Some days, having anxiety is a lot like that moment in a movie where a dog starts barking about something and it is clear to the people around the dog that something is very wrong. The dog’s behavior makes in irrefuatably clear that there is a problem that needs to be corrected, but when that problem isn’t incredibly aparent, most people are at a loss for what they can do to handle whatever has caught the dog’s attention. There’s been jokes made for decades now about how people respond to a dog clearly attempting to communicate something when they don’t know what that is, everything from answering as if they know but without committing to an interpretation (“Yes, yes, I know”) to falling on popular media references from decades past (“What’s that, boy? Timmy fell down a well?”).
When I’m in a better mood, that’s usually how I handle my anxiety. Levity, comedy, and generally soothing but mostly placating noises that don’t mean much beyond providing just enough attention that the source of this demand eventually stops. Most of the time, though, I’m forced to take it a bit more seriously. After all, this dog will bite me or tear up my couches if I don’t figure out what’s going on eventually. Generally, life is better for both of us if I act to address whatever is happening before it gets that bad and, like most dogs you have for a long time, I’ve figured out a lot of the nuances so I can usually work out what’s happening within a few minutes.
The place where this metaphor starts to fall apart, unfortunately, is that there isn’t always something happening. Sometimes, I’m just anxious because my brain chemistry is a bit off that day. Sometimes my heart rate goes up for some reason like maybe I haven’t been drinking enough water or maybe I just walked up and down several flights of stairs of maybe I was startled while driving because a car zipped past me before I could register it coming in my rearview mirrors. Because my body has come to understand that an elevated heartrate is a frequent result of anxiety, sometimes all it takes to make me feel anxious is my heartrate going up. This is one of the reasons I work to keep myself entertained and focused on something specific while exercising, because otherwise my mind tends to latch on to things that aren’t problems so it has a “reasonable” excuse for anxiously picking at itself.
Sure, you could probably do some work to make the metaphor continue to work. My anxiety in those moments is a lot like a bored husky, frequently just making noise for attention because it has nothing better to do. That said, I can’t really do anything to prevent my anxiety from howling and, while I’m sure there are probably husky owners who would say the same thing, I don’t think its a fair comparison because all dogs will eventually shut up once their needs are met. My anxiety just gets worse if I give in to it too much. Even decades of discipline and self-management aren’t always enough to handle it with grace and care since maintaining my mental health involves a moving set of goalposts that rarely seem to movecloser to me.
Today has been one of those days where my anxiety won’t stop howling even though it has nothing to latch onto and no discernable source. Yesterday was, too, but I had other things on my mind that didn’t leave much space for anxiety. I could still tell it was going to be a problem, though. I can easily recognize the “blank piece of paper” sensation of baseless and sourceless anxiety even if I only ever get a glimpse of it through the haze of other problems on my mind, so I expected it to work it’s way to the surface once I dealt with yesterday’s more maudelin mood. Now, as I do my best to stay focused on fun stuff coming up, all the fun video games I’ve got to play (that I’m slowly working my way through now that I’m not staying up until 2am every day), and attending to the various responsibilities of modern life, all I can really do is hope it settles down or goes away. It’s not like I’ve got a problem to solve right now for it to focus on. Just a bunch that only time will solve that it would love to absolutely wreck me about.