Note: This article was written to help people cope and rid themselves of anxiety in that moment to maximize comfort and minimize stress. To “fix” your anxiety permanently, you will need to figure out why you are anxious and what psychological need you are trying to fulfill by worrying so much. Of course, anxiety takes on many forms and manifests in countless ways, but these are my experiences with Asperger’s and anxiety and how I overcame something that could have easily destroyed my life.
For many people, with or without an Asperger’s diagnosis, anxiety takes over all rationality and becomes the primary mode of functioning. While anxious thinking can scare, frustrate, or impede the person grappling with it, many people find comfort in the familiarity they attach to feeling worried all the time. That’s why most people afflicted with crippling anxiety opt to freeze and let it seize control instead of implementing strategies to help them reason their way out of it.
I’m constantly bombarded by anxiety, constantly forced to listen to those urgent whispers of worry that drown out all reason and become a roar. Sometimes, my anxiety would completely overtake my ability to function properly, leaving me in a crumpled heap on the floor of my apartment because that’s what is safe. I would lay there for hours, wrapped in a thickening cocoon of despair and helplessness that both suffocates and terrifies me.
Up until fairly recently, my anxiety had single-handedly severed bonds, burned bridges, and robbed me of many worthwhile experiences, all in the name of “safety.” But more often than not, my worrying hindered me and exposed me to unhappiness and pain rather than the security and comfort it promised. I lost my grip on myself, allowing the anxiety to define and consume me because I put too much trust in my “fight or flight” mechanism.
Now, my anxiety remains present but has ceased to be predominant. I’ve diminished its once formidable power to a strained plea to lure me back in, a desperate attempt to regain control of me. I can feel happy, content, excited, not worrying about situations or outcomes that have yet to happen and likely won’t happen. When those anxious whispers start to tickle at my consciousness, tugging me back into a false embrace, I put the tools, tips, and tricks I’ve learned over the years into action and take calm, calculated steps toward regaining control of myself and my life.
Here’s an example. I experience anxiety in almost every area of being, but airplanes have always been more than I can handle. So, last winter I found myself on a plane bound to New York, where my brother currently attends NYU and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Looking back at the flight, I remember feeling caught between two very different urges. On one hand, I was so excited to spend a weekend in the Big Apple with my incredible brother and wanted to tell my sleeping neighbors in seats 14B and 14C how much fun it was going to be. On the other, however, I was terrified that we were cruising along 36,000 feet above solid ground and felt an overwhelming impulse to start screaming at the pilot to land the damn plane. The fear became so intense that I retreated even further inward, dissecting why flying sent me into a panicked frenzy. Suddenly, it hit me. I discovered, in that moment of terror, that I was afraid of the plane’s lack of support, not the flying itself. There was nothing but 36,000 feet of cold, biting air between the plane and the ground, and that was what scared me so much.
So, to rectify this problem and silence my internal screaming, I started mentally constructing a set of tracks that I placed directly under the plane and kept there for the remainder of my flight. Even during turbulence, I remained calm because I knew those tracks were always there. And guess what? This works! I have flown over 20 times this year alone, and I use this tool every single time because it works every single time.
You can apply this to almost any type of anxiety in any situation. Figure out what makes you nervous in that moment, and create mental solutions to help calm yourself. It’s not difficult, and once you find something that works, you can use it and tweak it as the need arises.
I urge you, all of you, to think about what I’ve written here and demand your personal freedom back. Anxiety should not control your every move, and it’s time for you to take ownership and live a life free of shackles. You deserve the absolute best life has to offer.