Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

You ever feel like you can’t relax? And I don’t just mean because you’re nervous, but just in general? Yeah, me too.

I always have this feeling like I should be doing something. Whether it’s writing, reading, texting, something. I’ve never really sat around and thought about this too much until I ran into this website called Do Nothing for 2 Minutes Dot Com.

The website is weird, but in a really good way. You simply go to the website and do nothing while you look at a clock that counts down for 2 minutes. There is a sunset, the ocean, and the sound of waves. That’s it.

I was struck by this website because inside I had this internal struggle going on between wanting to click away and wanting to stay focused on doing nothing. Until it dawned on me that doing nothing, at least for 2 minutes, is a great thing.

It made me think about how much of what I do is unnecessary. And how all those unnecessary things stress me out at times. Then I thought about you. I thought it would be nice to share this with you, so you could be calm, even if it’s just for a little while.

There is a lot that can be said for living in the moment, seeking relaxation, and so on. But today I don’t think that will be needed.

Instead, go to this website, and do nothing. And tell me if you don’t feel better for having done it. Have a nice day.

P.S.

I stayed a lot longer than two minutes.

How I Beat My Worst Anxiety Phobia: I Got Drunk

Friends Toasting at a Party

The other day we had several people over for barbecue and good times, but before the soiree took place I vowed to do two things – 1. Get drunk and 2. Be alright with being drunk.

Usually I’d tell you that alcohol and anxiety just don’t mix, and I think this is still the case. Lots of people use alcohol to cope with anxiety but inevitably this leads to alcohol dependence and – ironically – more anxiety. So it really is a non-starter.

But this post isn’t a celebration of alcohol or alcohol influenced text messages (of which I indulged in readily) but about how I conquered my biggest fear.

You see, 10 years ago my struggles with anxiety all started while I was in a drunken stupor after a party. Drunk, alone, and very unprepared, I was smacked upside the head with my very first panic attack and it was epic, at least for me.

I had never felt that kind of fear until that night. Sweating, breathing fast, heart pounding, I could not even bring myself to sit down long enough to ask myself what the hell was going on. But, since then, I’ve been unable to drink any alcohol of any kind and for any reason.

Throwing a party? Didn’t care. Celebrating your anniversary? Pepsi for me please. People toasting at dinner, uh hmm excuse me as I make my way to the rest room. That was me when it came to alcohol, escapist maximus.

But after all these years, all this research and writing, I felt like I needed to confront my big fear, which was essentially that if I allowed even a small drop of alcohol into my system I would either go crazy, die or both… in that order.

So then, I said enough. I’m going to swallow my own medicine, follow my own advice, and deal with it, finally. I was ready to challenge this boogie man that I had created because of my chronic anxiety.

And by the end of the night, I was taking shots, that is shots, with an s. I finally got drunk. I let go. I can tell you that my anxiety was lurking almost the entire time, but despite this I continued on my mission of polite drunkenness.

I’m telling you this to express my sincere belief that you can also conquer your anxiety related phobias. If I can, of all people on earth, get drunk, then you can absolutely confront your deepest fear.

Hate parties? You can learn to party with the best of them. Hate bridges? You can learn to cross the biggest bridge in the world. Hate exercise? You can workout, have your heart pounding, and be o.k. with it.

Up to this point I felt like I made tremendous progress in managing and living with my anxiety. But there was always that nagging feeling that I wasn’t letting go completely, then I just said screw it. I wasn’t going to allow myself to surrender to my biggest fear.

So, if you struggle with anxiety, phobias, and similar issues, just know that you can beat it. I don’t have any plans to take up drinking, but you can bet on me toasting with everyone else the next time I’m in that situation.

Cheers!

If You Don’t Stop Mind Reading Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

No matter how hard you might try you will never be able to read minds; this despite your anxiety driven belief that you know what other people are thinking when they stare at you from across a room.

I recently spoke with a friend about this and I thought I’d write about it in the future, then I thought why wait?  It seemed like an immediate issue for my friend, it only made sense to me that there would be more people with the same problem.

I used to try and “read” other people’s mind too, that is until I realized how pointless it was.  At one point I thought I had developed some kind of sixth sense about what others thought of me,  but as it turned out I was just being paranoid.

The belief that you can read minds, however, is not a supernatural gift. It is, in fact, your assumptions and imagination hard at work. Talking to others brings out our insecurities and I think makes us feel vulnerable to criticism, and makes us fear outright rejection.  We end up constantly asking ourselves, “what if they don’t like me?” This causes you to become uneasy around people because you’re not sure about how they feel about you.

I think the uncertainty of not knowing if we’re liked sparks our imaginations, and we start developing theories and behaviors as a way of defending ourselves. We start making up stuff like, “this person doesn’t like me because I always forget to say hi,” or whatever.

We worry a lot about what other people think, and worry is nothing more than a defense mechanism used to solve problems.  We end up; however, babysitting a problem we can’t solve, namely, the attitudes and beliefs of other people.

The problem is that we all crave this kind of “social certainty.” Most of us want the acceptance of others, it’s just a major part of being human; this is true even if most people say that they don’t care what others think of them.  The truth is most of us want social acceptance in a big way.  But all this social jockeying – while being overly anxious to begin with – turns out to be hard indeed.

You see, it’s not that you can read minds; it’s that you wish you could.  This way you would know what to say, what not to say, how to sound, etc.  This is because if you had the power to read minds you’d be better equipped to become “acceptable” to others.  You could worry less about being rejected.

But my suggestion to you is to not worry about what others are thinking.  Honestly, not everyone you meet will like you anyway, no matter what you do.  What your left with then is - Gasp! - your self-confidence to help you along.  You must build it up whatever way you can to rebuff this timidity and self-consciousnesses.

Ultimately, don’t waste your time trying to get into other people’s head, because you will never find anything worth using in your quest for social acceptance.  Besides, people are adept and acting one way and thinking something completely different.  Remember that humans are the masters of deception, even to the point of self-deception in some cases.

All you can do is take the time to like love yourself because that’s the only person you can ever really know and understand.  Outside of yourself, you just cannot know what makes others tick, and it’s a fruitless endeavor to try and find out.  I think if you love yourself then others will take note, and at least most times, respect you for it.

If you don’t stop your mind reading now, you’ll turn into a paranoid shell of your former self.  You don’t want to walk into restaurants, work, school, wherever, and feel concerned about what other people might be thinking about you.  That’s like wearing wet socks and shoes while jogging in sand, not comfy.

To not care about what others think of you is counter intuitive to some extent, as it violates our natural social inclinations, but  I say the hell with convention and love thyself.

My 10th Anxiety Anniversary

In August of 1999 I had my first panic attack.  Since that time I’ve had a life filled with anxiety, worry, fear, and general apprehension.  The fact that I have anxiety is not really surprising when you think about it.  My great grandmother, grandmother and mother all had or have the condition.

In my case it was mostly genetics that brought this on, but whatever the cause it all sucks nonetheless.  In retrospect despite my long struggle with anxiety I’ve still lead a relatively normal life.  Sure I’ve missed some parties, don’t drink, or like to fly, but by in large my life has been alright.

After 10 years I can honestly say that anxiety doesn’t kill you.  It might feel like it will, repeatedly, but it never does.  Living an anxious life is no picnic as many of you know but I guess my point is that you can still live a relatively normal life.

I have certainly come a long way.  From not understanding what I had, all the way to trying to help others to cope with the many trials that anxiety inevitably produces.  Ten years is a long time and even though this all might continue I can tell you that I won’t dwell on it.  I will, as we all should, do the best I can to accept my condition fully and live the best life that I possibly can.

Vacation

Summer is upon us once more and that means one thing: vacations (or holidays if you’re English!). For most people holidays are something to look forward to. A time to relax and lose any stress they’ve accumulated over the year. However, if you’re anything like me, then jetting off somewhere hot and sunny is just about the most testing experience you can imagine.

Why? Well, where to start? How about the plane. In truth the prospect of jumping on an aircraft of any kind is only marginally preferable to leaping into a fish tank full of piranhas. I guess it’s because I’m claustrophobic. And agoraphobic. This is somewhat problematic when your fiancé happens to be Australian and you live in London! Given the distances involved here this could only be worse if she lived on the Moon.

Second, there’s being in a strange place. I live in a city. A big city where there’s around eight million people at hand to help you should you have a medical mishap or run into any kind of trouble. A place where a hospital is no more than five minutes away, a place where there’s always a cell phone signal and good public transport links. You might say I’m picking the wrong destinations to travel to, but I can guarantee wherever I go it’s rural, remote and seems to be trapped at some point in the 1950s.

Perhaps the final thing that gets to me is the fact that I’m out of my comfort zone. When I’m at home I have my friends and family around me. I have familiar landmarks and should something going amiss then I know where the hospital is, I know someone who lives nearby.

In the past I’ve avoided putting myself through such an ordeal. But before you do the same consider a couple of things. One: how will you ever get over your phobia if you don’t give it a go? Well, you won’t. Believe me I’ve tried all sorts of miracle ‘cures’ and giving it a go is pretty much the only way. Having said that, there is no need to book a ticket to Timbuktu right away. I started with short, local breaks. Maybe a weekend at the local beach or a city break. Then build up, try a week. Then perhaps get an internal flight somewhere.

But perhaps you’re thinking, why bother? There’s a whole world out there, that’s why and just because you have an anxiety problem it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a God given right to enjoy and experience it, that’s why! And if you stay static the world of the anxiety suffer can shrink very, VERY quickly. By forcing yourself a little out of your comfort zone you make your normal, day to day life much easier.

Of course, there is another reason why trying to take a vacation is a good idea: your partner. They’ll need a break and they want to experience new things even if you don’t. By challenging yourself and by getting the proper support from the person you love you are strengthening your relationship and hopefully creating a few happy memories along the way. And think how proud of yourself you’ll be! (That is possibly the soppiest paragraph I’ve written in my life!).

I’m off on holiday myself next week – so wish me luck!

Anxiety And The Gym

As long as this blog has existed I have always encouraged my readers to exercise because whether it’s running, biking, swimming, or whatever it’s a well known fact that exercise can relieve stress and anxiety.  I’ve worked out myself off and on for some time but always in my home.  I’ve always been too self conscious to run down the street or worst yet join a gym.

It’s not like I’ve never been a gym member, just not for a long time.  Recently I rejoined a local gym and the adjustment has been steep.  This is because for anxiety sufferers exercise poses lots of problems.  One of the primary problems is related to the fact that exercise makes us sweat, makes our heart pound, and causes us to lose our breath.  Sounds like a panic attack huh?

That’s exactly what makes moderate to intense exercise so difficult for me and countless others who have anxiety issues.  When we get all warmed up and busy many times we start thinking we’re having a heart attack, or panic attack, all kinds of attacks.  It is very hard to keep your mind on exercise when this happens and many times just makes you want to quit altogether.

In addition to all the phyiscal symptoms there is the added problem of being in a crowded place, with music blaring, and machines cranking away.  It’s almost like a night club with very casual attire.

Just a week ago I started working out again at the gym.  Since signing up I’ve gone 3 times and each time it has been a struggle.  I can’t say that I’ve had any panic attacks, but certainly I’ve felt out of shape, nervous, and on more than a couple of occasions ready to bolt from the place.  Even the whole locker room thing was making me nervous.

Now granted this was all low level anxiety, but when the blood starts pumping and I feel light headed or winded I get very nervous and just want to stop.  Here is what I think is going on to me and lots of people like me when they go to the gym and have an anxiety disorder.

1.  Most people go the gym because they are out of shape.  Therefore you will get winded easily, feel lightheaded if your lifting weights, and have very little stamina.

2.  Most of your exercises at a gym are naturally more intense because the machines make it much easier to work up a sweat and as a result freaking out also becomes easier.

3.  There are lots of people at the gym and this makes anyone with an anxiety problem somewhat uncomfortable.

4.  You probably already have a bunch of preconceived ideas of what might happen to you in the gym before you even step in the door.  In other words, before you even get on the treadmill you figure that you might die of a heart attack, stroke, asthma, or whatever.

These are just the things that bother me but I have to think that many people with anxiety have similar thoughts and feelings about going to the gym.

But the bottom line is that a gym is a great way to get in shape.  There are tons of expensive machines that make working out a snap, other people working out which can provide motivation, and it’s a lot cheaper than trying to setup a home gym which can cause thousands of dollars.

Plus, exercise does make you feel good, it makes you breath deeply, and can help to reduce stress and anxiety.  I really think it just takes time to get over the irrational fear that you will die at the gym or that you will simply freak out in front of everybody.  Once your body gets accustomed to all this busy work much of the related apprehension will subside.

Hell I get scared out of my mind when I’m at the gym but I’m focused on getting serious about this excercise business.  Starting at home is a great idea for people starting out, but at some point you have to get out there to see results.  And I’m not talking about big muscles, but training your body to endure and recover from excessive stress more effectively.  Exercise also helps to train your mind to deal with strange sensations and weird feelings. It’s a win, win.  And if I ever do finally get back in shape I’ll let you know exactly how I did it.

Cannabis

Weed, marijuana, pot, hash, dope – it has a million names but I guess the most universal is cannabis so that’s the one I’ll stick with here. After alcohol, nicotine and caffeine it is the most commonly used drug. Indeed over one hundred million Americans have tried it and twenty five million in the past year. And why not? It’s not physically addictive, it can relax you and can cause euphoria. It can turn you into the world’s greatest philosopher!

Therefore why, you might ask, am I bothering to write this article? Well, I guess it’s by way of a warning. I’m not proud to admit it but six years or so ago, while I was a student, I was into smoking cannabis in a big way. At around that time in the UK there was a lot of talk about decriminalizing it, much in the same way as they have done in Holland. Being an ‘enlightened’ kind of guy I was all for it. After all, there was a whole stack of evidence that said it was harmless, that it was just a bit of fun. And perhaps that’s true – for 95% of the population. Unfortunately for me I fell into that not so lucky 5%.

I’m not suggesting that cannabis is entirely responsible for my anxiety. Clearly there are underlying psychological issues that had been fermenting away in my brain for a good twenty years. But one thing I can say is that it certainly unleashed a whole raft of stuff that I would have rather had stayed locked up. Paranoia. The feeling that something bad was going to happen to me. That I might die, that I couldn’t cope. I even remember one time I accidently smashed a bottle of milk on the floor. I was so paranoid that I thought I’d somehow swallowed some of the glass. The last time I ever smoked weed (and ever will I might add) I found myself having to leave my flat. I walked around campus thinking – or knowing – that I was having a heart attack. Who knows what I must have looked like? I vowed to quit. The trouble is, of course, that once Pandora’s Box has been opened it’s pretty hard to get shut again. I’ve been struggling to do so for about six years and the lid’s only just starting to go down.

If we can get technical for a moment there’s a little chemical that goes by the name of THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol that is found in cannabis. Back in the sixties there was generally a very low concentration of it in cannabis. However, in modern times, what with the intensive way it is produced, the concentration is much, much higher and this is what is believed to cause all of those nasty effects. It dramatically increases the risk of psychotic episodes (such as the one I suffered) and schizophrenia later on. Something I think we all want to avoid.

Of course, I could go on and explain how cannabis is potentially a gateway drug but our main concern is its effect on anxiety. Much is said about the medicinal properties of cannabis. Who knows, maybe it does have some analgesic qualities. However, for any of you who are tempted to indulge to calm your frayed nerves think again. Make no mistake, despite much media gumpf that says otherwise, cannabis is a dangerous substance and should be avoided by all – particularly us paranoid types!

N.B. As an aside, I would be very interested to hear the experience of others who have smoked a fair bit of cannabis. Did you have a similar experience to me? Do you think it had a significant role to play in your anxiety problems?

A Medical Condition Could Be Causing Your Anxiety

Many anxiety sufferers really do suffer because of a potential chemical imbalance, heredity, excessive stress, substance abuse, or other mental ailments.  However, there is a group of people that have an anxiety disorder caused by an actual medical condition.  In some people there really is a phyiscal basis for their anxious suffering and this is why regular medical screenings are important.

Now statistically it is very difficult to say what number of anxiety sufferers have anxiety because of a pre-existing medical condition.  But the fact that this can happen to people is no mystery.  According to the Harvard Medical School some studies indicate that as much as 50% of asthmatics suffer from anxiety and the same is true (to varying degrees) of many other medical conditions.  The list of exactly what medical conditions can cause anxiety symptoms is long but here are just a few.

Asthma

Lupus

Angina Pectoris (chest pains)

Heart Disease

Depression

Insomnia

Hypertension

Menopause

Anemia

Heart Failure

Hyperthyroidism

And of course the list goes on.  Let me also add for the sake of all the hypochondriacs that (of which I am one) this is not to alarm anyone.  Please don’t start thinking that you have some outlandish disease.  This is just to encourage people who are afraid to see doctors to do just that – see a doctor.

If you’ve been suffering in silence than go and get checked out.  It may very well be something else other than your mind causing all your anxious problems.  Going to the doctor for blood tests and other screenings will ensure not only that you can know the overall status of your health, but also whether or not a medical condition is to blame for all your anxiety symptoms.

Truthfully, if most of you are anything like myself than you go to your doctor quite a bit but I also know that there are other people in the opposite camp.

Just recently I went for a blood test to check the iron levels in my blood.  I wanted to rule out anemia because of the chronic fatigue that I’ve been experiencing.  It’s always a smart move to rule other causes of anxiety out, both for peace of mind and so you know what path to take toward treating your anxiety.  I hope this helps anyone on the fence about being seen by a doctor.

Mental Chatter

It’s often said that the anxiety sufferer is his own worst enemy and in a sense that’s true. If you’ve ever just listened to what the voice in your head is saying to you, without you even realizing, you’d be pretty amazed.

This really hit home to me a couple of weeks ago after yet another trip to my therapist. She asked me to go through an exercise to help me tune into what my brain was telling itself every time I get an anxiety symptom. For me my anxiety centers on my heart. I’m always paranoid I have a heart condition or that I’m about to have a heart attack or something equally absurd. The ‘evidence’ for this generally consists of chest pains (sharp, tight, crushing, skipped beats, tingling – you name it!), palpitations and giddiness. But I’d never really stopped and considered how my mind reacts when I have such a sensation and when I did it was quite a shock.

I can’t say with any certainty but I’m pretty sure that when so called ‘normal’ people have a chest spasm they don’t immediately say: “oh, I’m going to die’. They probably just pass it off as a heavy dinner. In fact a friend’s dad was so far this way inclined he actually tried to cure a genuine heart attack with a Rennie’s Indigestion tablet! (He lived to tell the tale you’ll be pleased to hear). Me on the other hand – and I’m pretty sure this goes for you as well – have an entirely different reaction. “I’m going to die” or “this could be a heart attack” are common favorites. As such the body responds to this and you have the makings of a vicious cycle. Before you know it the pains come more regularly. Maybe they spread to the stomach as well. Maybe you notice an odd rhythm in your heart. And all the while you’re feeding this by further telling yourself you’re going to die.

So, what can you do? Well, I guess the first thing you do is break the cycle. If you’re anything like me then you’ve been to the doctor’s a hundred times and every time he’s told you you’re the picture of health. So how’s about we start believing him? Every time you get a little flutter dismiss that voice that tells you you’re dying. Replace it with something like this: “I know I’m okay, this is just an anxiety symptom. It’s harmless, it won’t hurt you.”

Yep, I know what you’re thinking. This seems too easy to be true. And you’re right, I have made it seem simple. In reality it is hard work to reprogram your mind. You’ve spent days, weeks, months – even years – telling yourself you’re going to die and for a while you’re brain might not believe you. But stick with it, I promise you, within a few days you will start to notice a change.

If you want to find out more about how to accept anxiety symptoms for what they are then I recommend ‘Self – Help for Your Nerves’ by Dr Claire Weeks.