Just Breathe, Anxiety 5-4-3-2-1

So, I’ve been sick. I’ve been sick for a long time, and it’s actually pretty difficult to deal with because I look fine. Maybe a little tired. Everyone looks at me and thinks everything is okay, they see me moving, lots of energy…except I hurt all the time and I’m pushing for energy when I really want to sit down and my immune system is compromised. But that’s not something people see either.

I get a lot of side-eyed glares and “You’re sick again?” My family and friends call me a hypochondriac. The people I work with sigh and tell me, “It’s always something, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is. There is something wrong. I can feel it and all the testing my doctors have done have come back different, every time. My thyroid’s out of whack…no, it’s normal…well, it’s borderline…ah, it’s fine! Maybe my gallbladder needs to come out. Maybe I have pancreatitis. Or a vitamin deficiency. Or an overactive stress reaction. Maybe I just need counseling.

What I think is that my hormones are totally off for whatever reason. Thyroid, estrogen dominance, stress…maybe this is how I become a shaman. I don’t know, but I’ve heard a lot of theories.

I’ve developed anxiety. I tend not to go out very often, not just because I’m an introvert, but because of these new anxiety attacks I get sometimes.

Last night, I got one. It was fairly bad, too. I was hot, restless, sick to my stomach. I don’t necessarily get a sense of impending doom, my brain focuses on one horrible thing that I’m just sure will happen. (It never does).

I took slow, deep breaths. I tried to be rational and talk myself out of the crazed fears my brain tossed out. I pictured the worst case scenario and figured out how I’d deal with it. I clawed my palms, which seemed to help because it provided a distraction when all the nerves in my body suddenly told me I was in pain, I was sick and I needed to excuse myself right away. But I was in a situation where I couldn’t excuse myself, and neither did I want to.

I saw a meme about anxiety on Facebook not too long ago, and so I whipped it out, except I couldn’t really remember it. All I remembered was 5-4-3-2-1, and I knew it had something to do with the senses. So I made up the rest. I looked for five things I could see, four things I could hear, three things I could smell…skipped the sense of taste and found four more things I could touch with different textures.

And it worked. The knot in my stomach immediately loosened, my spine relaxed and my lungs felt freer. I was still more jittery than I wanted, but I felt worlds better than I had.

When I go someplace and I’m comfortable, it’s usually because I feel like I can control my surroundings. (Although, sometimes I go someplace I’m not comfortable and the anxiety never kicks in, and sometimes I go to a very familiar place and can’t breathe). Strange, because I’m literally trained to deal with chaos and crises—but, then again, maybe that’s why I prefer control. My job is to take chaos and bring it under control, and I’m good at my job. Even in my writing, I control what happens, and though sometimes my characters surprise me, it’s not the same as real-world events, is it?

Anxiety is one of the drawbacks of whatever so-far-undiagnosed thing is going on with me. And maybe that means it is a stress-related issue and not hormonal. I’ve gotten a lot of what went wrong with me under control through an overhaul in what I eat. I’ve seen nutrition perform miracles, so I’ve applied that idea to my own life, and I’m having pretty good success with it. But nutrition only goes so far with a stress reaction when you’re out for the night.

I’m very happy that the 5-4-3-2-1 thing worked, even if I made up what to do about. I was surprised it worked and relieved it did, so I wanted to share the experience. If any of my readers suffer from anxiety and want to know more about this technique, I did a little research on it to write this post and found this short and to-the-point article about it.

P.S. In case you wondered, I’ve just about given up on doctors with this whole thing, too. If something major happens, of course I’ll seek medical advice, but they’re all playing the same guessing game that I am right now, so I’m going holistic. Good nutrition, meditation, long, boiling hot baths and lots of creative outlets have really helped my health. I’ve moved away from relationships that were painful, I’ve gotten into the sunlight more often and I watch birds and squirrels while I let my brain go quiet. I pet my cat. I still have a ways to go, but I’m feeling so much better than last year, when my body was shutting down.

Flight or fight… If you can’t run from something, you might as well fight it however you can.