I have a mild case of anxiety.
Not right now. But, frequently, I feel the irregular pulse, the erratic thoughts, and the potentially-debilitating nervousness that can ultimately cause an experience of sheer terror.
One time, I had a full-on anxiety attack in the Chandler mall (go figure). If you’ve never experienced this, it feels like a heart attack. I was convinced that there was something medically wrong with me. So Lou rushed me to Urgent Care and I braced myself for the news that the doctor finally found the hole in my heart that I’ve always suspected was there.
“It’s lucky we found it now,” Dr. X would say. “There’s no cure. But if you stop eating all delicious things and quit drinking entirely, you might live to be 35.”
Of course, the real-life doctor took one look at my EKG and sent me home with a pill.
Shortly after, I tried a low dose of a daily anti-anxiety medication. It turned me into a zombie.
So, after a few unsuccessful trials with that, I decided to ditch the medication and talk to a therapist. A good one. I’m lucky for finding her but I’m also lucky to only have a mild case — my heart breaks for people who suffer from severe anxiety because it is fucking Hell, people!
Anyway, my therapist taught me a meditation technique that has worked extremely well.
Here’s how it works.
Close your eyes. Let your mind wander. As it drifts, identify what happens using four categories:
Touch, Feel, Image, and Talk.
Anything tangible that happens during your meditation (e.g. the cat jumps in your lap, you hear your husband snoring, or you suddenly notice the feel of your shirt fabric) falls under the Touch category.
All emotional feelings (e.g. nervousness, anger, fear, relaxation, etc.) are included in the Feel category.
The pictures that run through your mind (e.g. what you imagine the cat in your lap looks like, how you remember the way someone’s face is put together, or any other picture) is categorized as Image.
And, finally, the voices in your head that fire off a bunch of messages (e.g. “I should get up and check my email,” or, “I’m hungry,” or “I should be sleeping instead of meditating because it’s 3 a.m. and I have to work tomorrow,” etc.) fall into the Talk category.
When I first started to practice, I would set a timer for two minutes. I’d close my eyes and say the words out loud. I probably looked like a lunatic, but I was surprised how quickly I fell into the rhythm.
“Talk…Feel…Image…Image…Touch…Image…” and so forth.
The goal is merely to continue identifying the things that happen in your head. That’s it. You don’t have to clear your mind (which is something I’ve never understood).
Allow your mind to stay active, acknowledge the activity, label it, and then move on to the next one.
Now I don’t have to speak out loud (unless I’m really in the depths). Most of the time, I don’t have to do it all. But if I have a bad week, I’ll set the timer (for ten minutes now that I’ve had more practice) and meditate each morning for a few days.
It’s magic. My symptoms subside…
…until they return, of course, because there’s no sure-fire way to cure this type of thing for good.
So, if you’re like me and you have similar difficulties, try this.
(I have more tricks up my sleeve for dealing with anxiety so maybe I’ll blog about that later.)