Memoir Nonfiction

Overcoming Anxiety: An Introduction

How to overcome severe anxiety, fear, hypochondria, and intrusive thoughts — a mostly serious but sometimes humorous online manifesto

Over the next six to eight weeks I will be penning a bit of an anxiety manifesto on my blog. Working title: Overcoming Anxiety. How to overcome severe anxiety, fear, hypochondria, and intrusive thoughts — a mostly serious but sometimes humorous online manifesto.

Top four potential final title options at its conclusion:

Option Potential Title
1 Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
2 OMG, I’m Going to Die! Oh Wait, We All Are
3 Anxiety: It’s Really Not that Funny, But Then Again What’s the Off Chance I Will Ever Actually Be Mauled by a Bear While Running or Eaten by a Great White Shark When Swimming — in a pool
4 I’m Pretty Sure That’s a Bloodclot… or Cancer

This introduction serves as a heads up. The plan of action is roughly one post per week of varying length. The likelihood is that I’ll post one entry per month over the course of six to eight months because, well, I have kids, a demanding job, and, eh, anxiety, so I’ll end up writing something, second guessing it, and have it saved in my drafts folder for a month and a half before it sees the light of day.

I’m not sure right now what will come of this series, if anything. Maybe a full length memoir purchased by Penguin or Simon and Schuster with a built-in flashback narrative of me lying in bed at age four terrified to fully recite the bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep / I pray the Lord my soul to keep / If I d... with a quote from Daniel Smith, author of Monkey Mind, on the front cover raving about my magnum opus that says,

“Painfully hilarious and hilariously painful, reading this memoir makes me want to get in my car and drive cross-country to hug the author, but then again, that would mean getting in my car and driving cross country to hug a stranger which means my likelihood of dying in a car crash drastically increases, not to mention meeting (and hugging) a total stranger who could easily be a stark mad serial killer.”

But it will indeed start here as an unfinished product as I think through what I have learned about a condition whose name I did not know until recently — a condition I no longer view as a negative, but a positive force in my life: anxiety.

I’m sharing my story and the actions I have taken to improve my own health and well-being because I think it’s the right thing to do. My life has done a complete 165 (not a 180 because I have this pain in my back/right side that’s likely a pulled muscle but I can’t rule out a malignant tumor on a vital organ) since I identified the cause of my suffering. Also, I realized by publishing Hi, My Name is Jeff and I Suffer from Anxiety, which is, by far, the most popular entry I’ve ever published on my blog, that anxiety and depression affects many of my friends. I heard from a number of you but I also know, based on the traffic that particular blog entry received, there is a lot more of you out there sitting in silence. Plus, one of my good friends is going through a difficult time as I write this. The most important aspect of his difficult time is that he has started his journey. Step 1 comes before step 2.

Overcoming Anxiety will be broken down into various sections and subsections, such as: the life changing importance of talking to a counselor; meditation and mindfulness; exercise, specifically how running exhausts the wild horse within; the role of music, humor, and talking openly about your condition with family and friends; diet and nutrition; and other miscellaneous items such as time management. The latter is partially because I need an excuse to talk about The Pomodoro Technique. This is my golden opportunity.

Since June, I’ve sat down numerous times to write this series but have been paralyzed, coincidentally enough, by my own anxiety and have not followed through. Write or Flight Syndrome is what I call it. Part of this paralysis was not understanding how to structure the text without my anxiety interfering. When I write, I tend to start small with the the thinking that I will write 500 words on a subject — and click, it’s published.

It’s the internet after all, and I understand, analytically-speaking, that reading tendencies on the web tend to be minimal due to various distractions. On this very blog, it’s quite rare for a post greater than 1,000 words to be read from beginning to end. If you’ve made it this far in the post, my hat is off to you. I know I lost about 40% of my readers three sentences ago. (But there’s good news for those of you who gutted it out! By reading this far, you have been automatically entered into my weekly drawing where I give out $10,000 to a random reader. Sucks for those guys and girls who stopped reading three sentences ago. Their loss.)

Rarely is 500 words how it ever plays out. The words begin to flow and 500 words turn into 2,500 words into 10,000 words and I stare at the words before my screen and realize if I hit publish, I may be the only person who reads the first word and the last word, and thus, it’s all for naught — except one.

So, in structuring Overcoming Anxiety this way, the hope is that more will read what I write and take it in, and engage with the thoughts that arise from it and discuss it—whether with themselves, their friends and family, or on social media. And also, not to feel so alone. You’re not alone.

Structuring it this way, too, will allow me not to be overwhelmed in trying to fit it all into one post, which is what I tried to do originally. There are many components to recognizing and dealing with anxiety, many of which I am discovering now or may even discover as I write this.

My generation has an important role in the discussion of mental and behavioral health, whether it’s anxiety, depression, substance abuse and treatment, eating disorders, or something else. It can no longer be a taboo topic family and friends ignore or not take the time to understand. Ignorance is not a valid excuse. We are all affected in some way.

I hope you will join me on this journey. It may be a little curvy at times with trees in the way.

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Photo by Jeffrey Pillow. “Winding Running Trail in Charlottesville, Virginia”

4 replies on “Overcoming Anxiety: An Introduction”

I admire your transparency Jeff. It’s sets such a good example for the rest of us. Looking forward to reading more posts.
P.S. I use Pomodoro too. It has helped me so much!

Thanks Becky. I’m a bit of a newbie to understanding how to manage anxiety, but what I have done over the past 7-8 months has definitely been working. While the more debilitating aspects of my anxiety are high level stresses, the Pomodoro Technique has immensely helped in my low level anxiety that is often work related. I actually use it when reading and writing now too. It really helps me stay on track and knock out work without burning myself out.

I have an adult child with a almost debilitating anxiety – keeps her often isolated. I rarely feel true anxiety- thankfully. I do avoid situations that may cause it!

Thank you for you courage to share and help others.

It gets better by managing it, and what I would suggest is first have your daughter set-up an appointment with a counselor. I also highly recommend meditation. There is a really good app out there called Stop, Breathe & Think. It’s guided meditation. I use it. Meditation has been a life changer. It is sort of like building your mind as if a muscle to learn to focus and to manage the brain loop. Meditating first thing in the morning before getting out of bed and before going to sleep makes a world of difference. The science backs it up too, so it’s not a load of hocus pocus. Lastly, a running regimen. Doesn’t have to be too intense particularly for newbies but while it doesn’t tame the wild horse like meditation, it does exhaust the wild horse — and sometimes that’s a good start. It’s hard to be mentally unsettled when you’re out there running a decent distance.

I’ll be bringing up what I mentioned above in more detail in future posts, but those are good starting points. I was a nervous wreck 7-8 months ago, and for all of my life really, even if no one could tell. Not anymore.

Oh, one more: Morning Pages. Long hand. Pen. Paper. First thing in the morning. Three pages. Granted two pages will do. Doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a writer or not. It’s not supposed to be literary. It’s spilling what’s in your head before your Self (titlecase) wakes up. You’ll know when he wakes up too… because he’ll say something negative. That’s when you stop your morning pages and eat breakfast.

Best wishes. Nice hearing from you.

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