I had the idea for this post after spending the best part of 12 hours obsessing about a lump in my neck that had appeared for no apparent reason. My boyfriend was with me at the time, and he watched me go from happy and relaxed to withdrawn and desolate in 5 minutes flat, after we both investigated the lump and confirmed that it was indeed abnormal. There are several reasons why I could have a small lump in my neck right now: 1) I ate out a lot and could have eaten foods I am intolerant to (sugar and soy), as despite my best efforts I’m often told by wait staff that foods are safe when in fact they have these foods added without the knowledge of the staff (it’s not their fault, i’ve just become very aware of how many foods have sugar and soy added) - prompting my lymph nodes to kick into action to try to fight the intolerance symptoms 2) I felt my neck twinge when I was indoor rock climbing a few nights ago and the lump could be a muscle knot. This is my rational brain, the pre-frontal cortex, analyzing the most likely cause of my current mysterious condition. However, my reptilian brain, the emotional ‘fight or flight’ center in the middle of my limbic system, is telling me that it’s cancer and I will soon die, leaving behind everyone I love and everything I am yet to experience. All too often, it is this emotional brain that runs the show and will kick my body into a full blown anxiety attack
Going through this cycle again today made me think about other ways that my anxiety can manifest itself that I have only become more conscious of in recent years. I thought I would share them to give me a resource to look back on in future and also to encourage anyone else who experiencing anxiety to look at their own tendencies, that may be completely different or even the opposite of mine (which I find fascinating!):
1) Compulsive phone use.
This one is something I’m actively working on right now and one I have become a lot more aware of since the phone-tracking apps have gone mainstream, allowing us to see the deadly truth of how much of our lives we are wasting scrolling through social media. I was pretty shocked with the results when I first started tracking my phone use - up to 5 or 6 hours a day I was active on my phone, with the majority of the time spent on instagram or messenger apps. I’ve noticed that when I am at a loss of what to do next, or when I’m bored, I have a compulsion to pick up my phone. Recently I’ve started to try to ask myself what I’m looking for when I want to pick up my phone and then checking in after I’ve finished on my phone to see how I’m feeling. My time on instagram recently has left me feeling a little empty and even frustrated, as i’ve found myself comparing myself to those shiny images I see. In just a few instagram sessions i’ve felt not pretty enough, not healthy enough not successful or innovative enough and even not ‘active on social media’ enough. Each time I come out of the rabbit hole of instagram I resolve to myself that I’ll quit the habit and despite seeing significant reduction in my instagram time due to me deleting the app and having a break from posting, I still notice myself going back to the site via my browser when I’m bored, anxious or simply feeling like i’m ‘missing’ something.
2) Tendency to isolate
As an introvert, there can be a fine line for me between rejuvenating myself through alone time and using anxiety as an excuse to isolate myself. I have noticed this especially recently when I’ve been suffering from an acne breakout, and my tendency is to shy away from the world and I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of going out into the world and showing my face. Some days when I feel like this I choose to rest and honor what I am craving, and other days I know deep down that I am missing some of the best years of my life worried about a few pimples on my face so I brush myself off and get out there. When I do force myself out the house, I am always grateful afterwards for the experience and the social connection that I received. I know that a part of my anxiety around social settings is a response to my perfectionism which is something I want to recover from, as life is too short and precious to chase being perfect.
If you can relate to this one, here some things that have helped me:
1) Committing to myself that I’ll go for 30 minutes and see how I feel, giving myself permission to leave after that (I never do!)
2) Getting ready within a certain amount of time and then limiting the time I look in the mirror. When I’m ‘done’ i’m done, and staying busy after that point with a puzzle or a book if it’s not quite time to leave. This stops me obsessing over how I look and getting into the perfectionist spiral.
3) CBD oil - as a non drinker (at this point in time), the first drink of the night is often the one that I’ll get a pang of desire for, and I know through experience and self-exploration that it’s a direct result of my social anxiety and looking for something to soothe away the nerves. CBD oil, which is a legal substance is much of the world, seems to take a tiny edge of my anxiety symptoms in some circumstances and can be really helpful to have in the house when I want a little extra help.
I’ve known that I have a tendency towards hypochondria for some time, since I ended up in the emergency room convinced I had a tumor in my eye during my second year at University. It is very easy for me to spiral into helplessness when I find something that I can’t explain in my body and to ultimately think of the worst possible outcome. What helps when I find my mind going there, is for me to bring into my awareness the facts - I KNOW I have a tendency to do this. Just remembering the past worries and trips to the doctors helps me to understand that realistically, it’s very likely that this is just another of those times. This helps me pull myself together and at least get on with my day until I’m able to get to see the doctor, who will almost certainly put my mind at ease.
One thing that I’ve started doing recently to help myself with my Hypochondria is talking to people about it! It is amazing how much anxiety is tied up in shame and fear around how we are feeling, and sharing this with another person can, in my experience, significantly lighten that load. I recently told my friend Sydney and my boyfriend about my history of doctors and hospital visits and explained that I feel like this is tied to my anxiety and can flare up in a particularly anxious period of my life. I also recommended that if I come to them with a health issue, that they talk through it with me supportively and discuss with me how it could be similar to the other times where I’ve been plagued with worry and it’s ended up being fine. Just having that conversation has proved really useful, as my boyfriend has more information now to help him when situations do arise, like when I’m in floods of tears about a lump in my neck (true story!)
4) Purging of belongings
I’d never considered my love of minimalism and a good clear-out as being a symptom of anxiety until I recently listened to a podcast where the host was sharing that this is an anxiety symptom for her. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there may be truth in this for me too, especially when it’s coupled with compulsive shopping habits and I find myself in a cycle of buying and purging, buying and purging. Whilst I think the minimalist life is great in principle, I’ve definitely found that I’ve thrown away things that would have proved to be very useful, or prematurely gotten rid of things that were just out of season and I would have worn in a few months time. Since listening to the podcast, I’ve tried to be more mindful about my desire to get rid of belongings and check-in with myself before and after and ask what emotions I’m feeling. If I am feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, I’ll try to avoid doing the clean out at that moment so as to avoid over-purging and getting rid of things I love/need. Generally, being clean and tidy is a value i hold highly for myself but I am also aware that this is another symptom of perfectionism and one that can lead me to an unhappy or unfulfilled place, so I do my best to let myself off the hook here and allow myself to have a few dirty dishes or an untidy closet if needs be.
So those are the less common anxiety symptoms I’ve been noticing recently. I would love to hear if you’ve noticed any of these in yourself, or if your tendencies are completely different to mine! Thanks for being here and remember that you are enough as you are.