(Artwork by Zoe Shier)
Anxiety is a funny one because it manifests itself in so many different ways. I know that my anxiety is at the max when I become spacey and irritable but this is only a part of it. To me anxiety is definitely a physical experience more than anything. For example, I become sensitive to sound.
In other words, everything is really. Fucking. Loud.
I sit in a cafe. I’m painstakingly aware of discussions in other tables, squealing of children, clinking of glasses, dishes being stacked together. When a coffee grinder is turned on, it becomes almost unbearable.
It’s like I’m following an artsy orchestra performance where every sound of everyday life is given its own solo.
And there’s nothing I can do to turn it off. My best attempt is to distract myself with another sound such as music or a conversation or go to somewhere quiet, like a bathroom.
If none of that is possible, it’s like a torture method. I was on a bus a few days ago and a person behind me was eating an orange. I could smell it really strongly, which I didn’t mind in itself. But the sound. Dear god, the sound. The slurping and the smacking. Eating anything shouldn’t be creating this much sound, especially not an orange.
And I was going to be stuck in that bus for the next hour and a half.
Irritability and sensitivity to sound don’t mix either because I will hate whoever is being loud with every fibre of my being. For the duration that they are being loud I will curse them and their bloodline to the deepest pits of hell.
For someone who gets irritated relatively easily I don’t really get visibly angry. I’m actually pretty expressionless, to the extent that I probably should’ve become a poker player. Even if I was irritated with you, you’d have no idea. I’m surprised I haven’t popped a blood vessel at this point.
I know I need to do something when this happens because it can and will escalate. One time I had an anxiety attack at work because a busker had been playing the same song over and over again for two hours outside the office.
So what can you do?
I’d say try grounding yourself in some way. If you have something to focus on, it stops things from growing and becoming overwhelming inside your head. I usually call someone, listen to music or like said, take myself somewhere more quiet like a bathroom, a fitting room or just another side of the same space might even work.
I have the benefit of having two languages in use and sometimes all it takes to distract me is calling my parents and speaking Finnish to them. Using a foreign language isolates you from the surrounding space to begin with as nobody else has a clue what you’re talking about. Not that I speak about anything particularly interesting, but having to think in a different way all of a sudden might be what I need at that time.
It doesn’t really matter what you do at the end of the day. The main thing is not staying still and lying in the fire.
Also having the awareness that no matter how overwhelming the anxiety feels like at that specific moment in time when it freezes time, it does not last forever.
These are the times I wish there was an anxiety bracelet, the same way there are diabetes and dementia bracelets. I could just flash my wrist if someone were to ask me what’s wrong when I’m sitting with my head between my knees.
Because explaining yourself while anxious is, surprisingly, anxiety-inducing. The word ‘anxiety’ is thrown around so much that genuine mental health issue of anxiety can get mixed up with being slightly wound up.
Like a hedgehog curled to a ball you could be like:
“I’m OK. I just need a second.”
Me reading this post: