The “A” word.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a health professional in any way. I wrote this from some research and personal experience. Read at your own risk…as if.
As an educator (which may already qualify me as crazy!) I’ve noticed a drastic increase in anxiety over the 15 years I’ve been in the classroom, not just in the students, but IN ME! If I take the time to break down exactly what causes it, well, one word stands out. STRESS!
For example, this year I have a female sixth grader who is in tears at least twice a week, and not just in my classroom. She is a very smart, over-achiever, who puts so much stress on herself when completing class work, that she automatically ends in tears.
Immediately, I began to analyze how an 11-year-old sweetheart like her can have THAT much stress in her life. Low self-confidence, unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, and that’s just to name a few. It breaks my heart that a young lady can even HAVE that much stress in their life! I immediately go back to my sixth-grade year and think if I was stressed, or really down on myself, or anything even remotely similar to what my students could be feeling. It’s tragic, really.
My anxiety first surfaced when I began experiencing a serious and quite scary physical symptom of stress called panic attacks, soon followed by Tachycardia. Whenever I experienced a stressful situation in my life, as soon as I felt it wasn’t relieved or solved, my heart rate would leap up to about 200 beats per minute in an instant, and stay there for anywhere from a minute, to 45 minutes!
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.” Basically, it feels like your heart is about to explode in your chest and it feels as though you just ran a marathon. I tried to count it as exercise, just to find the levity in the situation, but that really did not work.
My panic attacks and tachycardia began the year I got divorced. My heart was healthy enough, but apparently, it was “misfiring” and the final doctor I saw about it, more than 20 years later, called it an electrical problem. A comical way to explain a not-so-funny experience.
As I aged and went through what women look so forward to all their lives (not having to buy sanitary napkins ever again), my stress, apparently, increased to the point where eventually I had experienced more than four Emergency Room visits, so eventually they diagnosed and scheduled me for an ablation.
Over twenty years of suffering with this issue, it took a five hour heart surgery, and my ticker was never to experience that discomfort again. Yes, your body can seriously react to any type of stress.
Next came the anxiety that CAN’T be controlled with surgery. The feeling of panic that comes from merely standing OUTSIDE an Apple Store. Knowing I have to enter to do my business, but unable to take the first step. When I finally do, I’m accosted by immediate sensory overload, to which my body reacts in a manner easily described as total panic.
I employ deep breathing, I look down at the floor, hoping the cacophony will stop and I can just do what I need to, and quickly leave. I catch myself holding my breath, only to barely be able to force my needed breath in and out. It’s real, and it’s more common than we realize.
It literally took me years to realize that I wasn’t crazy, and that as people were pointing their own behaviors out to me, I began to seriously consider that no, it wasn’t something I was making up. It wasn’t a feeling that really wasn’t there, and that I should try to ignore. Just like everything else in our lives, we need to pay extremely close attention to what our body, and mind, is telling us.
It took one major issue at Denver International Airport, to push me almost literally over the edge. “He said” and I were taking a trip and had just checked in. We were making our way to the security line as this feeling began to inundate me. Here I go. My hands, and legs, were shaking, the room was closing in on me, and my senses were blaring out at me, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
By the time we completed our security check, I was nearly jumping out of my skin. The answer, at the time, as my poor husband had no idea how to console me, was a nice Bloody Mary, or three, prior to getting on the plane. No, I don’t recommend trying to control your anxiety with alcohol, but in that situation, YOU USE WHAT’S READILY AVAILABLE!
HOW DID WE GET SO STRESSED?
Perhaps someone should have realized the growing trend of people suffering from anxiety and the increase of prescriptions written for anxiety. It would be very interesting to track who is taking meds, what they do for a living, and what age they are when they begin. Perhaps then we could map it all back to a specific time period that our lives became so damned busy or stressful.
When did our lives become more about getting things done quickly, rather than getting things done? When did our lives change so significantly that no one has the time to sit and write out 50 Christmas cards anymore, or handwrite a thank you note, or ANY note for that matter?
Perhaps it was when suddenly more women went into the workforce and it became a juggling of home and work, leaving no time for ourselves. Maybe it was when kids became not only responsible for having a successful academic life, but an extracurricular life as well.
Perhaps it was when we stopped caring about being passionate about what we choose for a career and found ourselves forced into a high paying, boring, and unfulfilling job. Suddenly we are reading books about how to take care of ourselves, as though we haven’t already been raised, and additionally raised kids. Mom stress is real.
What about Dad stress? Imagine carrying around the burden of having to be the bread winner. In my childhood, both parents worked. My sister and I spent a ton of time at Nanna’s and Pappy’s house, just up the street, and ALWAYS had dinner at the table, sometimes doing a lot of the preparation ourselves, until our parents got home.
That was back in the 50s! Dad’s stress is also very real, but I’ll let “He said” address that one. Gender roles have changed so very much. Is that fact accompanied by equal stress? I do believe so.
IS THERE HOPE FOR ME?
As I sit and peruse the school’s daily schedule, especially over the past few years, I notice one thing. WE ARE WORKING OUR CHILDREN TO DEATH, or at least to the point of needing medication to handle this ridiculous thing we call formal education. Seriously, students at the school I’m in, have a whopping total of 30 MINUTES for lunch.
They arrive at 8:30 a.m. and are here until 4:00 p.m. most days. Some of them even stay after for additional help. Can you remember what your school day was like? Did you ever freak out about juggling your schedule for school and trying to figure out when to do your homework?
Oh, and when you got home, was it restaurant night every night, because both parents were working full time and no one had time to cook a REAL dinner?
As I began to look at this world we live in now, and after a few discussions with fellow educators, I came to realize it wasn’t all about Menopause, or getting older, or losing control of my thoughts and feelings. It was about this life, and not taking time for me and a plethora of other things.
I wasn’t in this alone, but I, alone, had to figure out how I was going to surpass this, especially since retirement was still MANY years away! Suddenly, there was hope. There were tools, ideas, and yes, medication.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not pushing meds here at all. I’m saying that even after years of counseling, panic attacks, and tachycardia episodes, it was my ultimate relief when I found the med that helped. Not only that, but I had to double it one year when my tools were failing me in every other way.
However, there are other ways to figure out what’s happening to you and ways in which you can alleviate those symptoms. However, when you are in the midst of a panic attack, your entire body is caught up in the moment and it is sometimes nearly impossible to stop and STOP!
According to Web MD, there are many reasons we suffer from anxiety. Some are actually physical reasons, based on different types of medications, such as side effects. Mental conditions cause anxiety in many individuals, such as panic disorder and thyroid issues.
Phobias are also big stress causers. It appears as though mental conditions are at least a reasonable cause for anxiety, or, is the anxiety causing the mental issues? Hmmm…
The one thing that was even more impactful, when it came to seeing the origination of anxiety, was the list of EXTERNAL FACTORS that can cause anxiety.
- Stress at work
- Stress from school
- Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage <https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/default.htm>
- Financial stress
- Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
- Stress from a serious medical illness
- Side effect of medication <https://www.webmd.com/drugs/index-drugs.aspx>
- Use of an illicit drug, such as cocaine <https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-1383/cocaine+topical/details>
- Symptom of a medical illness, such as heart attack <https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-heart-attacks>, or heat stroke <https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/heat-stroke-symptoms-and-treatment>, https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/diabetes-hypoglycemia)
- Lack of oxygen in circumstances as diverse as high altitude sickness, https://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/what-is-emphysema, or pulmonary embolism <https://www.webmd.com/webmd/consumer_assets/controlled_content/healthwise/major/pulmonary_embolism-topic_overview_major_ue4085.xml>, a blood clot <https://www.webmd.com/dvt/blood-clots> in the vessels of the lung <https://www.webmd.com/lung/picture-of-the-lungs>)
Notice a pattern? A common thread? Wow. In this world of stress, stress, stress, what can I do? More importantly, what can ANYONE do? The fact is, until you can identify the cause, you really are going to remain a captive to your emotions and feel that lack of self-control.
Me? I refuse to find myself standing outside the Apple Store for hours, just getting up the nerve to face my fear and walk in. Now, don’t get me wrong, anxiety is NOT always a mind over matter situation. Trust me, I’ve tried. However, there are things you can do to alleviate your anxiety that I have found extremely valuable time and time again, even being on meds!
SHE SAID’S MAGICAL IDEAS (NOT REALLY) FOR ANXIETY
The hardest part of anxiety is to actually STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AT THE TIME YOUR ANXIETY IS AT IT’S HIGHEST POINT, OR JUST BEGINNING, AND ABORT! ABORT! Once again, I am NOT a medical professional, but I can tell you what works for me, and perhaps, it will help you, too!
First, identifying when your anxiety is beginning is the key. I begin with small things to actually keep that “beginning” from ever getting started. So, each and every day I listen to a Christian Music Station during my morning and afternoon commute.
If you are not into that kind of thing, religion I mean, you may decide that jazz, or classical music fits the positive thought goal. Whatever works for YOU! Just be sure it’s something soft, slow, and calming. Maybe listening to a motivational book (which I’ve also done) will help.
Keep your focus on driving slower (for me that would be THE speed limit), being a considerate driver, leaving enough space for another car to “fit in” if necessary, and a LOT more waves of appreciation for people, even if they didn’t INTENTIONALLY allow you to slide into their lane.
Second, be good to YOU! It’s terribly sad that we have to be TOLD to take care of ourselves, but from my personal experience, as a mom, we decided that all our time HAS to be for the children until… High school? College? Never? Start making massage appointments, start a new morning routine of beauty, or an evening bath with the bomb of your choice.
Additionally, be sure that you schedule a slice of time for silence. Yes, I’m serious. For me, that’s easy. Sometimes on my way to school, I simply turn off the “noise”. Even if it’s GOOD noise. And I, personally, like to talk to God.
Being faith based feels like I have Someone to fall back on, and it’s very peaceful for me. I focus on what it will take to have me walk into school, each and every day, feeling blessed, as I very well am.
You can also begin journaling. The great part about that is that you write it all down, focus on what you are writing (I prefer to write so my brain slows down to actually absorb my thoughts).
I actually, after journaling for months, decided that my entries were filled with questions and that wasn’t beneficial for me, so for every question I wrote, I was sure to at least GUESS an answer. It was all about MY benefit, not that I was going to sell my journal for a million dollars, although boy, wouldn’t that be nice. I still have them all, a full stack of steno notebooks, and they are even dated.
What you SHOULD NOT do is perseverate on things. When you find yourself freaking out about an incident, and you can feel your anxiety rising, think of the blessings or positives in your life. PUSH THOSE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS OUT! Put out the trash, is what I call it.
I will never forget the wonderfully “new start” feeling I got when I took the entire box of a former “He said’s” belongings and put it into the trash. I was so exhilarated by that one act that suddenly I realized holding on to memories of the past, that are painful, are not worth my time.
I am not talking about trashing everything from your past, but you KNOW which memories are going to always be there, and you don’t need that physical reminder to keep it.
Do NOT feel as though you are ever alone. The biggest wake up call I received was when I had a personal conversation with a colleague, only to find out that not only she, but her partner, was on anti-anxiety meds. Suddenly, what I was battling was not just a private matter.
HIPPA SCHMIPPA! I felt in such great company, only to find out many others were also taking anxiety meds and were actually able to live a fulfilled life as a result. The biggest battle I had to fight was molding my mind around the fact that I actually EXHAUSTED all other tools in my extensive toolbox, before I went on meds, and suddenly I didn’t feel like I was weak, or choosing the “easy way out”.
Be confident that you KNOW what will work for you, and when it’s not working anymore, MOVE ON.
Anxiety is a horribly crippling condition that affects so many more people than we can even imagine. Ask yourself this…how long are you willing to wait to be happy? Yes, exactly my point. Blessings and love to you all!