Living with vision loss can also mean living with anxiety. This I know.
There were a lot of things I took for granted when I was fully sighted. Being able to see who, or what, was around me was one of them. Not having the ability to do a visual check of my surroundings has been a difficult adjustment for me. The feelings of uncertainty, fear, and loss of control can ramp up my newfound anxiety to the level of panic in a matter of minutes.
I remember the first time panic swept over me. I had been legally blind for about a month (2013), and trying desperately to handle it like a boss. Yeah, this blind thing was NOT going to interrupt my life. Nope. Not lettin’ it, just like a boss.
Anyway, I was shopping with my daughter, in a very busy department store. She wanted to go look at something in another part of the store, and I said okay. I told her I would stay where I was and wait for her. As people (whose faces I can’t see), walked by me, around me, and bumped into me. I could feel the anxiety creeping in. The minutes felt like hours as I stood there by myself. Tears welled up in my eyes, my heart began to race, my hands were shaking, and my breathing was a bit erratic.
I began to set off all the mental fire alarms as I started overthinking…”where is she? Why is she taking so long? Maybe I should go look for her. I can’t do that, I’ll get lost. I wouldn’t know which person she was anyway. What if she doesn’t remember where I am? I should have gone with her. I can text her…. Shit, I have her phone. Is she lost? She’s 14, I’m sure she’s fine. I hope. OMG, this is my life now. I hate this. I can’t do this. I’m trapped here. I need to get the f*ck outta here!”.
As I was succumbing to the feelings much like a lost little girl, I heard “Hey mom, do you like this…(she paused), Are you okay?”.
“NO. We need to leave right now!”. So, we did.
That was my first panic attack. I was a hot wreck of a mess. I had no control over my emotions as I stood in the store. A store I had been in many, many times before I lost vision. What the hell just happened to me? I was crumbling. I felt totally defeated. I only knew one thing. This was my vision loss’s fault. I was caught in It’s trap and It had stripped away my confidence, courage, and control. At the same time, it filled me with stress, self-doubt, and a super sized scoop of fear. Not only did I have to deal with the vision loss, but anxiety too.
Unfortunately, the kind of panicky incident I described above, was the first of many since losing my vision.
I know prescribed medications can be very useful for generalized anxiety and panic disorders. If meds work for you, fantastic! I’ve been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications a few times in my life and if they do the trick, then take as prescribed under the care of a your doctor.
There are other things you can do if you’re trying to avoid prescription meds. I have adopted some natural ways to keep my anxiety at a manageable level and sometimes undetectable.
20 to 30 minutes of exercise can reduce your anxiety level. If you’re really anxious, hop on a treadmill, lift some weights, or walk & talk with a friend. Releasing that nervous energy will allow you to feel calmer when you’re done.
Many times people get more anxious and agitated when they are hungry. When you get an anxiety attack, it may mean your blood sugar is dropping. The best thing to do is to have a quick sustaining snack. Something like a handful of almonds, or a fruit & nutt bar, or a piece of dark chocolate, along with a glass of water or a nice cup of hot herbal tea. Keeping healthy snacks on hand at your home or office, can keep you from getting “Hangxious”!
When you’re ambushed by anxiety, your mind goes to the awful – paralyzing – most horrible scenario and the possibility that it will happen! At that point, you are “catastrophizing” the situation, (like what I did in the department store with my daughter). You first need to learn to recognize when you’re drowning in this type of thinking. Once you can do that, you can stop it, breathe, get some fresh air if possible, perhaps talk to someone you trust, and get back to reality before your mind spins out-of-control. Chances are a catastrophic outcome is a lot less likely than you think when you’re consumed with anxiety.
I have heard that the intoxicating aroma of lavender is like an “emotional anti-inflammatory”. It is calming, relaxing, and can help reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Here are a couple of ways to use the oil. Put a few drops of lavender essential oil in a diffuser to infuse the air in your home, (I have one in my bedroom). Place a few drops between the palms of your hands, rub together, and inhale deeply for a calming affect. A few drops can be placed in the shower or bath for a relaxing bit of me time. Lavender candles, lotions, and hand soaps are nice too.
Yoga breathing has been shown to be effective in lowering stress and anxiety. Years ago, Andrew Weil, MD, introduced a classic yoga breathing technique he calls the 4-7-8 breath.
Here’s how to do the “4-7-8 breath” technique:
Just so ya know… I still fall into the grips of high anxiety from time to time. Especially when I let vision loss hold me hostage. I suspect anxiety may always be a part of my life from now on, but, at least I have, and now YOU have, some things to do when anxiety has a grip on me…or you!! Stay strong. And, If all else fails, there’s always chocolate martinis! xx