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Dealing with anxiety

Posted on | Tags: anxiety, mental health, menopause | Comments (12)

I have a problem with anxiety. My first husband had a severe anxiety disorder. Not just, "a bit of a worrier" sort of anxiety, but jealousy, paranoia, hyperchondria... he had the works.

Cat outside window

It can be quite stressful being the wrong side of the window

If I was visiting a city, he worried so much that I'd have my handbag stolen (it happened once) that he'd remove my debit card from my purse before I went. At one stage he used to check my purse every day and demand that I accounted for every penny spent. I'd have minded less if he'd always put it back in my handbag afterwards.

I could go on at great length, but you get the picture. His anxiety translated into very controlling behaviour. When we split up, I promised myself two* things; one was that I'd never again let someone else's anxiety control my life.

Since then, I've had a problem with other people's anxiety. I try not to let it show (probably unsuccessfully), but I have very little patience with it. For too long I was required to take concerns seriously that were quite irrational products of anxiety. I won't do it any more.

With this background, it's very difficult to accept that I might suffer from anxiety myself. I'm prone to depression, I know, both seasonally and in response to stress, but not anxiety, surely? I don't have the classic symptoms, particularly rumination, that is, I don't tend to dwell on negative thoughts, turning them over and over in my mind. I'm also fairly optimistic; I tend to work on the basis that positive outcomes are reasonably likely (whilst making contingency plans for things going less well).

On the other hand, I do procrastinate badly, sometimes to the point of paralysis. I've come to recognise that this is an anxiety response. Yes, I know that's stating the bleeding obvious. Anxiety doesn't make its way into my conscious thoughts, but it does stop me doing things. When I'm really stressed, I can just seize up, unable to motivate myself to do any task.

OK, this level of self-knowledge is valuable. I can accept that anxiety is a thing for me, albeit not the typical worrying kind. This is something I can come to terms with. But recently, things have changed. Worries, particularly about money, have been very real and very conscious. I've been interpreting things people say in the most negative way possible, to the point of reading things in that really weren't there in the first place. This puts a heavy strain on relationships.

Quite apart from the problems these reactions cause directly, they're triggering a whole lot of other stuff for me. What the **** is happening to me? This isn't me! Or is it? Was I always like this, but didn't see it - couldn't face it? Have I been in denial for for years? Am I not the person I thought I was?

OK, stop that, Rachel. There's a spiral of meta-ansiety kicking off here, which goes nowhere good. Back up. Let's assume that I haven't always been like this and something's changed. So what, then? Well anxiety is a known symptom of menopause, and I'm 46, so that's a fairly plausible explanation. I also have quite specific things to be anxious about - money and job, the latter of which I'll tell you more about another time. Then there's the situation in the world at large - climate change, Brexit, Covid 19. All of these are likely causes of a generalised anxiety.

There's no need to pin down exactly what's causing my anxiety, it's enough for me to see that there are several potential causes that could explain it. I feel that it ought to be enough to say, "Yeah, anxiety's a thing. Lots of people have it - apparently I have it, too," but I find it helps to add, "and here are some likely reasons why I've got it." Having got that far, I can stop beating myself up about losing my marbles, or being a person I don't want to be, and face the anxiety itself. I don't like it, but if I've got it, I'd better deal with it head on.

What does that look like, dealing with it head on? For me, the main thing is to acknowledge that it's there. Ideally, I want to be able to do this in the moment, at the point when everything seems awful. This isn't easy, because it's in the nature of anxiety to get you worked up and not thinking clearly. If I can recognise an anxiety-driven response as it's happening, I have a chance of stepping back a bit and not acting on it.

If I can think, "He probably didn't really mean that, that's just a projection of my anxiety," then I might be able to stop myself resonding negatively. If I can think, "This probably isn't complete rubbish, that's just my anxiety," I might be able to carry on and finish making the thing. That's the goal, anyway.

Second best is to be able to reflect on what happened after I've calmed down, and review my interpretation of the situtation. Apologise if necessary. That kind of correction-after-the-event can stop anxiety pushing me around too much.

I've been very reluctant to accept the fact that I have anxiety, and I hope I'm not stuck with it on a permanent basis, but apparently, right now, this is what I've got. All I can do is deal with it as best I can, so that's what I plan to do.


*The other was that I've never again let anyone stop me dancing. I have to make an exception for a pandemic. Return to text

Comments (12)

  1. Paul Campbell:
    Dec 15, 2020 at 09:55 PM

    Looking out of a window, to a world that we cant control makes us feel helpless. The current situation with everything going on from Covid19 to brexit to job security, is enough to push people over the edge. My own situation in the past year hasn't been great. Back in 2006 i gave up work totally to care for my grandmother who had been diagnosed with dementia. I cared for her for 6 years until 2012 and while the country was going Olympics crazy, i was stuck in a world of depression because my nan had died. I sat at home now without a reason to go on or so i thought. I had just spent 6 years caring and forgetting there was a world out there and now i was back to being able to go out and live a life again i had forgotten kind of what i was supposed to do with that life. Yes i had anxiety too and i realise that now plus yes i was depressed too. After a while i realised that i had to get out and doing things. This though was hard to begin with as i didn't want to do anything. I had to really push myself to get out and get on with things. So yes i get where you are coming from with this post. Sure sometimes people say things and we don't understand fully the context to what they are saying and can mistake what they say for something else. I do this with text messages quite a lot. Ill even go to the point of phoning someone up to ask them if they meant what i was thinking their text would say. Yes life can get better and be less "scary" but i think we all have a bit of doubt in us. You should never let anyone stop you dancing, but yes i agree maybe a pandemic is the only one who should stop you.


    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 16, 2020 at 12:54 PM

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. When you've been completely focused on something for years and suddenly that's gone, that can be hard to deal with even when the focus wasn't someone you love, and you have grief to cope with as well.

      I think you have the right strategy with phoning people up to check what they meant. Misunderstandings can cause so much unnecessary suffering!


  2. Alexander (Eddie) Stevenson-Kaatsch:
    Dec 16, 2020 at 05:07 AM

    I fully realise that irrational anxiety is a 'thing', having been to group therapy with other depressives who had that burden as well as depression. I find that we probably all have that facility locked away in our subconscious , doing its thing to find answers and give alternatives to our conscious mind. When it is encouraged of automatically surfaces and is no longer hidden, that is when our mental gearbox is open to the fresh air... not a good thing. The best I can do is offer mental escape hatches to help one out of those endless circular arguments. First of all, all this is exactly like living as we all do, under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. There's bugger all we can do about it. We might be hit by a socking great meteorite or a bus instead. There is a level of continuous risk to life and limb that one has to simply shrug your shoulders at. "Fuck all I can do to change that... I'm going to ignore it. It's just part of life." Then you get down to minutia. The times I used to go back and forth to the door to make absolutely certain I had locked it, that I had the key on me, etc, etc. I've never been broken into or even had inquisitive strangers poking their noses around my house, so now I hide a key outside in case I forget my normal one and unless I'm off for a day or more, I don't lock it normally anyway. There's no need to. I used to always be desperately chasing the time, drib hell for leather to get to places 'on time', always leaving either too late or stupidly early. Then I remembered the really ancient grandfather clock from my childhood. It had but a single hand to show the hours. None other was fitted nor needed. A few minutes either way wasn't and still isn't of any consequence. Now I usually try to have my phone with me, but use it next to never and often forget. It is my watch. I wear no other timepiece. There is no need. Then there is the fear of failure, that your plans won't work out, etc. Easy solution... don't make plans. They're only fictions laid over reality anyway. Just decide on a general direction. It gives you the excuse to divert, stop and look around, or scoot forward and ignore stuff on the way. Decisions, oh God, decisions! Which is best? Which way is shortest? Am I doing the right thing? Is 'this' ME? Should I accept that invitation? ad nausium. It was said of Churchill that one of his greatest qualities was his ability to make a decision. He said that it wasn't that critical to make the right decision, just to make one and then deal with things as they arose after you had. He was a 'good example' of how to simply get around the constant inability to plump for the best decision. Just throw a dart at the dartboard of reasonably good ideas and go down that path. In the end, it DOESN'T MATTER, not in the great scheme of things. Failure is no more than a concept, not reality. Remembering isn't going to change much at all in the universe. If you forget something, never mind. You've remembered you forgot... or you'll never recall. I doesn't matter. The world will go on perfectly fine. For my own part as a depressive of sorts, who is dreadfully forgetful and can't recall so much he needs to in life and has eight different pills to munch through every day, I know the signs of me falling off the path into, well, that sort-of insanity the pills are there to manage. Once you know, then you are in some sort of control. Often it's just not doing stuff. Not buying a thing, making a decision, arguing with people, indulging in endless phone conversation about ones dismay at the world, life and everything between. Basically, I just stop. I might read, go for a walk, go to bed, whatever, until I'm feeling balanced once more. When there are things wrong in your head, you can't trust it to steer you along until it has settled back down, so just stop and let it. If you can't sleep at night for worrying or something just keeps spinning around in your mind, get up instead. Have a bowl of cornflakes and a cup of tea. Watch some late night crap telly, read a book (have a battered old Kindle that you can get free books on if you ask it for them). You might be awake until dawn... so stay up and do your day. You'll probably sleep like a log the following night. The mind is a fickle thing. You can invent ways to trick it into doing what you want it to do. To get up when I HAVE to (appointment perhaps), I set my alarm clock and put it where I have to get out of bed to turn it off... then I'm up in my mind and stumble off to enter the day. If it takes more than that, have multiple clocks scattered about that'll pester you until you give in and arise. I have a key-cupboard. In it live 'the keys'. All the keys, all the time. I want a key? It's in the cupboard. I have a key? It can ONLY leave my hand when I hang it in the key cupboard... now I don't constantly lose keys all the time. One needs to find ways of tricking oneself to make necessary things happen. It takes away the worry. The other weird thing is that I find my internal clock will wake me up five minutes before the alarm clocks, nine times out of ten! The brain is an incredibly complex thing, but it also can be manipulated by the user of itself. You'll have to find out by experimenting, what ways you can get yourself to break circular thoughts with a certain kind of spanner in the works, how to avoid stressing over the indecisive by just plonking for a 'good enough' solution and how to redirect your mind and attention from one sort of thinking to another entirely. From a stranger's viewpoint, one who spent much of there life in long term partnerships, you become half of a whole and when it ends there's only half left and it isn't all the same half you brought into it with. You have adapted for you partner's personality, changed from what you were mostly like before. Be aware that our conscious life is our personality and it is pretty much a varnish, not 'who I am'. A slight change can crack the varnish to reveal the brute animal within. We are all killers, all great lovers, poets, fighters, whatever, under the varnish of personality. A bang on the head, too much alcohol, drugs, etc, can reveal how little it takes to become a whole new person, quite impossible to equate with whom we were before. Thus saying, asking oneself whom one is, is rather pointless. You are what you decide to be.


    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 16, 2020 at 01:12 PM

      Oh, wow! Thanks for all this, Eddie - there's so much good stuff in here!
      I'm very much in agreement with your approach of accepting the way your brain works then finding escape hatches - mental tricks, whatever you like to call them - for dealing with them. I could get stuck not accepting that I have anxiety because it doesn't fit my picture of myself, but life is better if I accept that I do have it and try to deal with it. Wishing it away, or trying to fight it with willpower, just doesn't work.


  3. Anneli Truu:
    Dec 16, 2020 at 07:21 AM

    This is rather an issue just now, as you said, generally due to the current circumstances in the world. I talked recently with my friend about how the trail of thoughts goes these days and that i don’t think i’ve ever had these kind of thoughts before and it’s slightly frightening me ... she said it’s anxiety and that i should try meditation. I then started to sort my thoughts and track them and recognise possible triggers/reasons whilst i was knitting and you could just be right here, that lateral thinking about this is sonewhat helping to recognise thoughts and behaviours earlier in time and one coukd somewhat train their own anxiety. Obviously not all can manage as anxiety leveks and copying levels are absolutely infividual, but i do believe that often self help is working better than other kinds. Take care of yourself and feel free to pop me a message if you feel like need to talk to a neutral party.


    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 16, 2020 at 01:15 PM

      I'm sure you're right that a lot of people are facing this for the first time. I'm sorry you're also going through this, but glad to hear that you're finding strategies that help. Thanks for the offer of a chat, too. x


  4. Terry Barnhurst:
    Dec 16, 2020 at 08:28 AM

    So interesting as my daughter suffers from anxiety its very hard to understand it if you don't suffer from it as a father I try but it really gets to me sometimes


    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 16, 2020 at 01:18 PM

      I see a lot of advice for supporting people with anxiety, but not much recognition of how hard it is to live with someone who's suffering from it. It may be just because I tend to rely on reason quite a lot, but it was the irrationality of it that really got to me. There's no reasoning with someone who's severely anxious. You can see that their worries are totally unreasonable, but anxiety doesn't listen to reason. You have my sympathy. x


  5. Jayne:
    Dec 16, 2020 at 11:13 AM

    Another piece of superb writing, I have come to expect no less from you ????

    In respect of being a victim of controlling (abusive) behaviour, are you familiar with C-PTSD?

    In recent years I guess everyone has become familiar with PTSD and how it affects victims of sudden trauma, military personnel, and many others. Less known is the very real condition of Complex-PTSD which arises after years and years of lower-level stress (but still stress, nonetheless), the sort that is prevalent in controlling relationships. You are clearly more than capable of doing your own research, so I won't blether on, but you may well be suffering from something like this, and even if it cannot ever be fully resolved it can be mitigated. xxx


    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 16, 2020 at 01:20 PM

      Thank you, compliments are always nice to hear :-)

      I have come across C-PTSD in relation to childhood abuse, but haven't read very much about it. I may do a bit more research in that area, thanks. x


  6. John Nelson:
    Dec 14, 2021 at 11:16 AM

    Such an interesting article and a few things I can identify with. Particularly the "in the moment facing anxiety head on" sort of thing. That is something I find so hard to do. But like everyone, I've had triggers over the last 51 years of life. For many I think this starts with something early in life - but then can manifest itself when an adult.
    My Mum suffered with schizophrenia - from about the 80's onwards. Of course growing up was quite a challenge and I feel that this has shaped me as a person. Sadly whenever the "S" word is uttered many do tend to jump to all the wrong conclusions. Given the media's treatment of the subject, people don't tend to understand and look at the full picture. In the main they don't want to go there and in some cases I get the feeling people assume I have the same condition (I haven't).
    The fall-out from this, in my case, is anxiety (strangely panic attacks on motorways) and bouts of depression. I like to think these days, with age I just fight it, but I can't pretend it doesn't affect my life. The fighting because I have two kids and also the fact I now live in France, which throws up a whole lot of challenges. I can mis-judge things sometimes (the paranoia can kick in - and it is hard to be conscious of accepting that) - in particular concerning my French in-laws. Some of it can be justified, but in the main it can't. My partner has accepted who I am. She has her own problems (like most of us have). So happily we just accept each others limitations. We have been together 25 years now, 24 of those in France.
    I count myself lucky, as we have a fairly stable life compared to what I had in the past. But I am always conscious of how my behaviour can affect my kids and of course how they deal with life in the future. For the moment they are both happy and perfectly normal.
    I really haven't sorted out the anxiety on motorways issue, which is frustrating in a country as big as France. But I think that we have to accept that even through some of us have depressive episodes, that if others can't accept who we are warts and all then in short it is their problem and not yours. Particularly those who think that they need to be robotic, put on a front and hide their feelings. Isn't that the real problem? We need to communicate without that ever present fear of being judged by others.
    Bon courage à vous!


  7. rseabrook:
    Feb 24, 2022 at 02:11 PM

    Hi John, sorry I didn't see your comment at the time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, very interesting.
    Bon courage!


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