I have been pretty open with all of you about my struggle with anxiety, but I have not talked so much about it’s shadow. I would like to introduce you to my Paranoia. He does not show up very often. Mostly around midnight, when I am alone. He whispers nightmarish thoughts in my ear. He pokes at my nerves until I no longer can sit still at the smallest tone.
These intense anxious thoughts are brought out when I am home alone at night when my anxiety is at it’s highest. So really, I only struggle with this when my husband goes out of town for work. Thankfully, this does not happen very often, a couple times a year at most. Usually he is gone for a weekend and back by Monday, however, this time he was told the trip would be a total of 5 weeks. As soon as he told me, my anxiety kicked my heart into overdrive. I knew I would never be able to get more than a week off of work to visit him, so that left 4 weeks. One month, by myself. Alone.
So what thoughts are keeping me awake at night? As soon as the sun sets and the house gets quiet as I settle down for bed, my mind is bombarded with vivid break in scenes. You might read that and say well, those do happen and it is good to be vigilant. To which my brain says, exactly. I have learned better than to watch too many new segments, as it seems to always trigger this idea. However, social media makes it hard to avoid.
While it’s good for everyone to be vigilant and have a solid plan if something were to occur, the difference is that my mind will continually obsess over this fact all night long. I will jump and clench my covers at every little sound and think someone is coming through my door or window. I doze off for 5 min or so at a time only to be jolted awake by my own thoughts. This continues through the night. I will often get up the next morning and realize that probably 75% of the sounds I heard were conjured up in my head.
So rationally (because I’m the girl who likes to look at the facts and mechanisms), what’s going?
As humans we are conditioned to react with flight or fight responses. We all learned that is basic science, right? But nobody seems to talk about what happens before we make that final decision. Being required to make a decision about something that our body is telling us might kill us, is extremely strenuous on not only our physical being but our mental being as well. On senses are extremely heightened, spilling into hyper vigilance. Which would explain why I can hear every sound imaginable through these now seemingly thin walls. Sleep is practically impossible at this state. I knew that if I was going to last 4 weeks, I needed to find some coping mechanisms to get me through the long nights.
With some trial and error here’s what I have for you:
- First, quit beating yourself up about it. I feel like the first thing I do is to start attacking myself for being so anxious; I start telling myself that I shouldn’t feel this way, I am weak, how silly I am.. etc. Starting that cycle will only make your anxiety increase. Once I realized this, I attempted to counteract the negative thoughts and feelings toward myself, with positive remarks. So instead of attacking myself, I instead told myself that my anxiety does not make me weak, this is a normal dilemma that my body is handling, and that I can get through this.
- Second, Create a distraction. Interrupting the obsessive cycle of thoughts was probably the second most effective thing I did. Although, it was truly the hardest, because I was thoroughly convinced that if I couldn’t hear anything, I would be caught by surprise by my inevitable intruder. After some practice and a lot of effort, prayer, and netflix, I was able to efficiently quiet my anxiety. Once my anxiety settled and my body was able to process at a normal rate, the paranoid cyclical thoughts almost vanished completely.
- Third, Rationalize and visualize. I found that because my fear was something that could actually happen, it made it harder to explain to myself that the odds of it actually happening were pretty low. So, I sat myself down and visualized all the way through every possibility of a break in scenario and found a solution, or created a plan for each. My anxiety depressed significantly. So, basically I asked myself IF it happened what would I do ? This allowed me to take back some of the control.
- Finally, Give it time. When your body is in a new situation, it’s going to be in overtime. Give it time to adjust. By the final week, I was starting to adjust to the nights alone and had created a safe space for myself. In fact, I am pretty proud of myself for making it by myself this last month! It’s the longest I’ve ever been alone, since I’ve never lived on my own before.
If you struggle with anxiety and the paranoid cyclical thoughts that often come with it, you’re not alone and I hope some of these methods are useful to you! If you have any additional ones, leave them in the comments, we could all use the extra tips!