Annually recurring anxiety: you may have it and not know it.
Anxiety disorders can be times of extended difficulty for those who suffer from them. Tension, worry, inability to concentrate, mono-focus on a particular thought or person, avoidance of a particular situation or person, irritable outbursts, and feelings of detachment from others are all common symptoms. So are physical symptoms, such as rising blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, loss of or appetite, nightmares, and sleep disturbance.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and they seem to come from nowhere, leaving you perplexed and feeling helpless, check the calendar. Often, we relive past traumatic experiences—such as the death of a loved one, a divorce (your own or your parents\’), abuse, even the loss of a dear pet in our childhood—on the anniversary of the experience. You may be experiencing annual bouts of anxiety that begin anywhere from a few days to weeks before the anniversary date, with a rising level of anxiety as the date approaches.
How can this happen? Each of us has a mental calendar that circles back around every year. Common dates we all have clear in our mental calendars include major holidays, birthdays, favorite vacation times, school beginning and end, and many others. But stowing away within this calendar can be any experience in which we have felt deep emotional stress, such as a loss, a perceived failure, or abuse. In those cases, our minds can resurrect these experiences—and the stress that accompanied them—resulting in an annually recurring bout of anxiety, depression, or both.
Like many disorders, you can address this type of anxiety through increased awareness and attention, education, and professional intervention. To get started, try these coping strategies to help you get a better handle on your anxiety:
- Take stock. When you begin to feel anxious, take stock of what\’s going on and when. Have you had this experience in previous years? If so, try to pin down when the experience begins and ends. Look at the calendar and think back to earlier years, especially your childhood. Was there an event that happened in this time frame that could be a hidden emotional trigger?
- Go deeper. Let yourself sense what the anxiety is hiding and experience the underlying emotions more directly. When you are feeling bad, get in the habit of asking yourself what\’s going on deeper down. Is it sadness? Anger? Grief? Fear? Understand that reliving the emotion is a natural part of healing and moving on.
- Talk it out. Sit down with your best friend or a family member you trust, and talk about your past experience, what it meant to you, and how it seems to affect you today. Even just spending time with trusted people can prevent you from feeling isolated.
- Focus outward. Focus on thoughts and activities other than your past experiences. Physical activities are highly therapeutic, but even quiet activities such as reading an absorbing novel can keep your mind focused outward and forward, not inward and backward. Walking, especially in a beautiful park or nature trail, where you can experience the clean air, the foliage, and the animal life, is one of the best therapies around.
- Don\’t numb yourself. Avoid numbing activities that become part of the problem, such as drinking or using drugs. And avoid people who draw you into these types of activities. It\’s one thing to have a glass of wine with a meal. But drinking in larger quantities can prevent you from experiencing the core feelings you need to sort though to get better.
- Honor a lost loved one. If your anxiety anniversary involves a traumatic loss in your past, find a meaningful way to honor that person. It could be donating to a related charity, participating in a favorite activity of your loved, or organizing a family get-together to share happy memories.
- Volunteer. Helping others can help you. Both anxiety and depression can focus us inward, sometimes to the point where we sense we are not there for other as much as we can be. This can add a sense of isolation and diminish our sense of self-worth. Doing something for others—whether people or animals—can relieve the isolation and help you feel useful and worthy again.
- Get help. Don\’t go it alone. Asking for professional help may be the biggest step you take to break the annual cycle. Does the Christmas holiday remind you of the parent you lost as a child, resurrecting the sadness and making you anxious through the holidays and hard to be around? Make an appointment in the fall and have a partner to help you get through the season, which can be trying for anyone. Do summer vacations remind you of the divorce you experienced ten years ago? Make an appointment in the spring to address those issues and sail into your summer with your boat on an even keel.
Orange County anxiety counseling can make a difference. My approach to anxiety counseling and therapy is to provide information to help you find a better perspective, to help you manage your anxieties relating to past traumatic events, and, together, to talk through your feelings and offer insights that can help you move past the broken record of annually recurring anxiety.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.Â If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.Â You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.