I was an anxious kid, an even more anxious teen. So much so that the nuns at my Catholic school let me skip mass each morning because of how often I threw up or fainted. Even in college, I did so now and again. And while it’s been decades since, anxiety once again has become a near-constant companion, in large part due to COVID.
And I’m not the only one who is anxious.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that anxiety increased by 25% across the globe in the first year of the pandemic. And this fall, a panel of medical experts recommended for the first time that doctors screen all patients under the age of 65 for anxiety which, involves asking questions about symptoms: How often do you feel nervous, anxious or on edge? Do you have trouble concentrating? Does worry present you from falling or staying asleep?
I’m not sure why I and all the rest of us age 65 and older aren’t covered by the WHO’s recommendation, but I do believe we ought to be. After all, it’s not like anxiety goes away with age. In fact, I and many of my friends and colleagues who are 65+ report an increase in anxiety, in part because we no longer have the self-esteem and support system that came with our jobs. Health issues are also a factor.
Some of us also report an increase in hang-xiety, which is anxiety some people experience after drinking alcohol. I certainly did shortly after the start of the pandemic when I found myself indulging far too often in a second or even third cocktail, which research shows can decrease dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in keeping anxiety under control.
It’s one reason why I reluctantly gave up drinking this year. It’s also why I’m doing other things as well:
Setting reasonable goals
Striving for progress, not perfection
Asking for help and support
Trying eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
I’m also admitting that I’m struggling. Doing so has been tough for me but it’s getting easier thanks to the love and support of family, friends and my fellow writers/Word Sisters.
I think anxiety is much more common than we think. And your coping tools are very good!
In going through a bout of anxiety myself, I love all the suggestions above. They work when the anxiety is a low amount. On the other hand, when anxiety is bad enough that you seek treatment, the suggestions can be quite difficult to carry out. EMDR helped me a few years ago when I had a different bout of anxiety. Hang in there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, what goes up, goes down.
Oh, yeah, I can relate big-time, Bev. I fell apart last winter and am just now feeling like I’m coming out of the deep water. It took an antidepressant to do that, on top of yoga, long walks in nature, therapy and massage. Glad you sought help, that first step is the hardest. ❤️
I love you, Bev. You always have something interesting, thoughtful and important to say. I think anxiety is physical as well as mental (fainting is the body’s response to “get me the hell outta here”!) and the best cure is nature.
We humans, Americans in particular, especially city-dwellers, tend to be more disconnected from nature than is good for us, given that we’re… y’know… animals.
Pets help. Houseplants help. But there’s nothing for anxiety like a good, long walk in the woods, a strenuous hike up a mountain, or a day at the beach, a brisk hour skating on ice. We all have the ability to get in touch with nature every day—despite the wind and snow, despite the dry heat, despite whatever conditions we find ourselves in, as long as there’s a window, or a nature sounds app or five minutes to close our eyes and just breathe (air being the most basic element of nature there is).
I remember how a brisk walk around the Best Buy campus helped to clear my head when anxiety took over at work (on the daily). I think everyone should have, on their desk, a miniature sandbox, or a box of dried corn kernels like we had a Conklin’s Nursery School in Austin, Minnesota, when I was five years old. I still remember what it feels like to sift handfuls of corn, how calming that is.
You are so right that anxiety is not just a youthful affliction; but with age, I think acceptance becomes easier. We can look back with fondness at our youthful selves for what they believed was worth stressing about, and smile, knowing we’ve come through whatever-it-was with some measure of grace. Hey, we’re still alive and kicking, right?
I hadn’t heard of “hang-xiety” but it’s interesting to note that alcohol lowers our “feel-good” dopamine levels….maybe smoothies containing brain-enhancing ginger and avocado should be the new artisan cocktails! In fact, more bars have alcohol-free cocktail menus now, have you noticed that? We went to Travail with my son and daughter-in-law who was pregnant at the time, and her n/a cocktail flight was just as tasty as our boozy one, not to mention less expensive!
I’m curious about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy but I have to wonder…what if we all just gave ourselves more pleasure than we’re accustomed to? Wouldn’t just a bit of hedonism serve to decrease our anxiety? Life is short. I have a wealthy friend (someone you know, actually) who indulges in a new nail polish color once a week because it makes her feel good. She could buy a new wardrobe every season, but she doesn’t. Her brand of self-care works just fine.
Then there’s travel, and purposeful work, and other remedies for anxiety that have proven themselves for centuries. I read today that there’s a hotel/b&b chain called Selina (https://www.selina.com/) where you can rent a very nice room and co-working space for $450 a month in several countries (Mexico, Israel, it’s a long list). If I still had a house in the U.S. I’d rent it out and sign up for Selina in a second.
Final thought: you know that I’m one of at least two Word Sisters here in San Miguel who would welcome a visit from you. Just as the WaPo says “Democracy dies in darkness,” I propose that anxiety is crushed by perspective: the kind you get from nature, and from fiercely loving friendships, and from travel, and from doing anything outside your comfort zone.
In your case, I know I speak for friends around the world: Come visit us!