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.