Anxiety and Me

Anxiety has been my constant companion for almost as long as I can recall.  Learning how to understand it and use it effectively has taken most of my life.  As a teen, my anxiety prevented me from really living my life. Yet, as an adult, I learned that anxiety gives me mental energy, and I can focus that energy into the things I do to help me do more and achieve more. This excess of energy comes at a price; if I am not careful I can burn out easily.

Using my anxiety as an energy source means that it tends to be rather “loud” in my mind, which often makes relaxing and having fun extraordinarily difficult.  When I have a free moment, my anxiety says, “You could edit that video for the next five minutes,” or, “Great time to finish game prep for the week.” When I think about watching a movie my anxiety often nags, “Why would you spend a whole two hours watching that when you could work on your next article?” Those little anxious reminders help me get projects done and help give me the push needed to start new endeavors. The problem is once my brain learns how to get my attention it does not stop. It knows how to get my attention quicker next time.

As a way to express my anxiety, I made a custom monster for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) called the Inmi.  This creature is my experience of anxiety. Though it is small, it feels huge, and even when I start to fight against it and win, it goes into hiding to bide it’s time to return when I least expect. Fortunately, I have learned several small things that help me fight the Inmi.  

Understanding that anxiety is there helps me in this fight.

I use a form of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in my work and in my own life.  ACT is a style of therapy based around the six core principles: values, committed action, the self-as-context, defusion, acceptance and mindfulness.  In ACT one learns that acceptance does not mean approval, rather it is acknowledgment that something is. Through ACT I learned to accept and work with, not against my anxiety. When I notice my brain engaging in worry, I often redirect that energy into something else, such as writing, game prep, or professional development. I do not necessarily like the reason for this extra energy, yet I cannot deny how much it helps me to have it and to use it.

Having My Party Helps Me Fight Anxiety

I call my friends and family my party because they have diverse abilities and experiences and are willing to go on this adventure with me. It is so helpful having friends around that understand that anxiety is part of my life. When I’m chatting with a friend on Discord, joking around with my co-workers, or playing with my family, the negative aspects of anxiety have difficulty getting hooks into me. Friends also help me face my anxiety on the hard days.

My friends and family also understand something crucial about my anxiety: it is mine. I need to be the one to work with and manage my anxiety. Though they can do things to help me work through my anxiety, they cannot fight it for me. They listen when I need to talk, and help me engage in self-care, yet they do not take on my anxiety for me. They let me be the one to manage my own feelings. Just as importantly, my friends and family also give me a mental kick in the pants when needed.  

Trial and Error

I would love to tell you that I always make time for myself; that I exercise, take time for meditation, or time to read a book just for fun, the truth is when I schedule an activity that just involves me my anxiety tells me ‘better’ things to do with my time. I set aside time for the gym, but anxiety tells me to use that time to work on my games or to write. Something that helps me is to be accountable to other people. If I know people are counting on me to show up for a self-care activity I will go, and my anxiety will not tell me ‘better’ things I should be doing.

My anxiety is one of the biggest reasons I make my weekly D&D game a priority in my life. For over two years I sit down every Sunday with my friends, roll dice, tell a story and I love it. Moreover, playing D&D, or running games myself, helps me recharge so that I am ready to work with my anxiety every day.

Working with my anxiety is a difficult task and one that it has taken years to learn how to do. Even with all my resources and all my experience I do not always succeed. It is okay if you do not always succeed. I ask for help when needed. You can too. When fighting monsters gather your resources, and if the battle is too big for you to face on your own there is no shame in asking for help, especially from your adventuring party. With enough time, and maybe with some help from your party, you will learn to work with your anxiety better too.   

 

Dr. Megan Connell is a board-certified psychologist practicing with Southeast Psych in Charlotte NC. In addition to her therapy work she is the co-founder of Geeks Like Us, host of Psychology at the Table, and Game Master for Clinical Roll. In her private practice Dr. Connell treats anxiety, trauma, depression and motivation she is a therapeutic Dungeon Master running two therapeutic Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) games, one being an all-girls D&D therapy game focusing on issues of empowerment and assertiveness training. Prior to joining Southeast Psych she served for six years in the US Army and was deployed to Iraq.
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