On of my favorite parts of the day is walking the dog, in particular the evening walk we go on just as the sun starts to go down. It’s the perfect time for walking, best appreciated without headphones. This thirty minutes of walking and looking and listening preserves my mental health.
So today, after I’d been doing a couple hours or repetitive organization tasks at the computer, I started feeling anxiety pumping through my cheeks and my gums. These kind of tasks have this effect on me for some reason, they trigger the same mechanisms of anxiety.
The thought patterns of anxiety and hypochondria are repetitive patterns running over and over, like computer tasks. Rename a file. Check the date. Move it to a folder. Next file. Same thing. Next file same thing. Next file same thing. But unlike the computer tasks where I get fatigued, say “that’s enough,” and turn of the monitor, anxious thoughts keep repeating. I lose control of them. They spin and spin.
In the way that cancer is cell growth that will not stop, anxiety and hypochondria are cancer of thought. The only way out of their increasingly tight pattern is to break it; to snap out of it. Walking can do that. It does do that. The change of scenery, smells, sounds, activity, helps divert the mind (if the anxiety is at an early enough stage.)
When COVID hit last year and we started lock down, I joked about how my life didn’t changed, because it hadn’t. My days looked exactly the same. I did the same thing I’d already been doing for years. I felt prepared for the lifestyle. But what I failed to realize was that despite my homebody habits mirroring lockdown life perfectly, I also relied on pattern breakers more than I was aware.
I could go weeks (sometimes months) just doing the same thing ever day; over and over; creating a rut and thriving in it. But eventual the regularity would wear on me and I would crave a change. I’d take off to go grab a beer with a friend. I’d go to the forest. I’d go to the damn mall. I’d eat lunch somewhere I’d never been before. One afternoon to break the pattern and then I could happily return to the regularity. But COVID made that impossible, not just for me but everyone. And I acknowledged that tonight for the first time.
It’s no wonder my anxiety flared up this year. I couldn’t break the pattern. I’ve been stuck in the spiral.
But this also got me thinking about other people and how I’d been using them to self medicate my anxiety for years. Rather than breaking a pattern of ritual I was able to keep most of my anxious thought patterns at bay via social time. I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing.
It’s almost impossible to maintain an obsessive thought pattern when engaged with other people. They’re just too damn distracting. Dopamine and oxytocin likely play their roles, but I wonder if conversation and interaction are the key constituents. Every time I’ve craved human interaction was I reaching for a metaphorical pill bottle?
Was it never the cigarettes and the booze, but rather the scenery and the people all along?