I just got back from my first work trip. Ever. Well, not really. But of this nature, it was certainly a new experience. It was one that, when I first found out I was going I started sweating I was so excited. For this gig, I needed to fly out to Los Angeles and capture content from a beer event at a lemon grove. Sounds pretty glam, right? Well, in theory, it was. And in reality, it also was. But in the week leading up to the event, the whole thing lost its luster, and became a full-blown disaster…in my mind. I was stupid nervous. I was working insane hours to over-prepare. I felt completely out of control of my zen and sanity. I was terrified of messing up when I got out there. All of our flights and accommodations were booked last minute and by someone else. And, not to mention, I was acting like I’d never been on a plane before when less than a month ago, I had done a nearly identical trip completely alone.
I had driven myself into a rather sorry mental state where, the night before my flight, I was in tears, rolled into a ball on my bed, too stressed out to even pack my bags. My mind kept screaming, “I have diabetes, I can’t just go to Los Angeles. I’m not cut out for this lifestyle. I need to simplify. This is too much.” I was in full blown self-destruct/meltdown mode. I was convinced that because my pancreas had been dead for 10 years, all of a sudden I couldn’t leave my apartment.
I had officially exhausted myself with dread.
It will come as no surprise to my fellow anxiety-tribesfolk, that the level of fear I was feeling did not add up to the actual reality of the situation. But that’s anxiety. It doesn’t care about the reality of any situation, it strikes with a vengeance, giving exactly zero fucks about what’s rational or fair. It didn’t matter what anyone said, I was caving in on myself. Naturally, as most panic attacks go, I was focusing on things that were so far away from important, and letting my mind run wild leaving me dead and hungry at the end of every scenario it played out.I was freaking out about things that, last I checked, as an adult, I get to control because I am my own person, and because ‘Murica. Do I need to shave my legs? Will I get to eat breakfast on Saturday? What shoes do I wear? Will it rain tomorrow? What if I go low at the shoot? What if my test kit tanks, or my battery dies? Whatever it is, it will stop traffic (which, in LA, is like…LOL) and I will be mortified. I was dreading the feeling of being derailed by diabetes while I was, quite literally, on the fly. I was stressed about potentially becoming stressed. I was terrified about being too tired. Which, all of these symptoms, come to find out, are a very real form of anxiety. And also a giant waste of mental energy.
Anxiety has always been super real for me. Too real. Bone crushingly real. But this time, it was different. I was psyching myself out, out of the fear of being psyched out. Sounds super meta, right? Well that’s cuz it is, yo. I was texting with my mom at 6am from Newark Airport before my flight, and she did what moms do best: ever so lovingly told me to sack up, drink some water, and get on the plane. But then she shared a really interesting article with me about anxiety sensitivity and adrenal fatigue to help me feel less like a sob story, and more like a human with misfiring neurons.
What I learned, is that women experience anxiety differently than men, and once our cortisol flood gates are open, it can be really difficult for us to reel things in productively. Especially if we’ve ever experienced a few bad panic attacks throughout our lives. Which, hellooooo, Trader Joe’s grocery line…I’ve been there. I mean, it makes sense to be afraid of feeling terribly shitty because, well, we’ve done it a time or two (or 100).
So, after a few really bad days of losing sleep, pummeling red wine, chugging Dunkins to keep my eyes open, and being a general pain in the ass to everyone, guess what? I arrived in LA extremely unharmed. I went to my event. I worked my ass off. I did everything I was expected to do, and had a great time doing it. As soon as I was put to work, it was as if all of that fear and anxiety disappeared. Oh, and guess what else happened? I returned home to New York totally unscathed. Can you even believe that even the slightest little bit?
After reflecting on last week’s implosion and then un-implosion, I’ve come to realize a few things about anxiety and how it impacts new experiences. And, maybe some of these things could be useful to you the next time you feel a nervous storm a cookin’ in your busy mind.
1.) Select support wisely. When I am on the cusp of something unknown, I totally tank if I bottle it up. I can get very serious and very dark. Which is 100% not my average demeanor. I admittedly have a shitty attitude, no matter how much I tell myself I deserve to be excited about whatever opportunity it is that I’m facing. I used to crowd source my emotions, literally asking every and anyone to help me out. Now, I’ve learned to slim down my “halp! my heart rate is 9,000!” emergency calls to a select few that I know are the most effective and talking me back into a safe space, and most importantly, can empathize with me. One of the best ways for me to seek shelter from an anxiety storm is to communicate exactly what it is I need from someone in order to feel better. Otherwise, I run the risk of being told, “Calm down, it’s all in your head, you’re fine.” And we all know how that type of “comforting” goes…
2.) Measure the risk vs. the reward. Last night I got really nervous about ordering one of the legendary free hot dogs from Rudy’s bar because I’d never been there before and didn’t know the drill. But after some coaxing and a reminder that hot dogs are my favorite thing ever (besides impulse-buying sunglasses), I knew the reward was much greater than the risk. So not only did I get a free hot dog out of this deal, I got to remind myself how gratifying overcoming even the smallest of fears can be. Understanding what the worst thing is that’s going to happen in a scenario definitely helps me retrace my steps. Usually, even the absolute most terrifying outcome will allow me to carry on with my bad self, and hopefully also a piping hot diggity dog slathered in Heinz.
3.) Stop apologizing. After nearly every anxiety-fueled meltdown I’ve ever had, I end up apologizing to the victims of my tantrums. Trust me, you would be too, these things can be kind of gnarly. I get super embarrassed after the fact by how much self-doubt I exposed. However, I read a really interesting article this morning in The New York Times about how we tend to over-medicate women’s feelings and I found some cool points about this. We have given anxious emotions such a negative connotation, that we’re ashamed to be that honest with ourselves and other people about how we feel in situations. Instead of masking our signs of stress with synthetic emotions (or drugs), we can sometimes learn how to show them and communicate them in a productive way. It’s okay to feel what we feel when we’re anxious, because it’s a sign that we’re simply alive and experiencing things in a very powerful way. Numbing that would be tragic on a totally different scale.
4.) Catalog the wins. When I overcome something that was hard for me because of anxiety, I’m going to start writing down what it was and how I got through it. And, more importantly, what it felt like when I got to the other side. It’s important to give ourselves a hypothetical sticker once in a while. Or a real sticker, if you’re into that sorta thing. Some of the stuff we do in our daily life is actually a super huge deal. It may not seem like it all the time because the Internet tells us that everyone is cooler and more adventurous than we are. So, if something feels like it’s crazy new and scary, it probably is, and it’s okay to express fear with regard to said thing! But, from here on out, I’m going to write down how much of a baller I feel like when I get to the end of whatever scared me so much. This way, I can focus on remembering that, instead of worrying about a negative outcome.
My friends at my old job used to call me Piglet. I was a very outright, slightly entertaining worrywart. My whole life I’ve been a nervous person. But, last week’s demonstration of such aggressive fear and anxiety seeping in to a wonderful opportunity to suck the life out of it, was the last straw for me. Consider this my strongest dedication yet to nip my nerves in the bud and allow myself to sit back, relax, and enjoy my ridiculously humorous, fast-paced, and truly amazing ride.