Dan Hannigan

The Maintenance of Anxiety

Since being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in January 2022, I've been on a path of reckoning and recalibration. I dove headfirst into therapy, which went well while also focusing on improving my overall health (since much of my anxiety stems from health / physical feelings). Over time I've learned what my body & mind need and that if I neglect any of these areas, anxiety can start to rumble back up. I'm sure we've all heard the analogy of a body being like a car; you need regular checkups and maintenance to keep that car healthy.

Here's my maintenance schedule for anxiety:

  • I have to limit my daily caffeine intake. I used to slurp down both cold brew and diet soda on the same day, pushing my caffeine intake beyond 400mg. Now, I keep it to a single cup of coffee a day or two shots of espresso. That's about 64mg to 91mg of caffeine. Any more than that, and my monkey mind starts to chatter.- I have to take medicine daily at the same time. This one is relatively low effort, but it took me a bit to find a system that worked because I can tend to be forgetful about taking my medicine. I now have a small case with my anxiety + allergy meds in it (each in split compartments), and on Sunday, I fill each pod up with seven pills. I also use Apple Health to track my medication since that's a feature in iOS 16.
  • I have to limit my alcohol intake to one or three drinks a week, but usually much less. A beer, on occasion, used to be something I enjoyed but have to shy away from now. If I drink too much the following day isn't met with your typical hangover; it's met with a substantial uptick in anxiety levels, which can kick off a loop.
  • I have to move. Maybe not every day, and perhaps not a strenuous activity, but if I begin to neglect movement - even just a couple of weeks - anxiety can come on strong and be harder to control. A daily walk, plus something to get the heart pumping three times a week or so, has been beneficial.
  • I have to accept fleeting aches and pains. This mantra has been the biggest one for me. Any sharp discomfort or pain can immediately throw me into an anxiety spiral. I have to remind myself some aches and pains can be expected, or a product of prior anxiety, and to let them pass through me. It's much easier said than done, but I'm getting there.
  • I have to watch and correct my posture constantly. I tend to slump forward and compress my shoulders together, squeezing my chest, which can cause sharp pains to emanate from my chest. It's a freaky reminder to sit straight, pull your shoulders down, relax, and breathe.
  • I have to plan for when anxiety hits, depending on what I'm doing. Out for a drive? At the mall? Out with friends? Thankfully, most of these activities distract me and keep anxiety (and the accompanying aches and pains) away. But there's always the "just in case," and thankfully, my SO, which is usually with me, totally understands if I need to step away for a bit.

What I'm saying here may not seem surprising if you've had anxiety or know anyone who has. This maintenance is all run-of-the-mill stuff; hell, I likely have it easier than quite a few people out there. My point isn't to draw attention to myself but to break into that strange stigma around _talking_ about anxiety and mental health and what you can do about it. So here it is. None of this should be taken as advice or mirrored without consulting a doctor first.

But nonetheless: remember to take care of yourselves, folks.