Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Break Update and The Panic/Anxiety Scale

This week is a break, and a well-needed one at that. Schoolwork, extracurriculars, and letter of rec packets have literally made me sick last week, with a fever, stomachache, clamminess, and other general discomforts. I missed 1.5 days of school on Wednesday and Thursday, but since I used those days to sleep all the time and down about a gallon of chicken soup and tons of vitamins, I was able to go back to school on Friday to catch up everything that I missed. Unfortunately, I also passed it on to Diana who sits next to me in art (sorry!), and she ended up out for the rest of the week.

Break has been quite uneventful thus far, and I like it that way. I did nothing on Saturday, but it was mostly unproductive resting. I like to distinguish between "productive resting" and "unproductive resting" because sometimes, just doing nothing doesn't really contribute to feeling more relaxed. Productive resting (especially in a clean, quiet environment), such as making nice things to eat, sitting comfortably in bed reading, leisurely cleaning up and organizing, or focusing on music and only music, leaves me in a distinctly more peaceful state, while also helping to get some things done.

On Sunday, my productive resting activity was candle making; I found some old candles pieces and holders, and decided to tackle the DIY project of making them into new functional candles. I might go into detail later about it in another post, but since I didn't take pictures during the process, it might not be a step by step guide (it is easier and harder than you think at once). If I am aware of it, I make an effort to do productive resting, but sometimes it's very easy to fall into the activity of unproductive resting.

Still, despite having plenty of time to work on things, there are so many things to do (more letters of rec, college apps, speech writing, SAT prep,) and I guess I'm getting anxiety over those things, but sometimes it feels like the anxiety just pops up for no reason. Today I finally tackled a four page bio packet, which should have taken forty minutes, but ended up taking at least four hours because I found it so hard to focus on the work. Tomorrow I'm going to be painting Homecoming skit backdrops, an activity that I enjoy, and that will hopefully relieve some stress. Starting Wednesday, I want to go to the library to work on all of the other things, and be done with it by Saturday in order to have another day to rest on Sunday.

Speaking of anxiety, a while ago I came up with a panic/anxiety scale to describe the level of panic/anxiety I was having at the time to my friends. Panic and anxiety have very distinct definitions to me, but both can be rated from one to ten. Though it isn't perfect, it did help me to better cope with the things that were happening. It's not quite one continuum, but two overlapping scales, and they relate to each other like this:
the panic/anxiety scale

Anxiety feels likes bugs in and on me. A 1 or 2 on the anxiety scale is often just stress over an assignment or whatever is happening at the moment, and I would compare it to having a few harmless little ants crawling all over my skin. I usually feel a 3 or 4 as spiders on my shoulders and in my upper torso. A 5 to 7 can be described as moths in my stomach, and/or sticky caterpillars on my arms. An 8 is a large leech sucking on my guts, and anything 9 and above is pretty much all the things at once.

Panic is simpler, and the only way I could describe it is little needles and knives stabbing everywhere chest level and above. During a panic attack, I try to do deep breathing if I can remember, but usually end up just curling into a little ball in order to immobilize myself. A mild panic attack is basically freaking out for around 5 minutes about everything spiraling out of control, but it goes away after a while, and I don't remember what I'm panicking about (there's usually no specific reason in the first place). A moderate panic attack is slightly longer in duration than a mild one. My hands shake, and it gets hard to breathe. These are hardest to identify while it happens, because it can just seem to be mild to moderate anxiety, until I reflect on what actually happened. A severe panic attack is dangerous, and can last for up to 20 minutes, but experiencing it often feels a lot longer. During a severe panic attack, I often feel like the world is imploding and everything around me is blackening. I usually end up in tears, not wanting to live anymore, until my body becomes so tired out by panicking that I fall asleep.

The difference between the two is if I have control over the situation. With anxiety, I am often aware that what I am experiencing is anxiety. Once I'm aware of it, I'll take a break, lie down, listen to music, or do something else that helps me deal with it or distract from it. With panic attacks, I am completely unaware of the fact that I am panicking, which makes it so much more difficult to deal with, because it's harder to assess the severity or how to handle it. I can tell where I am on the anxiety scale while it's happening, but I can't accurately place a panic attack until after the fact. By a 3 or 4 on the anxiety scale, there is a small chance that it will turn into a small panic attack. By a 9 or 10 on the anxiety scale, there is a very high chance that a moderately strong panic attack. Where the two overlap, it is possible to experience both, continuously alternating between the two very quickly in a very short period of time.

I'm finding it a little easier to deal with panic and anxiety now, but not by much. Hopefully with lots of rest this week, I'll be experiencing it a lot less. Just a few more weeks, and college apps will be over, but in the meantime, I'm not too sure what's going to happen. Taking it one day at a time, I suppose. ◊

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