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.

The Passion Dilemma

A title written, never finished. Perhaps, now, a fitting time to add words to a page and bring an article to life. As part of my ongoing project, I’m taking old posts never published and breathing new life into them.

This article was started October 24th, 2017 and the last timestamp shows 10:49pm And given the title, it’s fitting. A question without an answer and in fact, the question that produces more and more questions than it ever has answers.

A little while back I wrote “The Happiness Equation” as an update post to simply put thoughts to paper and try to make sense of my ever changing world. A reflection piece and one that I’ve since reflected upon.

As I translate my jumbled thoughts, a clear picture begins to emerge and while it’s still incomplete, it’s better than what I had before.

In a matter of speaking, I hit the emergency brake while I was still driving.

I let the stepping stones sink into the shallows of the river for one last glimpse of childhood and I’m glad. I’m not ready to drop my flame just yet, the real question is figuring out how brightly it burns and where.

Career wise, I’m in a good spot. I’ve moved laterally within my organization and my role is keeping my life fresh. I’m slowly learning to relax and take a breath.

My career goals have become increasingly a checklist. Every time I talk, it sounds like I’m trying to tick my box. Good or bad? Hard to say but I need to chill. My lifelong problem has been I always try to skip a few steps. I see point A and point B but tend to miss everything in between. So now it’s time to deconstruct and analyze. No more talk about College and where I was, the conversation must turn to where I am.

So, where am I? My passion is I enjoy helping others. I love the process of learning and sharing to those who might find what I have to say interesting. Outside of that, I can’t really say who I am. Writing as a hobby? Great. Photography? Enjoyable when I get out and take photos. I learn skills only to see no end, the constant acquisition of progress for the sake of progress. I stay relevant for the sake of being relevant and that is concerning. I said my career was a checklist when in reality it applies to my life as a whole.

I keep building and then breaking, to what end? Instead of thriving, I am simply struggling to survive. I can’t find my “why” even if it hit me across the face. Perhaps I’ve reached a point of insanity, trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results yet I keep trying.

I change the angle and still see the same road. I will be the first to admit I am broken and where once I repaired, now I begin to fracture. And that’s the beauty of life, riding the highest highs and lowest lows. The fact that my heart feels ready to burst at any moment and spread its warmth like confetti all over my cubicle is a good thing. It means I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone. Too fast? Too soon? Too Much? Ain’t that always the case.

My anxiety has ensnared me and I wonder as the chains break, that they weren’t holding the foundation underneath. I’ve been short of breath and my body wants to freeze, however, I’m not going to let it. My list is ever growing shorter and the page is about to flip unto a new chapter. As I learned in cross country: strength, confidence, and desire. I haven’t come this far only to fail now.

I am learning to trust once more and opening my heart (queue the eye rolls). No more paranoia and no more fear. I breathe and feel my heart beat, and if I’m alive, I can move forward. One step, one foot, slowly (if only, I’m running at this point), and with a map in hand. I now know where I’m headed and where I need to go.


Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed my content. It’s been ages since I’ve finished an article and am glad I can hit the “schedule post” button for this one. A fun little ramble as I go through my life and try not to vibe “hot mess”. Next month I’ll try to have one article published regarding mental health and the topic I’ve picked is anxiety. When will that be? God only knows. Outside of that, expect more poems and short stories sprinkled throughout the year as I reach the next chapter in my life and after I’ve had some time to swallow a few more chill pills.

cheers!

– Mike

A tale in wellness: ASMR

Story Time!

Let me set the scene. The year was 2017 and I had recently graduated College. To Celebrate I took a break and during this break I rekindled my love for watching streamers on Twitch. If you want to watch a great streamer, I recommend DizzyKitten. Regardless, the unexpected happened. She decided one day to do “ASMR”. Years ago my friend had mentioned how “ASMR” had helped him with his anxiety when I asked him if he knew of ways to cope with stress. I said “interesting” and thought nothing more of it. So when Dizzy started, I said, “Why not”? And my God, I’m glad I stayed.

What is it?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) coined in 2010, is the term used to describe a sensation of tingles triggered throughout the brain when listening to certain sounds. Done in a whisper, it can be very off-putting at first. Everyone experiences tingles a little differently and some, not at all. For me, it’s as if I can feel the neurons firing in different spots of my brain and it creates a sensation that feels as if my brain is being wrapped in a blanket. That sensation slowly trickles down my spine and creates an intense sense of calm. It’s cozy and intimate.

Types of ASMR

ASMR is both an audio and visual experience. ASMR cannot exist without sound. However, visuals can be used to enhance the overall experience. As such, many ASMR artists choose to do role-plays to create a certain atmosphere. This can be anywhere from getting your ears cleaned to getting a haircut. On the surface, it seems beyond bizarre. However, when you watch the videos, you realize it’s no different than if you were to go to the barber yourself. Most ASMR, however, is simply experimentation with different sounds. Some artists choose to create a spectacle while others do not. Another form is to have a stage and have an audience in real life. These experiences are similar to a play. The performances start with sound and visuals, then dive in for what cannot be experienced through video; touch. While not as common and definitely not for everyone, I still thought they were worth mentioning.

How does ASMR compare?

There are many ways to cope with anxiety and stress. Journaling, writing, meditation, exercise, and tension relief (i.e. Stressballs) just to name a few. The closest ASMR comes to these techniques is meditation. Meditation alters the mind by creating a sense of calm through deep breathing and tension management. Meditation is a way to hit the reset button and can overwhelm at times (managing thoughts can be tricky). ASMR is different in the sense that someone else is in the driver’s seat. The mindfulness ever so present from meditation dissipates and you are left to feel. There’s no work involved and you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Why does ASMR work?

There are differing thoughts as to why ASMR creates the sensations it does. One explanation is that the whispering stimulates an innate response similar to that of a parent nurturing a child. The whispering and eye contact fulfill the role of the caretaker, creating the intense feelings one experiences through ASMR.

Another Theory is that ASMR fulfills the innate need to connect with one another. ASMR plays with our senses in a way that leaves us vulnerable. This could explain why some are so uncomfortable with ASMR at first.  The whispering creates intimacy and because it is often a stranger, the brain might be sending signals to approach with caution.

Personally, I think we are simply hardwired to enjoy sound. Human beings are empathetic and caring creatures. If sound didn’t matter to us, there would be no use in creating music let alone knowing how. I think ASMR triggers receptors in our brain that are linked to joy (dopamine) and reaffirm our natural rhythm.

Benefits of ASMR

At the time of writing this article, the benefits of ASMR are anecdotal. ASMR has only just recently started gaining traction as a legitimate form of mental health management. It has come a long way since 2008, going from being classified as a “pseudoscience” to something that might warrant further research. As such, all I can speak to is the benefits I have perceived.

I use ASMR primarily at night. Sometimes I watch and other times I simply listen. It’s been about 4 or 5 months of listening almost every night. And I’ve noticed myself falling asleep faster and feeling better rested. While I am under a lot of stress at the moment, ASMR has seemingly an instantaneous effect to quell my anxiety, which is fascinating as I use every other technique at my disposal.  Only recently have I started listening to ASMR during the day and it appears to have the same effect. If you want a quick fix to anxiety that requires no effort on your part, ASMR works like a miracle.

An unintended benefit of ASMR is it has made me more aware of every day sounds. The trickle of water seems more intense, birds singing, the wind blowing, etc. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Another benefit I’m experimenting with is that of listening in a foreign language. As such, I mostly listen to ASMR in Spanish. I’m curious as to if the accents and foreign language will make me more accepting overtime. I’m already as progressive as they come, so it’d be interesting to see the effect on individuals a tad more closed minded than myself (trying not to say that in a condescending way).

Getting Started With ASMR

If this article has peaked your interest, feel free to click on the links I’ve selected below. The first two links are my favorite ASMR videos and the third is the artist I listen to on a regular basis. A quick note before you dive in: ASMR is best experienced with headphones and I wouldn’t recommend listening without them. That is all, enjoy!

#Triggered – First Link

Sound God – Second Link

Tu hablas Español? – Third Link

Research

Information on ASMR is scarce and therefore most of my research was done through experience. However, the podcast “Twenty Thousand Hertz” had a great segment on ASMR and a NYtimes article referenced the “WhisperLodge” which is where I found the information on the Live ASMR performances.


This was an extremely fun topic to research. It also took quite a while to get right. If you enjoyed this article, consider buying me a cup of coffee! Your donation will help me keep afloat and ensure that I can keep producing great content on a consistent basis. For just $3 a post you can help save a Mike Cole in need and ensure he lives a happy and fulfilling life.

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