitter continue to be the societal destabilizer it has always been? Most likely. There is no avoiding the information age, that much I am certain. And it may become impossible to live with, if we are not already there. So all I can do now is try to disconnect while I still can and hope others are doing the same, that people are rejecting the notion that every moment must be digitized and that it is ok to exist in your own bubble, even preferred. And for the love of God, have the actions to back it up. Words are cheap, actions are not; in an age of little action and many words, wouldn’t it be nice to plant your feet firmly in the ground?