So there’s this thing that happens to me sometimes on days when I have improv rehearsal. It starts out as excitement, but somehow shapeshifts into that monster we all know as the classic anxiety attack.
It begins with a single thought, then snowballs into more, exaggerated and negative thoughts about all the possible things I convince myself are going to happen or are (unrealistically) true.
“I have improv today, that will be fun.”
“Well now that I said that, I probably just jinxed it.”
“What if I say something that makes everyone uncomfortable and they just stare at me like I’m a crazy person?”
“What if they all find out that I’m not actually funny?”
“I’m a fraud, I am the unfunniest person in the world, why am I even doing improv, everyone is going to find me out, I’m not good at anything, everybody hates me, I’m no good to anyone, why can’t it just be tomorrow already, how much time do I have left, KAREN, HAND ME MY RUM!”
Or something like that.
I basically end up talking myself off a ledge, hyperventilating and pacing around my apartment until it’s time to go to rehearsal.
Most of the time, I am able to calm myself down and replace those spiraling thoughts with new, positive ones so that I can go to rehearsal and actually enjoy myself. However, every now and then, I do the unthinkable:
I stay home.
And guess what? That’s okay.
If you are prone to anxiety attacks, you probably also feel the same way I often do about the inconceivable idea of staying home from something: guilty.
Well, I’m here to tell you to CUT THAT OUT, KAREN.
Anxiety is a real illness and, like all illnesses, requires care and attentiveness to improve your overall health. However, we often shove our anxiety deep down and suck it up to go to that rehearsal or get-together or what-have-you. If you have anxiety attacks frequently, you know how painful that is, not just mentally but physically as well. You get massive lumps in your throat, you fight back tears, your head hurts, or maybe you do what I do and compulsively pick at scabs on your skin. (No? Is that just me? Oh…)
In any case, if you are suffering from an anxiety attack, you shouldn’t feel guilty about choosing to stay home to attend to it; to calm your mind and spirit back to health.
Here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t feel guilty about choosing to stay home to treat your anxiety attack.
1) You Don’t Want to Smother Your Bacon
So you swallow your anxiety, letting it sit in your throat like a massive lump, and decide to go to whatever event or gathering it is. How do you expect that’s going to go over? When you pretend everything is fine and force a smile, you are not being your truest self; you are merely keeping the storm at bay. Your focus ends up primarily in your head, as it’s taking everything you got to keep your emotions in check.
As a result, your bacon (i.e. your honest-to-goodness, beautiful, and pure self) doesn’t get to shine.
You may convince yourself that it would be “mean” or unkind to others if you decide to stay home. But the reality is that you would actually be doing them an injustice by going and not really being YOU (i.e. embracing your bacon). In fact, people can often pick up on your negative vibes, which either brings them right down with you or may lead them to believe you are upset with them.
So which is really the “unkind” choice here?
2) Just Like With Any Illness, You Need to Take Care of Your Body
If you need sleep, tissues, and NyQuil to help you overcome a bad cold or the flu, you need to properly care for your anxiety attacks as well. Whether it’s through meditating, journaling, or sleep, you need to help your body through your anxiety attack. If that means staying home, then so be it. Take care of yourself.
3) It Will Become Easier to Overcome Attacks
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The more often you take the time to calm yourself through your anxiety attacks, the better you will get at it. It will become easier to identify your triggers and the methods that best help you work through an attack. As a result, you will be able to make more commitments without suffering from as many or as severe of anxiety attacks leading up to them. But in order to do that, you need to overcome that feeling of guilt about choosing to stay home, if you know that’s what you need.
4) You Need the Time to Listen to Your Body
No, I’m not talking about listening to your bowel movements, KAREN. I’m talking about paying attention to what your body may be trying to tell you. Is there someone in particular who makes you anxious? Or particular situations? What triggers your anxiety? By quietly sitting with yourself as you work through your anxiety attack, you may be able to identify what caused it. You may find that it’s an unrealistic fear, or it could actually be a very real message that your body is trying to tell you. For example, maybe a particular person you know who’s going to the get-together makes you feel unsafe, in which case your anxiety attack may be your body’s way of warning you.
5) You Wouldn’t Hold Others to the Same Standards
If someone were to tell you, “I’m sorry, I need a mental health day today, I’m going to have to sit this one out,” would you hold it against them? Would you say, “Unacceptable, you need to get over it and come anyway”? Probably not. (Sit down, Karen.)
Chances are you’ve built up this unrealistic standard for yourself that you believe others hold you to. But if the tables were turned, you know you wouldn’t expect others who suffer from anxiety to be able to keep it in check all the time; it’s exhausting. Give yourself the same kindness that you would give others.
6) You’re Not Being Selfish, You’re Being Self-Aware
It’s far too easy to revert to the selfish card: “By staying home to take care of myself, I’m being selfish.” No one, especially people with high anxiety, can be “on” ALL THE TIME. Recognizing this truth means you’re self-aware, not that you’re selfish; you’re simply acknowledging your shortcomings.
You wouldn’t expect someone with a weak ankle to be able to sprint or ice skate on a whim, would you? If they said, “I can’t go running today, I need to give my ankle a rest,” would you be all like “SUCK IT UP, KAREN”? (Hopefully, you wouldn’t, otherwise you’re a terrible person… Just kidding, but yes, that would be a very mean thing to say… especially if his/her name isn’t Karen.)
7) No One Is Agonizing Over It As Much As You Think
Believe it or not, the world doesn’t stop and throw a tantrum at the inconvenience if you decide not to go to something. People aren’t sitting around talking about you all the time: “Can you BELIEVE Karen had the nerve to not come to this Fourth of July party? Let’s throw exploding firework darts at her picture!”
There may be one or two boobs who complain, but that’s on them; not you. And even if they do, it’s never half as bad as the extreme scenario you’ve concocted in your mind.
By overthinking what people MIGHT being thinking about you, you’re only making your anxiety worse, which is counterproductive to the point of staying home in the first place. So do yourself a favor and get out of your head!
8) Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen If You’re Not There
It’s an amazing realization, isn’t it? Believe it or not, life goes on. You’re not going to hell, people are not going to die (unless you’re a firefighter and the place you’re supposed to go is a fire call, in which case GET OFF YOUR ASS, KAREN), and people are not going to suddenly stop functioning if you’re not there.
Don’t let your mind fool you into believing life as we know it depends on your attendance. You’re an incredible human being with a great purpose in life, but you aren’t responsible for EVERYTHING. Don’t place that kind of pressure on yourself.
9) If You Don’t Take Care of It Now, You May Burst Later
So you decide to ignore your anxiety, bury it, and just smile and wave, despite the storm that’s raging within…
You can only get away with that for so long.
No matter how good you get at it, when you smother your emotions and ignore them for too long, they are eventually going to erupt. Them suckers want out! If you don’t say no now and then, so that you can take the time to address your anxiety and icky emotions, they will eventually burst out of you like a monkey in a cupcake.
10) You Aren’t a Bad Person for Not Going
This is the most important thing to remember: STAYING HOME BECAUSE OF AN ANXIETY ATTACK DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON. You need to take care of yourself before you can even contemplate taking care of others. I believe the saying goes: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” If you feel your anxiety is too overwhelming to go anywhere, that does not make you a bad person; you’re simply taking the time to fill your glass.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: These Aren’t Excuses to Be Irresponsible or Afraid
You’re allowed to stay home to take care of your mental health. However, that’s not an excuse for backing out of commitments all the time, as that would be irresponsible and inconsiderate of other people’s time. If you find that you are doing that often, you probably shouldn’t be making those commitments in the first place.
Also, staying home all the time out of fear isn’t healthy. (Unless you’re the Wicked Witch of the East, in which case, by all means, stay indoors.) The point of staying home in light of an anxiety attack is to address your mental needs; it should not be a situation in which you convince yourself that going to anything is “bad.” If you find that you are constantly anxious about going anywhere, talk to your therapist to identify the root of your anxiety and what steps you should take to overcome it.
Still waiting on that rum, KAREN!
Have helpful tips on how to cope with anxiety? Share your thoughts in the comments!