How I learned to deal with anxiety at work

Image: Author Rosie Waterland

I have missed work before because of panic attacks.

Those of you who know what that means have probably just tensed up. For those of you who don’t know (and are probably thinking “I wish I could get out of work because, feelings”), let me give you a quick rundown:

For me, a panic attack starts with a feeling of dread. I can’t explain where it comes from but I can’t shake it. Like bricks in my stomach. That feeling escalates until the dread is so palpable that I no longer have any control over internalising it. The symptoms become physical. My heart pounds in my chest. I break into a cold sweat. I get dizzy. I can’t breathe. Then I panic that I can’t breathe. Then that panic snowballs with the rest of the panic and my panicked brain flips a switch. I feel like I’m going to die.

I usually throw up. It’s not pretty. It’s exhausting. And that’s the condensed version.

So where the hell does this horrifying simulated death experience come from?

Well, it’s simple really. I suffer from anxiety.

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And even though it’s something I’ve been dealing with for the better part of ten years, it still manages to take me by surprise sometimes. It can be unexpected and mortifying. Not unlike a fanny fart.

Anxiety can be a pretty harsh bitch. But only when you don’t respect her. And if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes don’t.

My anxiety sometimes fanny-farts my life. I imagine the conversation in my brain  goes something like this:

Rosie’s brain: “Hey so, I know I’ve burning the candle at both ends but I’m totally fine. I swear! I’ll just sit here for a second and think about rainbows and then get up and go to work.”
Anxiety: “Lol no. You’re going to freak out and then cry in the foetal position. Good luck with that.”

Yeah. Anxiety can be a pretty harsh bitch. But only when you don’t respect her. And if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes don’t.

You see, I’ve been dealing with this illness long enough to understand my body and to be in tune with its signals. I’m kind of a pro. I know that when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m more prone to anxiousness. I know that when I don’t take time to breathe when I’m stressed, I’m more prone to anxiousness. I know that when I feel those familiar bricks in my stomach, I need to take some time to recalibrate.

I know these things. But just like managing any other illness, it can often be a hassle to follow through sometimes. And when I don’t, my anxiety has a grand old time paying me back with this lesson: “Ignore me and I will wait until your life is going quite fabulously before fanny-farting right in the middle of it. Kthksbye.”

Of all the strategies and tools you can use to handle anxiety, I think the most important one is having compassion for yourself.

Anxiety and panic attacks are never convenient. But even though it can be embarrassing when they affect your life, you have to try and go easy on yourself. Anxiety is an illness like any other, and it’s going to have the occasional flare-up just like anything else.
Everybody has different strategies when it comes to managing their anxiety, and it’s important to figure out what works for you personally.

I see a psychiatrist once a week, as well as taking medication. And when I’m at work and I get that familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach, I know I need to take some time for myself. I usually go for a walk, or find somewhere in the office I can sit on my own. I also use breathing exercises and I have a mantra I repeat to try and stop my body from spiralling.

But of all the strategies and tools you can use to handle anxiety, I think the most important one is having compassion for yourself. It’s not always easy – particularly when you suffer from an illness that many people don’t understand. But you can always make sure that you understand it.

Anxiety may have taken me down in the past, but I haven’t let it take me out.

Know your limits. Know when you need to slow down. Listen to your body. Sometimes you don’t get to go to that party because it’s important for you to go home and rest. Sometimes you don’t get to have lunch with everybody else because you need to take some time to breathe.

Frustrating, I know. It often takes willpower. But if I can handle it most of the time, anyone can (seriously – this is coming from the girl who once faked an epic knee injury so she wouldn’t have to finish a high school cross-country so… trust me on this).

Anxiety may have taken me down in the past, but I haven’t let it take me out. And I’ve decided that I shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. Because it’s more important to concentrate on the strength it takes to get back on the horse than the failure you feel at falling off it.

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