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Anxiety and the Little Things

Anxiety and the Little Things

Adulting is hard.

There are the occasional perks—like having pie for breakfast. Recently, when our kids have asked, “how come YOU get to…and I don’t?” we’ve been using the response, “because we pay taxes.” It seems to work well. It doesn’t, however, touch the surface of explaining the level of stress and anxiety that adulting requires…sometimes pie for breakfast is the only way to get through the day.

I must be honest—when it comes to stress and anxiety, I have never been one to be acutely affected by it. Don’t get me wrong, I FEEL stressed. I get anxious. (And I know the difference between the two—stress is the pressure, good or bad, while anxiety is the negative emotional reaction to stress, which is often uncontrollable and cumulative.) Yet for me, these feelings aren’t debilitating. I do have triggers, but I am not plagued by the weight of anxiety.

My husband, however, is.

I’m not sure if I know WHY I’ve never really been bothered with anxiety. It’s not that I’ve been free of stress and frustration, I have just never been weighed down by them. I am the furthest thing from a perfectionist, and perhaps that helps. Part of it is trying to keep things in perspective, but I also am a bit absent-minded and often forget to be upset about things. It has been hard learning about anxiety through my husband—seeing the world from his point of view, and helping him not to get over-burdened.

In fairness, he takes a lot of the day-to-day adulting anxiety onto himself so that I don’t have to, but in so doing he compounds it into a ball of nausea in his stomach. Literally. His stress metastasizes into digestion issues, headaches, insomnia, and other health problems. If I could put a finger on one of the hardest things for him, it’s maintaining perspective. Our work together has taught me that I must help to maintain the broader view so that when he can’t see it, I can take him aside and explain that his reactions may be incongruous with the situation at hand. And he knows to hear me.

Basically, my job is maintaining the emotional happiness of the family. Which is hard when I have a bad day. On those days when no one is keeping us mentally afloat, we opt for pizza for dinner and early bedtime until I can reboot. Part of our growing process has been to provide him tools to use when I do have those inevitable bad days, so he has a checklist to help everyone cope. Even though I don’t have them often, I recognize that my bad days can be better than some of his good days.

An interesting element in this is that my husband has always been the “fit” one of the two of us. He is incredibly attractive (I’m not just saying that), has always been muscular, and is in no way an unhealthy-looking person. Nor do we overindulge in typically unhealthy foods like drive-throughs, soda, sugar, deep fried, or high-fructose-hydrogenated-turns-your-fingers-orange-snacks. Despite this, and even with my issues with being overweight, I am the “healthier” individual. At age 32, after months of cumulative and increasingly acute abdominal pain, he drove himself to the ER and was hospitalized for several weeks. He was diagnosed with “smoldering pancreatitis” and had to have his sludge-filled gall bladder removed (which still didn’t fix the issue). This last year, at age 36, he was diagnosed with dangerously high cholesterol.

That was the final trigger. So, he took action.

He is incredibly motivated by limits. He is one of those boundary-pushers who excels when you tell him he “can’t.” However, when he tells himself that he can’t, no power on earth can budge him from that view…but that’s another blog all together. So when the doctor said, “you’re going to have to go on medication for cholesterol for the rest of your life,” he said…

“Oh yeah? Just watch me.”

The rabbit hole of physical and mental health options, blogs, podcasts, and books that he has gone down has been both inspiring and terrifying. His goal was small, easy changes that maximize big effect. In his journey, he has removed almost all the daily medication he had been taking and has been astounded at the health benefits of simple life changes. I mean, we all “know” that sleep and hydration make a difference, but I’m not sure it’s ever been so real to me before. I asked him what he wished someone had been able to tell him 3 years ago, and here is what he told me:

Sleep. Abel James, author of the Wild Diet Cookbook, asks if we know why many famous people look so good all the time. It’s not the personal trainer, the personal chef, or the abundant income—rather, they sleep MORE than the rest of us. A. LOT. MORE. It’s not all about quantity, a qualitative element is also important. Another difference—they rest (which is not the same as sleep). They can take actual time off (unlike most of Americans) where they RECOVER from life.

Food. We all know fast food is bad for us. But it’s more fundamental than that. One of these four things are probably going to kill us after age 40 (depending on genes): neurodegenerative disease, stroke, heart attack, or cancer. They can almost ALL be tied at least indirectly (though often it IS pretty black and white) back towhat we eat and how we rest.

I’m not saying, “welcome to your new life: kale.” I’m saying small changes can make a difference.

Fun Fact: food that is bad for you is clinically proven to TASTE BETTER when you’re tired. So, yes—that cheese quesadilla I ate at 1 in the morning is LITERALLY the best one I’ve ever eaten.

Mindfulness. Taking a minute to set yourself for the day really helps. As little as 12 minutes/day has been proven to PHYSICALLY alter your brain. Believe it or not—simply sitting and turning off all the noise in your head is far more challenging than it might sound. I try to find a book, an app, a space to meditate and carve out a tiny chunk of my day and get in the right mindset (usually first thing in the morning). The folks around me noticed the change before I did. It wasn’t until I missed a day that the change really became true for me. The difference in my anxiety was palpable.

Meds. First, there is no shame in needing medicine. I am not going to tell you that eating carrots is going to cure your autoimmune disease, or help with clinically diagnosed chemical imbalance. However, I was on a litany of medication that is normally reserved for men twice my age. I had to stop and think over this daily pill regimen. If I am going to ingest supplementary things—I want them as beneficial as possible with as little drawback/side effects as possible. I took some time and worked on natural alternatives exchanging big pharma’s recipe to keep me medicated for life. It helped.

Water. This one’s easy. Drink it more. It’s epically important and effects a HOST of things that connect back to these other things. It was small. Easy to do. And was immediately effective. A gallon a day will keep many things away.

Exercise. Like fast food, we all KNOW the truth in it, but somehow it seems impossible. Exercise (like so much of this) is about bigger picture, and a bit of a life change. Did you know that 30 minutes of sun light (the real deal, not from a happy lamp) at the right time of day can radically change your sleep pattern?  So, if I choose to take a quiet 30-minute walk outside during lunch then I’m checking at least 3 boxes off my list.

Here’s another fun fact – that even very minimal exercise actually makes those good food choices TRULY magical (the opposite of lack of sleep and bad food).

That was it though: Sleep, food, mindfulness, medication, water, exercise. I know we knew these things before, but it wasn’t until we saw the truth of them in action that we realized how even small changes in these categories can make a big impact.

He still struggles…so do I. We still sometimes need pie for breakfast. But the biggest take-away I had from participating in his experience is that these things are inescapably and inextricably related and contingent on one another. They cumulatively add or detract to and from anxiety (and lifespan, if you’re concerned about that.) I’m not saying there’s a silver bullet—there’s not. There is no perfect solution. But his anxiety is very much about the little things, which add up.  It’s funny that the little things are what seem to make the biggest difference in combating his anxiety.

Side note—if this stuff freaks you out a little—it did me too…a lot. Still does, if I’m being honest. If you’re worried you might end up like that one aunt who does seasonal faerie circles in the yard and wears hemp pants while tossing essential oils into the air—it’s possible. But stack that up against a bad day where he can’t get out of his head and his insides eat themselves and it is simply so much darkness—ALL day. I don’t know about you…but I’d choose to be the odd aunt (who is probably blissfully happy and will outlive us all).

This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on anxiety from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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