Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Dummy's Guide to Anxiety

The Dummy's Guide to Anxiety
9 Simple Steps

For the sake of full disclosure let me be clear : This blog post is NOT going to tell you how to cope or overcome anxiety. The purpose of this post is to serve as a guide for those of you who feel as though you have merely toed the churning waters of anxiety and are interested in taking the plunge. It is also for those of you who have had some beginner's experience and are ready for the master's level. Consider me as your own personal anti-Zen guru. Let's begin!

1. Thoughts : Perhaps one of the most important yet basic steps in producing anxiety is to ensure that your first and last thoughts of any given day focus on things that are beyond your control. If you have trouble conjuring such a thought then try beginning a sentence with a simple phrase like "What if" -->
    Example 1 : What if it snows tomorrow and the roads on my way to work are bad?
    Example 2 : What if I forgot to lock my car?

You may have the urge to search for a solution or try a breathing exercise but attempting either would be counter-productive. Simply focus on the problem at hand and then move on to the next (I assure you there will be another one).

2. Self-Control : There are a number of people out there that believe that it detrimental to our well-being to allow our emotions to push us around and dictate our behavior. If you are truly serious about embracing anxiety then listen carefully when I say that the more control your emotions have over you, the better off you will be! This serves two purposes-->
    1. You will produce many more situations that will result in anxiety
    2. You will be able to wallow in your anxiety on an entirely new level
If your coworker just said something that could have been meant as a personal insult then spend the next 5 minutes thinking about how hurtful that was, how it could be a sign of deep resentment towards you, or what you could have done to deserve the comment in the first place. If your significant other did not sound particularly cheerful on the phone or did not embrace you when you saw each other then assume something is going on and focus on how distant you feel, what the ramifications of this act could mean, etc. The more creative you can be the better!

3. Structure : There is a little bit of a spectrum regarding structure in your life. On the one end you have Zero Structure and on the other you have what I like to refer to as Labyrinthine Structure. It is up to you which you choose but please be aware that you must not work towards a median or "balanced approach".
    1. Zero Structure : Not to be confused with being "laid back" or "relaxed", the Zero Structure approach means that you do not make plans, budgets, deadlines, etc. If you incorporate this approach you will find that opening your mail will never be the same and that your friends and relatives will begin to react in ways that fuel your anxiety!
    2. Labyrinthine Structure : The key to this approach can be summed up in one beautiful word - overextension. If you are in school your professors will assist you with this especially during your midterms and finals, but for those of us who are not merely handed such good fortune, we must make our own way! Schedule as many events (e.g. doctor's appointments) on one day as possible and be sure that they are located in such a way that being there on time is nigh impossible. The moment you hear someone mention an event that requires help be sure to volunteer and make sure you hand out your personal phone number to everyone involved, just in case they need to reach you at 3 AM!

4. Goals : It is best to think as long term as possible regarding goals. Do not limit yourself to a simple 5 or 10 Year plan when all the cool stressed out kids have the next 50 years of their lives typed and saved in Microsoft Word! If you have a family member that seems to excel in a particular field of study a good goal could be trying to become better than that individual! This works even better if you have no interest in that subject matter or if you lack the natural skillset required.

5. Peer Support : Do not confide or talk to anyone. Ever. People are well meaning but they do not understand you or your troubles and even if you spent the next 127 hours trying to communicate them to another person that individual would, if anything, understand you less as a result! Keep everything inside and remind yourself, often, that you are alone in your struggles. You are, after all, an unfathomably complex and unique person that the world has never seen before and could never ever ever EVER appreciate or understand.

6. Exercise : Much like Structure, Exercise is a field in which there is a bit of a spectrum. In the scientific community they are referred to as the Fetal Approach and Twitching Puppy Approach.
    1. Lazy Cat Approach : In truth this philosophy is driven by an ingeniously simple concept - move as little as possible no matter what. Do not run when you can walk and do not walk when you can order someone else to bring you the remote. If you feel as if this will not produce the necessary level of anxiety try subscribing to magazines or watch hours of TV shows and movies that feature fit, skinny, beautiful people. Keep a mental list of all the ways in which they are better than you or the things they can do that you will never be able to (e.g. perform a real cartwheel)
    2. Twitching Puppy Approach : Similar to its third-cousin-once-removed, the Lazy Cat Approach, the Twitching Puppy Approach succeeds due to its delightful simplicity. The key ingredient is excess. The preferred approach requires hours of exercise every day and the understanding that anything less than making Jillian Michaels cry out of jealousy makes you an absolute failure. A wonderful addition to this approach is the Shaky Leg. Whenever you sit or stand try to move or otherwise jostle your leg(s) as     much as possible. Not only will this allow your pulse to quicken unnecessarily but if there are others near you they will be affected as well.

7. Identify and Label the Emotion : One of the best ways to heighten anxiety is to misidentify and mislabel your emotions or the emotions of others. If what you are feeling could be sadness or, better yet, be the result of a lack of sleep, be quick to identify it as anger and act accordingly. If your friend just laughed do not assume that it is because of the joke you just told -- sometimes people laugh when they are angry and want to hurt you. Deeply.

8. Diversion : Do not have hobbies or interests. Do not engage in any activity that requires you to go outside of yourself. I don't care if it's scrapbooking, a bible study, or the latest episode of Community - reject these as the distractions they are and find a shadowy corner where you can properly reflect on the failures of the day.

9. Laughter : It is a well known and mathematically proven concept that laughter is toxic to anxiety. It is often symptomatic of a deeper issue and one that I have avoided until now - not taking yourself seriously enough. If you wish to be an expert on anxiety (i.e. like me) then you must realize that not only is life not funny, but it is dreadfully serious and the only way to enjoy it is to realize that it must be controlled, micromanaged, and analyzed to death. Seriously.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Not So Glorious Return

Thus begins my glorious return to blogging! I realize it's been awhile since my last post and to anyone who has actually been keeping tabs on my blog, I apologize for my absence! I am getting married this upcoming May, I work full-time, and, as I have mentioned before, I have a lazy streak... Oddly enough none of these excuses are why I have been away. The real reason I have not sent my fingers dancing over the keyboard is that I have not had anything to say. I like my posts to be like scrambled eggs – light and fluffy with a dash of something extra for flavor (sarcasm is better than pepper). I really hate politics and social issues but it's difficult not to feel as though we're drowning in both these days. I used to listen to talk radio on my way to and from work and several weeks ago I realized I could not take it any more and opted for Pandora instead. I now start my days driving over the speed limit with techno damaging my speakers (and ears) but at least when I arrive at my chosen destination I do not feel as though my heart has sunk and my blood pressure has climbed.

Some people live for confrontation and the thrill of a debate. I am quite the opposite. Perhaps it is due to my being a middle child or maybe it's just that I have never been particularly good at winning arguments. We can always play it safe and opt for both. I know a fair number of people who enjoy this kind of thing, even thrive on it. In spite of this I still love them and still hang out with them, though I admit my entire being cringes if I am present when the games begin. I'm not the wishy-washy person running in the middle crying “Why can't we all just along?!” but I'm closer to that than the “Take no prisoners” individual. I guess I'm wondering where the balance is. I have no idea and I worry that by the time I figure it out I will have let far too many situations creep by where I should have stood up for my beliefs or. at the very least, stood up for something with a better defense than stoic silence.

I have often said that one of the reasons that I love Fantasy literature is that it (usually) provides us with a reality in which Good and Evil are more stark. The protagonist, whether eager or reluctant, must go into battle and literally fight Evil. In some cases this may be an orc, goblin, dragon, mad king, witch, evil sorcerer, etc..... but the reality remains the same – Evil exists and must be stopped. Reality is not so easy. We do not fight merely one glorious battle but rather a million little skirmishes every day – washing the dishes, going to work, treating others with kindness, saying your prayers, etc. It is a wearying thing. Evil rarely introduces itself as such and can easily slip past our meager defenses. Would it not be easier if we could point to specific individuals or situations and be able to say “You see that disembodied glowing eye? Yeah, don't vote for that thing!” or “I dunno... that awesome looking sugar house may not be worth approaching after all, man”. I realize I'm rambling here, but it's late and, well, it is my blog after all.

In the end I am a very, very small person in a very, very big world. I have my beliefs, my loved ones, and prayer. Also, Pandora radio station. If you figure it all out let me know :)

xoxo Hannah

* I don't feel like using gender neutral terminology. Apologies if you're ridiculous sensitive to this**.
** I'm not really apologizing