5 Things I Learned About Anxiety During Hurricane Elsa

Whether you are the one anxious, or just trying to navigate being collateral damage, here's to finding your calm in a storm of distressing symptoms.

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“It feels like you are always holding back a scream. It feels like you are a balloon in a room of pin-edged everything. Like you are a hostage to irrationality and even when you observe yourself being “dramatic”, the feeling of panic still ensues. You can’t just snap out of it. One breath away from bursting into tears. Anxiety is very real. It’s hard to feel safe in your own body. It’s not a punchline or a scapegoat to get out of responsibility. For some, it’s a daily struggle to fight to be ‘normal’. It’s a feeling of hopelessness when you think you have turned a corner and the very next moment, you are back where you started. Robbed from lightheartedness and laughter and the ability to be social. What’s stolen, is your personality. It is taxing. But, most of all, it’s lonely. It’s distressing not knowing when it’s going to get better, like not for a day or a few hours, but like actually better!  It feels weak and scary and makes you not want to get out of bed. It changes your whole body and then it changes how you exist in the world.

It is not a bad mood, it’s mental cancer.”

— Gi Gi O’Brien

I’m sitting staring into oblivion after just escaping a panic. I’m triggered. The winds are 75 mph and Tropical Storm Elsa has just been upgraded to a hurricane, but that’s not why I am anxious. We cope with the big things. The monumental challenges are dominated and then the tiniest things demolish us. The ferocity of havoc and disorder outside my window feels like a reflection of what I have been living with internally for the past months. I realize that anxiety and hurricanes aren’t that different. 

Everyone is being impacted by this hurricane. Mother Earth doesn’t even escape her own doing. The strongest of buildings succumb to the power of the elements as roofs are torn off and outdoor furniture is rearranged by the wind. Nothing escapes it. Just like the rest of the world cannot escape the impact of anxiety because there are knock-on effects and secondary whiplash. Colleagues, friends, family, and lovers. Even the strongest bystanders can crumble from being exposed to high levels of anxiousness. It continues to disrupt environments, health care, careers, remote working, education, innovation, creativity, wellness, human relationships, and the peace inside of homes.

Anxiety is the scale of the opportunity it is, because of the sheer size of the problem it truly is.

$709 Bn

“$709 Billion dollars is the return on investment that the world would see if countries were to substantially scale up treatment for anxiety disorders and depression over the next 15 years, according to a World Health Organization.”

Extract from “By the numbers: The economic cost of anxiety and depression”

Saying how we feel is something we can no longer avoid. 

We’re struggling to fight another day against anxiety. 

We cannot pretend that we are ok. 

Creating safety so people with anxiety can say that, it’s a global shift into a powerful capacity to heal and thrive. We cannot heal if we do not admit that we are broken. 

I discovered that the greatest relief from Anxiety came from feeling understood. I think understanding suffering, and the people being impacted by the secondary effects of this suffering, could change the entire way we exist. The electricity on the island has been shut down for safety. The power is out, so I go old-school. It’s me, a pen, and the empty back of a bank statement. I write a list of words that describe what an anxiety episode feels like for me. 

Naming emotions is one of the most powerful things we can do to better understand ourselves psychologically.

To be honest with yourself about what you are experiencing as a primary or secondary person with anxiety provides a start point to coping. Those emotions, those words, those descriptions are a life map. Analyze them, discuss them lovingly and go deeper into what needs to be worked on. Listen to yourself, your inner voice, listen to others. Ask yourself for each word, is there more to this, is this accurate. Is this my truth, is there a healthier way to frame this? How can I help myself move past this life block? What is holding me back the most? What do I really need?

Coming out the other side, I feel like I took away a lot about how I handled my anxiety today.

Here are 5 things you can do whether you are the one anxious, or just trying to navigate being collateral damage. 

Slow Down, find your calm

Everything feels overwhelming and racing when anxious, the last thing you want to do is keep that pace. If you notice an episode of anxiety is starting, take a few breaths. Find your calm. Give yourself a hall pass to cope. This is just the Anxiety talking. It’s not logical and it’s not going to last. Do not dwell in this state, it’s dangerous. Purge and then persevere.

Tip; The “take 10 deep breaths” thing really works, the repeating “I’m going to be fine, it’s ok. This is just one moment.” thing works too. Count out loud if you need to. Pull up YouTube and type some keywords; tips for anxiety, overcoming anxiety, how to manage anxiety, anxiety relief meditation.

Don’t feed the demons, starve them 

My goal is simple; do not think bad thoughts.

I know when I am anxious my mind is hijacked by a bunch of demons and my job is to hide until the break-in is over. Safety first. Nothing good will happen when you feed the wrong thoughts. Feed the demons and they will find the fuel, the matches, the marshmallows, and chocolate and have a bloody bonfire and smores while celebrating the way you burn. Do not facilitate negativity. If you cannot think good thoughts because it feels fake, then just try not to think at all. As a secondary person, do not criticize the irrational thinking of the person suffering. Just opt for silence and soothing. For me staring into the abyss and not feeling guilty about not being productive helped. 

Tip; Describe the things in your surroundings, do you like the surfaces, windows, shades of green on the trees? What’s the door handle designed like, how does the wind sound, what song makes you feel better? Use your senses. Name things. Observe. Detach from the demons.

Leave the pep talk until the anxiety wears down 

I know for the bystanders, it feels like the right time to uplift by reminding your counterparts how good life is, why it isn’t as bad as they are making it out to be. But, this makes the person with anxiety feel worse sometimes. It makes them feel that their current feelings are dramatic, and they already know that. If they could pep themselves into the bright slay-like-a-boss place that you are trying to get them to, they would be there. Good on you for trying, but best to put that off until they have the capacity. Right now, it’s about getting through this.

Tip; Be supportive, less is more. Things like, “you are not alone and I’m here for you” or “ I know things are hard right now, but just give yourself a break, it’s ok to pause for a moment”, can really help the person remove themselves from intense symptoms and get past the episode. Each person should take time for a breather if that’s what they need.

Practice Patience, flight over fight 

Here’s the thing, being patient on both sides avoids a lot of things. It avoids discussions that are stemming from a hostile place, it also diffuses the chance of shots fired from short-fuses and people getting verbally injured when it could be avoided. It is not easy to stay quiet. Often people with anxiety can make others feel attacked, snapped at, and targeted. Being on the receiving end of that takes a whole lot of Mother Teresa to not follow your survival instinct to fight back when attacked. It also takes a whole lot of Gandhi to not let the anxiety turn you into a monster.

Take flight, do not fight.

Hold space, offload the amo, breathe. We are our choices, choose patience. 

Tip; If it’s too hard, take time alone. Make sure that everyone knows they are creating space with love and that they are there for each other. Small sentences from a patient and supportive place can go a long way. Do not just leave people hanging, rejection feels horrible. Don’t abandon someone with an attitude of anger and frustration.

Think Macro, there’s a bigger picture

What feels overwhelming during the hurricane, passes. The thing is, people with anxiety have very real physiological implications, not just psychological. Heart rate fluctuations, shortness of breath, digestive issues, headaches, tormenting mindset, and much more. Focus on getting through it with minimal damage. Find ways to ride out the storm in comfort. This too shall pass. It’s ok to have moments that are hard. Life is bigger than this moment and with consistent improvements, it becomes much better. We will make it past anxiety, and there is nothing quite as nice as a sunny day after a storm. 

Most of us are not proud of how we handle our anxiety, be it the person suffering, or the person coping with the person suffering. We all have a responsibility to look out for each other, create a foundation of compassion and get each other through the hurricane and back to high functioning as quickly as possible. If we are paying attention, we might even be better having gone through it. You learn a lot about yourself, others, and the world after overcoming adversity.

Never underestimate what a little calm, stillness, acceptance, patience, and support can do to help your company, relationships and home life thrive.

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