Beating the Anxiety Bees

(Do you beat bees? Or just disappear them?)

Man who looks like a bee monster
Thank you to the Dollop for the pic!

A friend today was telling me that she is super stressed out. She worked out twice that day, feeling like she could literally run the stress out (!). And I said, What is going on with you?

She was like, remember those crazy hives you got the week of your wedding?

Uh, yeah.

But you don’t, so: One night a few summers ago, I woke up itching my foot, and I couldn’t go back to sleep because have you ever had an itchy foot? The worst.

Well, I finally got up to see what sort of antihistamines I had in my bathroom and noticed that I had hives allll over my legs. In fact, I had them on my stomach and arms, too. And, of course, I didn’t have even one single drop of Benadryl nor one crusty tube of hydrocortisone cream to get me through. The worst part was that every part of my body that made contact with my bed–which was every part of my body–flared up with hives. I spent hours trying to not think about the discomfort, the itchiness all over my body (all over! Arms, sides, back, legs, hips, feet. I was basically one big welt) and was the first person at the pharmacy when it opened.

I managed well enough during the day (because my mind was busy?) but night time, man. That was hard.

Anyway, it lasted a few days, and was long gone by the time my big day came. I’m really tempted to include pictures in this post, because of course I took pictures, but that’s gross and I guess not really the point. Which is:

My friend said her stress was like that, but in her brain. Did I know what she meant?

Uh, yes. Yes I knew exactly what she meant because it wasn’t that long ago that I had an intensely stressful boss who caused me MONTHS of severe anxiety. I would go to bed with my mind racing with thoughts and when I awoke each morning, it’s like they dragged me with them. I was never rested, and my mind wouldn’t even slow down. Sometimes I would wake up in the night with a partial thought about work, fall asleep again, and wake up thinking a different work thought, all of it happening without any effort on my part. Like I had fallen asleep on a train that never stopped. And instead of traveling through the rustic countryside, it went only through (not under!) the world’s most populous cities–Mumbai, Beijing, Tokyo, New York City, Los Angeles, Cairo. So exhausting.

So what to do? I think everyone is going to tell you yoga and meditation, and they are right.

1. Get in yo body.

No wait! This is number 1:

1. This will pass. Those bees are swarming and it sounds like a gang of chainsaw murderers (and probably feels a little like that too–eep!) but it isn’t. You won’t get stung or chopped to bits. You will get through this. It will be tiring. It won’t be forever.

2. Your body. Look, anxiety is a disease of the mind. The bees are part of that. It is so hard to ignore the buzzing–actually, it’s basically impossible. Don’t even try. You’re just wasting valuable energy. But what will successfully divert attention, and give your mind some much needed reprieve, is to get into your body.

My friend runs. I don’t believe in running, so I say do yoga. Whatever. The point is that just like those bees are in your head buzzing around, stress and anxiety are loitering in your muscles. Stretch. Run. Jump. Yoga. Just get your body working.

The reason it’s important to get into your body is this: relaxation is not a cognitive process. You will not think those bees out of your head. Breathing is good but if your bees are like mine, the quiet will be done as soon as your breathing goes back to normal–which is what, 10 seconds? Maybe?

Working your muscles gets the tension out of them. It releases the stress. Yoga gets the tension out of them. The rhythm of running resets your mind and gets your muscles to let go of all that pent up anxiety. That’s why you feel better after exercise.*

3. Food food food. When I have the stress bees, I don’t eat. Some folks are stress-eaters but I am a stress starver. I have trouble getting enough as it is so when my brain is abuzz, the last thing I’m thinking about is good eating.

But you know what feels really good?

Comfort food. Not pasta and bread (no! Bees love carbs!) but like soup and curry and three bean chilli. Eat things that are easy for your body to digest, and that feel good to eat. Let it feel good to eat.

Having said that: last time I had the bees, I ate two boxes of cereal. I had been kind of starving and working late and one night I just snapped! I went out and bought myself some damn lucky charms and ate that cereal like it was medicine. Or maybe not medicine because then I’d be dead.

I applauded myself for finally eating but let me tell you: I felt pretty shitty over those next few days (during which I ate the box–I didn’t eat it all in one night) (but almost).

Learn from me and don’t eat the crap. I’ll link to some (easy delicious comforting) recipes later. Watch this space!

4. Meditate to sleep. Ugh isn’t this the most annoying advice? Duh you need to sleep–but how do you do that on a noisy, never ending train? When you’re being pursued by a swarm of relentless bees wielding chainsaws? Boy, these analogies!

People talk about headspace but I’m a fan of simple habit. Love love love their options and found them so helpful in relaxing my body and mind to sleep. You can adjust the length to do a 5 minute session, or a 10 or 20. (This is also super useful during lunch breaks.) And you can choose the topic! Deep sleep was great, and then there are more you can choose if you subscribe. I’m not a subscriber (yet) but I do really like it.

Sleep With Me is also, I hear, a great podcast for folks who can’t sleep. I prefer the meditation route but maybe you hate meditating!

Or, screw all the meditation advice and do something else instead. Color the stress out. Walk. Garden. Cook. Organize your closet. Throw away your husband’s cargo shorts. Maybe they won’t put you to sleep, but they will help your mind work out its stuff. And hey, if you’re not sleeping, you might as well be doing something productive.

In conclusion:

*I am not any kind of doctor or expert or anyone who can speak knowledgeably about why exercise gets the tension out of your body. But it works for me every time and I’m not a precious snowflake, so it will probably be just as effective for you. Try it–even just some stretching feels super good.

Also, my therapist told me that walking basically does the same thing as EMDR  and, in fact, was discovered on a walk.

So maybe this post was superfluous and I should just be telling you and my friend: yes. Exercise the shit out of those bees.

Because you’ll get through it. And chainsaws run out of gas, trains stop at stations, and bees die.

(Sorry bees.)

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