Has anyone else been under the illusion that “things are going to get back to normal” after Covid? If you are anything like me you maybe have been feeling yourself hiding out emotionally and energetically waiting for the “all clear” before you reinvest your soul back into your life again. And it’s crushing you. You may have allowed yourself to become socially isolated. You maybe don’t go do the fun things you used to do. Maybe you and your relationships have been torn to shreds by everyones emotional political opinions and you are starting to wonder if it is even safe to put yourself out there. What is the point of being around people if you have to constantly be on guard with what you are saying and you have to just grin and bear it when other people just spurt their opinions and world views out everywhere assuming you are a sympathetic ear. Aside from the relational chaos we have allowed Covid to cause - it has also caused physical chaos. So many people are either directly or indirectly influenced by Covid taking a physical toll on our health. Whether that was missed doctors appointments for two years - how many people do you know in the last ten months that have been diagnosed with cancer? I could rattle off quite a few. How many people do you know who have passed away in the last year? Again I have a few names come to mind, some of whom I was close with or close friends were close with. On top of all of that we are reaching a mental health crisis of epic proportions. Anxiety and depression are through the roof statistically. Everyone knows someone who is affected by mental health challenges now and likely that person you know is you. Statistics are showing that we as Americans are getting increasingly anxious, not less anxious as Covid numbers drop. How can this be? I think it is because world-wide we have all endured trauma from Covid. I’m not interested in getting into a debate on how benign or severe this virus is or where it came from or which political affiliation is most likely to fix it or if masks do or don’t work. What I care about is the relational wreckage that we have allowed to take place over the last two years.
So let’s talk about anxiety for a minute. I know this is a horse blog - but it’s also a human blog and our mental wellness spills over into every aspect of our lives and of course spills over into your relationship with your horse. I have had my fair share of personal run-ins with anxiety. I have experienced anxiety attacks complete with dry heaving into the toilet and curling up in a ball on the bathroom floor for hours not being able to breathe or move or think. I have had the spiraling thoughts where one worry leads to another that leads to another. I have had the visions in my mind that are almost like a flash back but instead of reliving some part of my past - they predict a horrific outcome of some future conversation, event or something awful happening to someone I love. I have felt the paralysis that anxiety renders to decision-making. I have left my shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store and walked out and went home because I couldn’t stand how crowded the aisles were. I have felt that uncontrollable urge to second guess every single move I make and also the overwhelming feeling of looking at a to-do list and not being able to even engage the first item. I know anxiety. It has tripped me up when I talk, caused me to stutter, caused me to completely forget what I was going to say. It has caused me to turn down lunch with a friend or a fun event because just the thought of it made my skin prickle and my heart race.
Ok, so that is anxiety. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you didn’t even know those symptoms were anxiety. I certainly didn’t when it started happening to me as a teenager. I had no idea what anxiety was until I was in my late 20’s and I had been suffering with very high-level anxiety the whole time. Actually, I take that back - I think I have had anxiety since I was a kid. Anyway, regardless of when it started it has been a much larger player in my life than I would like to admit. But here is the magical thing. I now have a say with anxiety. It doesn’t completely rule my life anymore. I can actually experience days or a weeks without having any spiraling thoughts or panic attacks! I actually have gone months on end with no panic attacks when they used to be a multiple-times-a-day occurrence. Anxiety feels like my body is running off with me but since it has no where to go my thoughts run off and cortisol and adrenaline dump into my system revving my body up for that chance for survival through fight or flight - except I have no one to fight and nowhere to run. So the question begs to be asked if you have anxiety is this a state of mind and suffering that you have to endure the rest of your life? From my experience, anxiety does not have to feel like a life-sentence. Anxiety grows on what you are feeding it.
So what does anxiety eat for breakfast? Anxiety feeds off of both mental and physical diet. Sugar and carbohydrates feed anxiety. Watching the news feeds anxiety. Scrolling social media feeds anxiety. Not getting enough sleep feeds anxiety. Busyness feeds anxiety. Isolating yourself from people feeds anxiety. Not getting outdoors feeds anxiety. Binge-watching netflix feeds anxiety. Procrastination feeds anxiety. Caffeine feeds anxiety. So I’ll ask you, have you been feeding anxiety? Are you keeping it around like an unwelcome guest in your house? You don’t have to feed your anxiety. That is a lifestyle choice you are making and we as Americans live an anxiety producing lifestyle. I also like to mention that if you decide you are ready to take your body and mind back from anxiety doing it alone is sometimes the worst strategy you can have. Reaching out to a therapist is a great way to battle long-term anxiety. Not only will they be able to walk with you through your knotted yarn of thoughts, fears and emotions and help you reground in the reality of what is happening right now instead of living within your future predictions which may or may not ever happen. I had a one-year period after my mental health had reached a crisis point where I saw a therapist twice a week. Another year after that I saw her once a week and now I touch base with her once a month. It is a wonderful grounding practice in my routine to keep anxiety to a minimum. I also have been on medication for anxiety at different times in the last few years as well. It certainly does not work great for me if I’m feeding anxiety elsewhere in my life but it can be a reset if I have allowed my habits to slip or if a major life event upsets the balance I have carved out for my mind.
The point is you can get your life back. Use your tools, make a plan and start starving off your anxiety today. You may not need to do all of the things that I suggested. Just start small. See what happens if you reduce your screen time or take a 24 hour social media break or stop having dessert right before bed or get outside and go for a walk a few times a week. Grab lunch with a friend. Go to the dog park. Get out and ride your horse with no agenda. Set some small goals. They will pay back in dividends!