“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
My alarm was set for 30 minutes before my check-in time, and I sat with the browser page open so I wouldn’t be late. While I waited, I started reading a book. It was really interesting. It was so interesting that when I checked to see how long until I could check in, I saw I was ten minutes late. Hurrying, I clicked the button and held my breath to see what my lucky number would be. In only ten minutes, most of the seats looked to be taken. I did my best self-talk to assure myself that I would be fine boarding so far back. I have a problem with sitting in the middle seat on a plane and will sit at the back of the plane as long as I can sit on the aisle, and I just kept telling myself I could handle whatever seat I ended up with. I believed it until about 5:00 the morning of the flight when my body and mind surprised me with very uncomfortable feelings. Once at the airport, heart beating quickly, chest tightening, and tears in the glands waiting to begin the trek toward my cheeks, I, a grown woman, finally got the nerve to walk to the customer service counter and asked what I could do to board earlier. I wonder if Thich Nhat Hanh knows how challenging it can be to smile and breathe?
Is my story familiar to you at all? Maybe you have had a presentation to give, and your heart suddenly begins to race, your palms are sweaty, and you just want to break down and cry (men, I’m talking to you as much as I am talking to any woman). Whether you have panic attacks or anxiety attacks, it can be at the very least embarrassing and at the most completely debilitating for a short time. The good news is, you will not die from it. That’s the most important thing to tell yourself, I think. If I sit in the middle seat, I won’t die, if your nerves keep you from flawlessly performing in your presentation, you won’t die, if you are frightened because you are in the dark, you won’t die. You will, however, feel as if you could die, and that should be enough to spur any of us to seek help to overcome what creates our anxiety or our panic.
People easily write off women in general as ’emotional’ or ‘moody’ creatures, but that isn’t always true or without reason, nor is it fair to hang those adjectives on most women. Equally noticeable is the quickness with which men are described and expected to be ‘strong and silent’ and ‘virile’, with a few variations. It isn’t fair to hang that on any man. The truth is men are often struggling to live up to the adjectives and women are trying to escape the adjectives, and it creates a lot of anxiety in all of us.
Anxiety and Panic have minor differences, and they become disorders when they begin happening more frequently. Dr. Martin Antony (Ryerson University, Toronto) says, ” If the man in your life starts to avoid things he used to enjoy or becomes irritable, these can be signs of an anxiety disorder. Anger is more acceptable for some men than anxiety.” Additionally, it’s not uncommon for men suffering from anxiety to also experience depression. Other signs include trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping and loss of interest in sex.” Anxiety in men is real, but we as a society tend to not allow for or acknowledge it. If someone keeps telling me it’s impossible that I’m feeling what I’m feeling or to just get over it, it will not make me feel better. It’s time for women and men to allow men to admit what they are feeling — and then they can get help to hopefully become the people they wish they could be.
- Don’t fight what you are feeling. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Sit in the feelings and know they will pass.
- Don’t deal with what you are feeling by taking a drink or a pill. Taking a drink isn’t all bad, but using it as a coping strategy is a dangerous way to deal.
- Do get out of the house. Go for a walk or a run. Exercise is a great response to what you are feeling.
- Change the music/movies/people with which you are filling your hours. Interestingly, earlier reports (2011) linking heavy metal and depression/anxiety have over the past four years been adjusted to show that while those people already suffering might be drawn to heavy metal music, the type of music has actually been found to be helpful in alleviating anxiety when used as a tool. The studies are worth reading and considering how what you are watching and/or listening to might be bringing on more anxiety.
- Do ask for help before your new behaviors become accepted and begin to destroy relationships and your health.
People between 17 and 35 (men and women) are as likely as anyone to suffer with anxiety. Life is hard, many have issues with PTSD, and society expects much more than ever before, it seems. Women are more likely than men, but neither sex is without stress-induced anxiety.
When I reached the counter, the gentleman asked if I were even able to fly, which I assured him I was, then asked if there were a certain seat I needed, which I explained was simply an aisle seat, and he said I would board right after the “A” group with families with children. “Do you need a hug,” he asked. No, I did not, I would be fine and was very grateful, I responded. Inside, though, I knew that a hug would open the floodgates, and, after all, I was trying to be strong. Aren’t we all?