Spiraling

Because it has been a chaotic few weeks (or months, let’s be real), I thought I’d blog about something a little different. Something that impacts my life as much as it impacts my writing.

Anxiety.

I’ve been pretty open in the past about having Tourette’s Syndrome, but I tend to push my anxiety disorder under the rug. That’s partly because I have GAD–generalized anxiety disorder–which is fairly standard as far as anxiety disorders go. I have no past trauma that’s weighing me down, a good therapist, and a medication regime that works. The ways in which I manage my TS can vary on a day-to-day basis, but I generally feel like I’ve got my anxiety under control. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on what it’s like to have anxiety, or how anxiety is impacting my life. And most of the time, that’s a good thing.

Then, there are the times when ignoring my anxiety keeps me from realizing just how anxious I am. When everything in my life feels like it’s spiraling out of control, and it takes me far longer than it should to figure out why. I know that anxiety looks and feels different for everyone, so let me start by explaining what a typical anxiety spiral looks and feels like for me.

Maybe I have a bad couple of days. Or a week that I know is going to be more hectic than usual. Maybe it’s that time of the month, and I’m not watching for the usual mood swings that accompany changes in hormone levels the way I ordinarily would be. Maybe I get busy and take on too much, or maybe I take on too much because I don’t feel busy enough. Whatever the reason, I usually spend my days racing from task to task, never giving myself adequate amounts of time to slow down and catch my breath. I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything, despite the fact that I’ve been productive–or at least busy–from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I finally force myself to sleep. I fail to do the things that bring me peace of mind and make me happy, or I consciously choose not to do them because I convince myself that being happy isn’t as important as Getting Things Done. I’m wound too tight to sleep by the time my bedtime rolls around, so I skip bedtime and stay up too late doing nothing at all. Then I sleep in the next morning because I’m exhausted, panic because I haven’t had time to do things before work, and spend the rest of my day in hyper-drive, trying frantically to get caught up.

As you might imagine, this sort of thing is hell on my writing, on my relationships, on my sleep schedule, and on my sanity. When I’m acting this way, whether I consciously recognize it or not, all I can focus on are the things that I’m NOT doing. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been spending my time on useful, productive stuff, or if I’ve had to squeeze in my responsibilities between enjoyable social events. If I’ve managed to finish planning a trip–like I more or less have this week–I berate myself for not taking enough time to write. If I’ve spent a lot more time with friends than usual, I berate myself for disregarding my SO.

Those anxiety-induced thoughts and behavioral patterns are as unhelpful as they are unpleasant, and they can get out of hand in a hurry if I’m not paying at least SOME attention to where my anxiety levels are at during any given week. Which, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve been terrible at doing for the past month or so now.

So, what does it take to pull myself out of an anxiety spiral?

As cliche as this sounds, the first step to solving any problem is admitting that you have one. I always start by readjusting my own perspective–trying to examine my actions and behavior from a place somewhere outside myself. This has gotten much easier with time, practice, and introspection, but when I’m deep in those spirals I tend to ask myself whether I’d be worried about a friend who was acting like me. If the answer is a big, emphatic yes, then I know I’ve let my anxiety swallow me and I need to start taking the steps to get back on neutral ground.

The next thing I’ll do is take a look at my calendar and designate an upcoming day as a reset day. Reset days tend to be weekend days, when I have no external plans and no one depending on me. Once I’ve chosen my reset day, I’ll make a list of all the things I want to accomplish. Some of them can be productivity oriented, like mopping my floors or revising for a certain number of hours or writing a blog post. But most of them focus on self-care strategies that I’ve been neglecting in favor of productivity–like going to bed by a certain time, locking myself off the internet, or cooking a favorite meal.

My reset days give me the chance to slow down and breathe deep and re-evaluate my own priorities. I try not to make too many life changes at once, just so I don’t overwhelm my brain, but I will make a list of the good habits I want to re-implement and the order in which I want to implement them. Last week, for example, I began setting a second alarm for myself so that I’d have to get out of bed at a reasonable time. Next week, I’m going to try and get back in the habit of shutting my computer off at least half an hour before bed. Both of those things are steps toward rebuilding my schedule, and a schedule goes a long way toward keeping those anxiety spirals at bay.

And with any luck, all of these strategies will leave me feeling better and more stable next month than I have so far this month.