Imagine you’re in a canoe on the open ocean. You try to find the best course through the growing towers of water. The waves are getting choppy and your oars slip into the sea. You clutch onto the little vessel but the waves increase until you capsize, plunging you into the cold, dark, water.
That escalated quickly, but that’s exactly how poorly managed anxiety can feel and the triggers can vary. The waves are feelings, the boat is your tolerance, and the oars are your control. The boat doesn’t have to be a canoe; maybe yours is a cruise ship. Maybe the oars are a control panel for you. We’re all at different levels. Still, when strong feelings overwhelm a person, the size of that vessel matters. You don’t want to be stuck in a canoe without oars.
Feelings are real and should be acknowledged for sure, but they are not facts. “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat” (Medline Plus, NIH). 19.1% of US adults have an anxiety disorder and 7% of children aged 3-17, and that’s just those diagnosed (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
Those suffering from anxiety are at an increased risk for health issues including heart and digestive problems. Decision-making is harder and communication can be more difficult as many with anxiety may second-guess and re-ask questions. This can be frustrating to loved ones.
The American Psychiatric Association has a simple video explaining anxiety. In the video, anxiety is described as a normal reaction to stress, but when that turns into fear which prevents a person from completing normal tasks, it may be considered an anxiety disorder. Some anxiety symptoms may be feelings of dread, tenseness, irritability, or hyper vigilance. Physical symptoms could be stomach aches, a pounding heart, sweating, tremors, or insomnia.
If you experience any of these, even if you don’t know the trigger, pause. Take a deep breath and determine if you have a valid physical reason to be experiencing the symptoms. (A stomach ache could just be food poisoning, but not if you’re also suddenly hyper vigilant and shaking.) If you suspect you’re having an anxiety attack, stop and take care of yourself at that moment.
Navigating the Waves
There’s several ways to cope, such as deep breathing or focusing, but frequent attacks means you may need professional attention. Grounding is a great and simple way to get through an anxiety attack and can be done anywhere. One grounding technique is to find five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Sometimes you can’t actually experience one of those things, but it may help to imagine them. For example, if you can’t taste anything, imagine the flavor of your favorite comfort food.
Aside from grounding and the other suggestions linked above, managing anxiety is more than just navigating the waves. The goal should be to come to a point when attacks are few to none and managing is easy. For this, we have coaches, counselors, therapists, peer support networks, and so much more. Anxiety affects so many of us, so we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel alone in the struggle. Feelings aren’t facts, but they sure are real and they affect us all. Let’s support one another and seek help. Let’s smash the stigma of reaching out and come together in communal support. Together, we can make calm waters.