By Lauren Linhard – firstname.lastname@example.org
I liken the sensation of an anxiety attack to being shot in the chest by Mr. Freeze’s ice gun – the panic starts around the breast bone and seeps its icy tendrils through the veins in my arms, down to my fingers. I can feel each part of my body going cold as I try to focus my mind on the process of meditative breathing.
And then slowly, almost painfully, the fear in my fingertips begins to melt, my arm muscles relax and my heart starts to beat normally again – I consider this the defrosting stage. And for the upteenth time I remind myself that beating Mr. Freeze is possible. If Batman can do it, so can I.
Although, the Caped Crusader is not alone in his fight – this particular Justice League against anxiety is 40 million strong, affecting 18 percent of the American population. And much like the villains and superheros who accidentally fall into a vat of toxic sludge, people who suffer from anxiety rarely see it coming.
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. The age-of-onset can be as young as 11 years old, right around the same age little Bruce Wayne lost his parents.
So I’m pretty lucky my battle with Mr. Freeze didn’t start until a few years ago in my mid-20s, triggered by a new and sudden food allergy reaction. I was literally afraid of eating food, and went through the aforementioned experience for months almost every time I ate. I’m talking eating a slice of pepperoni pizza when I’d find my throat a little too dry, and suddenly Mr. Freeze was behind me, blasting his ice gun as I tried to reason there could be no way my throat was closing.
Unfortunately, more than 60 percent of people with an anxiety disorder do not receive treatment. Fortunately, when Mr. Freeze went so far as to scare me from eating ice cream and had me avoiding dinner parties with friends, I decided that I wasn’t going to let myself become part of that particular statistic.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Lesson One – Fighting anxiety doesn’t work. Resisting anxiety doesn’t work. Hiding from anxiety doesn’t work. These coping mechanisms only allow the ice block in your chest to grow and grow and grow until suddenly you are trapped in Mr. Freeze’s cryogenic lab. Instead, use your superhero powers to outsmart anxiety – let it wash over you, let it think it’s won, as you take the time to breathe and analyze what triggered this particular bout of panic. The fear of anxiety, knowing that you are about to have a reaction, is often a trigger in itself. Instead of being afraid, acknowledge that it’s alright to feel whatever you are feeling and that you can handle it.
Lesson Two – Anxiety is as agile as Mr. Freeze’s genius brain, even if he is depicted as a lumbering oaf. Just when you think you have everything under control, that ice gun is suddenly aimed at your heart for a different reason. Now that I can finally enjoy going out to dinner again, for example, I have anxiety issues when it comes to dating and commitment – things I previously never struggled with. The best tool for handling such developments is giving yourself time. Take the time you need to really think through situations, find your comfort zone, set personal boundaries and challenges, analyze your emotions and do what’s best for you.
Lesson Three – Form your own Justice League of support to take down Mr. Freeze. There will be days when you can’t handle the anxiety-riddled streets of your inner Gotham alone. Speak up and let those who love you know you are having a hard time. Take a day to binge on Netflix with your brother, order in some pizza with a bestie, revel in family gatherings where no one expects anything of you. Dealing with anxiety often feels embarrassing and illogical, so if you aren’t ready for that personal tell-all, set up a therapy appointment to privately work through those anxieties. But, remember, even Batman needed Robin.