Rashmi sat in her car and couldn’t breathe. She knew she should be excited and probably somewhere inside she was excited but all she could feel the tightening of her lungs. For a split second she thought her asthma was flaring but she quickly remembered that she only has asthma symptoms in the spring.
After a few minutes of sitting in the car with her breathing not improving, she decided she should just head to work. Rashmi didn’t feel focused while driving but somehow it felt like she couldn’t do anything about it. Her mind felt like it was floating away and it was really difficult to concentrate on the road. It was like she had tunnel vision and her peripheral vision was seriously compromised.
Rashmi was a very healthy woman, with her biggest problem being seasonal allergies and asthma. She had no neurological problems, no physical ailments. She couldn’t understand what her symptoms were about. When she reached work she found it almost impossible to focus on the tasks at hand. She loved her job but today her mind just kept drifting. She wasn’t thinking about anything specific but she found it extremely difficult to keep her mind on one task or one thought. Rashmi imagined this is what ADHD feels like – a constant need to be pay attention to new stimuli.
The thing she could not understand was why she felt so scattered and disjointed after getting good news. The upcoming change was one she had been waiting and hoping for. She had spent many sleepless nights wondering when this change would come and what else she had to do to bring it about. But now that the opportunity was here, instead of jumping up and down and calling her sister to share the good news, she wanted to go home and sit in a blanket.
Though it may not look like the classic presentation, Rashmi was experiencing anxiety. When we are feeling anxious and overwhelmed about something, our bodies experience acute stress. Imagine being chased by a rabid dog and feeling fearful of being attacked. Your breathing will become labored as your body prepares your muscles to run. You mind will go into overdrive, becoming sensitive to external stimuli that can help you identify the best route to run away including any obstacles in your way and how close the dog is. Your visual acuity increases for things that are directly in your line of site so you can escape, filtering out the unnecessary noise that you pick up peripherally.
Our bodies cannot tell the difference between physical stress like being chased by a dog or emotional stress. Thus, Rashmi’s difficulty focusing at work and her trouble scanning the streets as she drove are all normal responses to any stress. When anxious from emotional stress, we often crave physical containment, especially if we feel our emotions and thoughts are running wild, which explain her desire to sit in a blanket at home.
Change of any kind, both positive and negative, can cause high levels of anxiety in people. When anxiety is not managed properly, it can take a toll on our bodies and minds, increasing the risk of illnesses, infections and numerous other mental health issues.
Have you ever felt anxiety due to a positive change in your life? How do you manage your anxiety?