Are you prone to nervous spells? Overthinking? Sweating not just the small stuff but, well… everything? Then like me, you may be neurotic. Over the years I’ve learned certain situations trigger the anxious, jumpy rabbit in me. Yet the good news is I’ve recently learned this fascinating coping technique.
First, here are some triggers…
Doctor’s offices—For me, this is the penultimate of nervousness. I don’t care if it’s the dentist, gynecologist, internist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist or witch doctor. I’m a quaking, miserable mess. I lose my cookies. My heart races. I assume the worst…always.
I don’t care if I’m picking up a prescription from the receptionist. Just entering the office itself gives me jitters. My doctor said I have the worst case of “white-coat syndrome” he’s ever seen. Nurses shake their heads in pity. I hate being this afraid. But there I am.
Jury duty – I was recently called to be a first-day juror. The strange part is I’ve been a juror before. What got me scared this time was the dreaded “Voir dire.” This is where you sit in the witness box in the courtroom. A cranky lawyer fires questions like you just held up a liquor store.
Each query takes five minutes to ask. They use terms like “questionable doubt” vs. “legal intent” vs. “admissible evidence.” I give what I hope is a coherent answer. My mouth dries up. I’m not used to thinking this hard. I’m sure everyone’s judging me, including the defendant. I want to go home and eventually I do, but first I sweat it out. (By the way, I didn’t get selected. Shocking, but true).
Crowded elevators—This always happens to me. I’m 5’3” and the rest of the world seems huge. Men in particular are towering giants. The more packed the elevator, the more I end up plastered against the back wall.
That’s when my claustrophobia kicks in. I imagine getting stuck between floors, all these people trapped in this small space! There’s no air! I can’t breathe! Just thinking about it makes me panicky. At the moment I’m ready to claw the walls, the doors open. I sigh, thanking the elevator Gods.
Small Talk – I must confess, I’m good for about 30 minutes at large social gatherings. I rotate the room several times, looking for a friendly face, but then panic sets in. A woman’s coming toward me; I sort of recognize her. I’m going to have to make that dreaded party-speak.
We do pretty well for a few minutes. But then comes that awkward moment when we run out of things to say. We each scan the party with forced smiles, as if checking everything out. But secretly we’re scrambling for the next bon mot. I start getting nervous. Where’s the nearest exit? My comfy clothes and book beckons.
Airport gates – This neurosis isn’t to be confused with the actual plane. Oh no, the gates have their own brand of crazy-making. First are those huge windows where you see how bad the weather is or the fact the plane’s not here yet. Why, I wonder? What happened? Was there engine failure? Oh God, I’m expected to board this crippled plane when it finally limps in?
Then there’s the constant drone of cable news squawking from ceiling monitors every twenty feet. Who got the brilliant idea to recite to already-jittery passengers the world’s crises every fifteen minutes? Get me out of here.
Airplanes— Does much need to be said about neurotics and planes? I have tried everything and I mean everything (chill pills, booze, meditation, videos, books, magazines) to convince myself I’m safe in a vacuum-packed tin can 35,000 feet in the air. Forget it. I’m a mess…the entire flight.
But here’s the good news…
Author Elizabeth Gilbert was interviewed recently on her best selling book, “Big Magic.” She talked about fear. And what she said made my day and might even have helped.
She said… get this, it’s okay to be afraid.
What? I’ve spent my entire life trying to outsmart fear. I’ve pushed it away. I’ve told myself its not there. Now I’m supposed to hang out with it?
But then I remembered something. Every time I try and ignore anxiety, it clings to me like a crying toddler.
Elizabeth said fear should be allowed to stay, but with certain ground rules.
Fear must stay in the background. Fear cannot try and run the show. Fear cannot keep me from living life. Fear cannot take over.
Phew, I thought, all this makes sense in a strange, neurotic way. Maybe my problem hasn’t been fear, as much as fearing fear itself. (Thank you, FDR).
I will still do things that spook me. But this time, I’ll admit I’m scared. I won’t try and outrun my feelings which only adds to the tension.
I’ll accept who I am.
And maybe, finally, that jumpy rabbit will calm down.
How about you? Do you struggle with anxiety? I love comments. Thank you for reading and sharing!