Have you ever noticed when something happens in the world that, even if you are not thinking about it, it impacts you? I remember when this area was going through the issues related to the DC sniper that I had my first mini-panic attack. It lasted maybe thirty seconds but just the fact that I had one scared me tremendously. I had never experienced anything like that before.
I remember it like it was right now. I was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike coming back home from visiting my brother in Pittsburgh. First, I saw a state trooper on the side of the road with his lights on. They do that, I noticed, to warn drivers of dangers up ahead. Cars had slowed down and then stopped on the Turnpike because of an accident. My car was sandwiched in between two semi-trucks so I literally could not go anywhere. I had no option but to stay still. All I could see were the white walls of the tractor trailers on either side of me. It seemed like an eternity that I sat there in that position. I remember thinking I was just going to get out and leave my car. I felt like I was suffocating. I just prayed. When the trucks moved and I was no longer stuck between them I was perfectly fine.
Another time during the same period I was on 66 East near Vienna when traffic stopped again unexpectedly. Again, my heart raced for a few seconds as I ‘freaked out internally’. Then, when traffic began to move…I was fine.
Yet another time I had boarded a plane heading to the islands. When the stewardess closed the cabin door, I started internally stressing. I have seen movies where people jump up and say, “let me out”. I envisioned that in my mind a few times while the plane was on the ground. Once it began moving, I felt better. In fact, that has happened two other times on planes that I can recall, once while stuck on a tarmac at New York’s LaGuarida for more than a half hour and once while stuck on the tarmac for about an hour in snowy Detroit. All of these anxiety episodes happened around the same time.
I went to see my doctor who I trusted implicitly and told her about these odd happenings. The DC sniper incidents happened around the time one of my family members was going through an incredibly volatile life situation (which was incredibly intense for more than a year). My doctor, Margaret explained to me that I was going through “situational anxiety”. I had never heard of it before. She told me many of her patients were going through the same thing.
My understanding of situational anxiety is that it occurs quite literally when there is something extremely stressful happening in your life or in the world around you. And, even if you are not even focused on it, it has a way of getting into your psyche and impacting you.
I think the year 2020 will go down, at least for me, as the “Year of Situational Anxiety” due to COVID-19 and every little thing related to it (e.g., stores closings, jobs lost, long food lines, foreclosures, and on and on). Every now and then I feel myself getting a little anxious where I never used to. Thankfully, it does not happen that frequently but there have definitely been a few fleeting moments in recent months. When they happen, they typically last less than a minute.
I am grateful for the conversation I had with Margaret so many years ago. She told me then that when the stressful situation changes the attacks go away. I still remember feeling relieved when she told me that so many years ago!
When I start to panic, I rely on my faith and think about how I cannot really afford to get sick because I have someone that is relying on me to sustain them. I tell myself, “this is not an option”, breathe deeply, and move on. I consider it ‘mind over matter’. It is not fool-proof and sometimes I have to talk myself “down off the ceiling” as I call it for a few seconds until I can snap back to my old happy self.
I, like all of us, am looking forward to a time when life is calmer, when things return to a sense of normalcy around this horrible pandemic and the fallout from it, and when the stressors of everyday life dissipate a bit for everyone. I always remind myself that there is strength in numbers. I realize I am not the only person going through this. In fact, much of the country can relate to what I am saying right now. Depression has increased three-fold in our country and 1/3 of Americans are either clinically depressed or anxious. Knowing that I am not alone helps me persevere.
Learning techniques to calm yourself down, like praying or meditating, is always a good strategy. A quick Google search will offer up many examples. I usually put on my favorite songs and just let the music transport me. It really is an instant mood booster and a great distractor. Other great strategies include reaching out to someone you love, going for a walk, and turning off the news and social media channels for a day―or seven. Take time to decompress and mentally reboot. It is so worth it.
If you feel a little anxious now and then, do not worry about it, it is common. If you are anxious or concerned and it is impacting you to the point that you cannot move forward, there is no shame in reaching out for help. In fact, it is courageous to take steps towards your mental, physical, and emotional wellness! Recovery Program Solutions of Virginia (RPSV) has served individuals going through a myriad of mental health, substance use, and homelessness issues since 2011. Our programs are free and available both in-person and virtually. We are truly here for you if you need us! Learn more at rpsva.org or call (800) 374-4198 today.
Take care of yourself. Stay strong and safe! Always remember, you are so worth it!