Living with anxiety is like swimming in the ocean during a storm: it's a struggle to keep your head above water, and any minute, you could get swallowed up by a wave. Even when I feel calm, I'm always on edge worried about when the next surge of anxiety will hit or if a panic attack is around the corner. It's hard enough to deal with in my personal life, but when it comes to my professional life, it takes everything I have for it to not be all-consuming.
I should preface this by saying that I haven't been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; rather, I have bipolar 2, of which anxiety is a major symptom. Along with hypomanic and depressive episodes, I also struggle with intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms of anxiety. I've become a pro at catastrophising everything, which means my mind immediately jumps to the worst conclusion and envisions horrific scenarios. And while I've done a pretty good job keeping it together at work, my brain is like that scene in Ocean's Twelve where that guy dodges all the lasers, except I'm playing mental gymnastics trying to avoid every negative thought as it pops in my head.
On a good day, my anxiety typically only arises on a case-by-case basis. Since my manager works out of the West Coast office, I sometimes worry that she didn't get my Slack messages or emails or that I came off as unprofessional in them. When I'm in a meeting, I'll occasionally worry that my ideas won't land and people will think I'm unqualified for the job. I double and triple check my calendar to make sure I didn't miss any important meetings.
I feel like a prisoner trapped in my own brain.
Fortunately, I don't experience the extreme effects of anxiety every day. But on a bad day, it's almost debilitating — I feel like a prisoner trapped in my own brain. I envision everything going wrong in the worst possible scenario with outlandish, nearly impossible outcomes. Instead of worrying about looking unprepared in a meeting, I vividly envision me having word vomit and offending every single person in the room, even if I don't actively harbour negative feelings about anyone. When my boss calls an unexpected meeting, I automatically assume I'm getting fired. These thoughts manifest themselves into physical symptoms such as my heart racing, my stomach in knots and cramps, and an inability to concentrate. My mind races a mile a minute, and it takes a concerted effort to stay on track and power through with my tasks.
To combat my mental illness, I take a cocktail of medication at night and exercise in the morning before work. During the day, I have been taking CBD oil regularly, and it's been a game changer. I usually take about 20-40 milligrams each morning (Charlotte's Web and Sunday Scaries have been my favourites lately) in the form of a tincture: I put a dropper or two under my tongue, let it dissolve for a minute, then swallow. I sometimes supplement with a gummy (or two) from Not Pot or Sunday Scaries. I was previously taking it on an as-needed basis, which wasn't as effective. I've found that taking it every day has allowed the CBD to build up in my system, and I have many fewer bouts of overwhelming anxiety. And while I don't take a benzodiazepine (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, etc.) for anxiety, it may be beneficial for some people when prescribed under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
I also try to stay organised, which helps keep my brain focused and on track. I write out a to-do list every day with my upcoming assignments and projects. I check my calendar each morning to be prepared for the meetings ahead (but not obsessively, like when I'm feeling anxious) and check our editorial calendar to see what I have on deck. I take notes on a notepad during meetings (I tend to remember things better when I write them down) and review them at the end of the day.
Some days, I'll take a 10- to 15-minute break every few hours to step away from my desk and take some deep breaths. I'll text some friends, look at funny memes, or step outside to get some fresh air and walk around the block. Again, these coping strategies might not work for everyone, but combating anxiety (for me) requires a diligent effort of taking my medication and these lifestyle factors.
I'm fortunate that my company is so understanding for someone who has a mental illness — I didn't necessarily disclose it to HR, but I write for a living and have been open about my mental illness in a variety of posts for the site. But I understand not every company is that way. Disclosing a mental illness is a deeply personal choice and may not be for everyone. It's also important to know your rights: psychiatric disabilities are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (In the UK, a psychiatric disabilities are covered under the Equality Act 2010, which you can read more about on gov.uk.). If you're struggling with anxiety, especially in the workplace, know that you're not alone. Seeking treatment from a therapist, psychiatrist, or other health professional can help you find strategies to cope.
If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding help or resources in your area, you can visit the NHS website, or you can call Anxiety UK (03444 775 774) or Mind (0300 123 3393).