How to deal with your anxiety
One Saturday afternoon, back in 2018.
I’m at a friend’s house. We are just hanging out, drinking coffee, chatting. Later we will be making dinner and maybe watch a movie. It’s pretty chill and we are having a great time.
My phone pings.
It’s my client. The only one I had back then. The unpleasant slave-driver.
At this point I’m still refering to her as my boss. Although I have my own company and invoice her, which basically makes me the boss and her the client. But right now, she is the boss and I fear her. I really do.
This lady lives in Australia, I’m in Europe, so the time difference is not making things easier. She is very demanding and has no boundaries – and neither have I. I’m so afraid of losing this gig that I do whatever she asks me to do.
“Where the hell are you?”, reads her text. “I’m looking at this thing, and this thing is all wrong, and you need to fix it, and I need it right now!”
“I’m out this afternoon, I can get this to you tomorrow morning.”
“No, I need this now. Why is no one on this team ever doing their job? Why do I have to do it all myself?”
It goes on. We are 3 people working for her. Everyone has jumped into the conversation, trying to calm her down and fixing what obviously needs to be fixed right this second.
I curse myself for having ignored the thought in the back of my mind when I left the house. Why did I not bring my computer? I could have done what she asked in 15 minutes, and this would not be happening.
Never mind it’s Saturday, and the weekend, and I had plans. Your life is your business, so let’s all work 24/7.
Being yelled at is not new to me. My stepfather did it regularly, and so did some of the teachers at my school.
That doesn’t mean it makes it easier to deal with. I always interpret the yelling and the reason it’s occurring that I did make a huge mistake, I’m a moron and the worst person on the planet. I should have known better, I should have sniffed out what they needed, but here I am, stupid once more and completely uncapable of doing a very simple thing.
PTSD has a strong grip on me.
2022 has, if not my best, at least been my happiest year so far. I’m smiling all the time, I established some really good habits. I stopped talking myself down (huge win!). Most days I’m so happy I could scream, or cry with joy. I did that this week – joyful tears.
And then, when I was really flying high on Tuesday, another anxiety attack.
We had a technical hiccup and the client (a different one, I do not work for the slave-driver anymore) was, mildly put, pissed. I do get it. I would have been too in her situation. And although her messages were far from what I have witnessed before, they triggered me in the same way.
Shivering in a corner, unable to respond. Saying sorry way too many times, while frantically trying to figure out what went wrong. Beating myself up for being stupid and making mistakes.
The anxiety full on lasted for 17 hours. Sleep was not restful that night. The next morning a nightmare. The most positive thought: I know what to do to get out of this. I don’t need to feel like this for days on end. It’s just a reaction due to PTSD.
Somatic therapy is helpful for these types of trauma.
What you are experiencing is mainly happening in your body, so that is where you need to heal.
Steps you can take when anxiety hits you:
Get present with your surroundings
Your body is reacting thinking the current situation is the same as what happened to you before.
But this is new. This is not the same situation, or the same person. You are being triggered in a similar way, and your body sends you into fight or flight mode.
Recognize that this is what is happening.
Look around you and tell yourself what you see. Do what you can to keep you connected with the here and now. Name things. Do the dishes. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Anything you can to remind yourself you have not time traveled back to when this happened the first time.
Visualize being safe
Remind yourself of a previous situation where you felt safe and were in control.
If that doesn’t come easy, make on up. I have a picture in my mind of a meadow with a blossoming apple tree. From one branch dingles a swing, and I can sit there and nothing can do me any harm.
Whatever brings you any joy and calms you donw – go for it.
Give yourself what you need. Pretend to be the parent and the scared child at the same time.
Tell yourself that everything is ok, and that you are safe. Give yourself a hug. If you need to cry, cry. Anything you can do to tell your body that you are fine and safe.
Do not belittle or blame yourself for feeling what you are feeling. It is a natural response to trauma.
Stay with the feelings
What I learned this time was to stay with the feelings and with what was going on physiologically in my body.
The racing heart. The knot in my stomach. The scrambled thoughts. The energy that feels like a wall you just ran into at full speed.
At first I tried to run away from these feelings and emotions. This is what I had learned over the past 6 years. Clean it, clear it, get away from it. Ignore it.
But that is not a helpful approach. Your body remembers and needs to be re-trained that this person or situation is not harming you.
So stick with the shitty feelings. Ride it out. Test the waters once in a while, to see if you can feel a bit happier. If you are still shaky, then hug yourself some more. Over time the anxiety will subside and you can grab your other tools to help you move back into your happy place.
PS: I’ve got some exciting news:
- I’m currently working on a workbook / self-paced challenge that helps creators to connect with their vision & values so they can define their business and goals. More info coming soon.
- I made it on to Patreon! Everything I write and publish will be gathered there, pluss patrons will also get more writing. You can check it out HERE
- I’m on for another round of Ship 30 for 30. The plan is to write every day, mostly about the things that occupy me these days. Follow me on Twitter to find them.