My Anxiety was Killing Me, So I Took 3 Deep Breaths
Last updated: April 2023
I knew something was wrong when I cried every time I put my shoes on in the morning. It wasn't my feet that were hurting; it was everything else. Anxiety was starting to kill me.
While I've never allowed my HIV status to prevent me from taking chances and living my life, I've also been keenly aware that it's something I must pay attention to. After all, without my health, I have nothing.
This attitude led to a discussion with my husband when I was considering a career change at 50. It was a more significant role, with tremendous responsibility and an expectation of being constantly on call. Once I explained why I wanted to do it, his only condition was that if my health began to deteriorate, I would find another job.
Pressure takes a toll
Everything was great at first, but after a few years, the pressure began taking a toll on me. The non-stop stress manifested itself as shingles covering my entire backside. The pain from the lesions and the paranoia from the pain medication all pushed my usual range of anxiousness to a level I had never experienced.
I found myself crying uncontrollably at odd times. I would sit up all night working on my computer and then tell my husband that I had just woken up early to get a jump on the day. I was eating poorly and drinking heavily.
Eventually, I left the job. But the anxiety and the physical effects it took on me did not disappear. I walked around in a fog. I would have conversations and immediately forget about them. Tiny comments would be taken out of context, leading to arguments over nothing.
Beginning a new regimen
I would struggle to remember if I had taken my medicine. My T-cells were the lowest they had been in years, and I seemed to get sick at the drop of a hat. I realized I had to seek professional help.
I began a regimen of medication and counseling. Talking to a therapist has always been difficult for me. I hate to admit I need support. But the smartest thing I did was to let go of my ego and find someone who would listen to me without judgment as I worked through the pain.
Therapy eventually brought me to a place of calm again. But the goal was always to find ways of working through the anxious moments by myself so that I could operate in the world again. I want to share some of the first things I learned that helped me do that.
Coping with anxiety: Take a deep breath
The first thing I did was to stop and breathe. Three deep breaths may sound cliché, but it works when you do it properly. This means focusing on the in and out movement of your breath, not your situation.
Pull the breath in deep enough to expand the area in the middle of your rib cage and make each breath slower and deeper than the last. Then sit there for a few seconds with your eyes closed if you can.
I talk to myself
I realize that I'm great at giving others advice but terrible at listening to my own recommendations. Then someone shared a little secret with me. When you talk to yourself, use your name. We all have a running dialogue in our minds. What I've learned to do is to address my worries by talking directly to me.
"Robert, can you do anything right now to change the outcome tomorrow?"
"Robert, will it help to write down your thoughts before you go to bed?"
When that little voice uses my name, I listen.
I put things in perspective
I do this by asking myself one question. "Robert, what will this look like a year from now?"
Thinking back on tough times reminds me that the stress and pain will eventually diminish. It's good to be reminded that the current anxiety I am experiencing will pass, also.
Take a break
Whether a walk through a park or just a few minutes of scrolling through my phone, I allow myself to the space to 'check out' from my tasks throughout the day. When working on a project, I never go for more than 30 minutes without stopping for 5 minutes to clear my head.
My favorite thing is to step away from what I'm doing, make a cup of tea, and send a text to someone I've been meaning to connect with. Then I take a deep breath and dive into the work.
None of these are silver bullets for my anxiety. I use all of them to keep my nerves in check. Sometimes I still talk to my therapist, ensuring I am completely transparent with them. If you are dealing with overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression, I urge you to reach out to someone for support. And take three deep breaths.
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