3 weird ways to spot anxiety

My old companion Anxiety turned up this week. It’s interesting because through yoga and therapy with a naturopath i’ve learned how to spot anxiety even when i don’t consciously feel worried about anything.

My three weird anxiety symptoms

Gnawing hunger.

I feel gnawing deep in my gut, even if I’ve just eaten. Before I started medication a few years ago, I found it really difficult to eat. I’d feel desperately hungry, but either couldn’t think of anything appealing, or would lose my appetite after a single bite. It feels as though my body is consuming itself. And … it kind of is.

At the height of my anxiety I was also breastfeeding, so I was bone thin (and bone tired). This prompted my relatives question the wisdom of breastfeeding at all, which would make me defensive, and a little proud of my sacrifice. Plus, I’ve always had a touch of that dangerous idea that it’s safer (fashion-wise) to be a little too thin. (I know this isn’t true, but something about being too thin was comforting.)

Now, when I start skipping meals and surviving on my kids’ discarded crusts, I know to ask myself what I’m anxious about. Yesterday, just after a breakfast of buttered and peanut-buttered toast (mmmm), my guts were growling. Something is up.

Bad driving.

This one is so interesting to me, because I never would have known my anxiety and driving were related had I not started anti-depressant medication.

I’ve been a nervous driver since earning my license at 16. Because I grew up on a farm 10 minutes drive from the nearest town of 6,000, driving wasn’t really optional. If wanted a job, dancing lessons, drama practice or my friends’ houses, I had to drive.

Still, I would look for any excuse to avoid driving. In Calgary, where I attended university and worked in my 20s, I’d walk 40 minutes through knee-high snow and brutal winds just to avoid driving on ice. When my husband and I moved to Vancouver, I’d only drive places I’d been before, never downtown, never turning left, never parallel parking and never, ever taking anyone but my husband in the passenger seat. (My husband didn’t have a Canadian permit yet, so couldn’t drive himself). Partly I worried about accidents but partly I worried others would think I wasn’t turning left quickly enough, that I hadn’t taken the most efficient route, or gotten the best parking space. What would they (all the other drivers in Vancouver) think of me?

I thought fear of driving was just part of my general loser-ness, until I started taking sertraline. When it kicked in, driving suddenly became easy. I didn’t have to think about every possible horrendous scenario at every intersection. I didn’t have to shoulder check over and over before changing lanes. And I stopped giving two shits about making people wait while I turned left.

“That’s driving, buddy!” I’d think. “You should have left earlier.”

Noises are too noisy

I read a book a few years ago called Child Sense which explained that everyone has a dominant sense that affects our interactions with the world. I’m auditory, for example, so I’m incredibly sensitive to sound. If there’s too much going on noise-wise, I get really stressed out. For example, I can’t parallel park with the radio on. I can’t have a conversation in my apartment with the balcony door open to noisy traffic below, and music at the volume my husband likes it. Too many channels in my brain are in use, and I tend to snap or disagree.

On the other hand, my husband is visual. Noise doesn’t distract him, but he absolutely cannot talk, read or start any project while the house is untidy. He even has to tidy the kitchen before he washes the dishes because he can’t bear seeing chaos.

We drive each other crazy. I think it takes him longer to stack all the dishes neatly than it would to actually do them. Cleanliness doesn’t matter as much to him as clearing away the visual clutter. And every time I walk in the room, I automatically turn down the radio. It’s always too loud for me to think.

So mostly I know that about this now and its all okay. But yesterday, driving home from a playdate and later to swimming lessons, my kids just never seemed to shut up. Questions, questions, questions. Stories and more stories. Their little squeaky voices, trying out different annoying personas, repeating the plot lines of cartoons. And always when I was trying to change lanes or turn left, or hear some story on the radio! SHUT UP!!!

So what’s causing this anxiety?

It could be my period, which just arrived today. But I hate blaming feelings on menstruation, like my feelings are imaginary, or like I am just a big cliché.

It could be that my coffee press broke and I replaced it with a brand-name Bodum which holds an extra cup of coffee. Wheeee! Is that it? Just too much caffeine?

Or maybe I’m still over-tired from sleeping in a tent over the long weekend. Lack of sleep is a definite trigger for my anxiety.

What helps my anxiety?

Obviously, clonazepam would help, but I don’t like to take it in the daytime because I really need it to work for my insomnia. Plus, it wears off and then you’re still in the same anxiety boat. It’s so easy to become addicted to more than you really need.

My doctor recommended getting off my butt and doing cardio to combat my inclination to shout SHUT UP at everyone. Cortisol builds up in your muscles, she says, and if I don’t use it to rescue my child from a burning building or run on an elliptical trainer, it makes me grouchy. That is the theory anyways.

Significantly, it’s a theory my husband believes. He’s always trying to get me to eat healthier and work out more. (I’m thin, nearly vegetarian and teach yoga so I usually think that’s good enough.) He doesn’t believe in the theory of “me time” where I take myself to the coffee shop to write poetry however.

Basically going to the gym is a valid reason for getting out of the house alone while the kids are still awake; writing poetry is not. So I am going to run with that, so to speak. After all my gym has plenty of magazines and TVs to watch while training elliptically so it’s still “me time.”

So far I haven’t faked going to the gym to write coffeehouse poetry instead, but I wouldn’t rule that out. I really think that in my case writing angry sad bewildered poetry is at least as good at burning off anxiety as working out.


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