Archives for Distraction
I’ve always loved a good puzzle game. As a kid, I could play Dr. Mario on my NES for hours. Math and word puzzles were right up my alley as well, and on long car rides, you could find me with my nose in a puzzle book, busily hunting through word search grids. My panic attacks began in college, and to cope with my high level of pre-bedtime anxiety, I found myself using puzzle games as a method of distraction. First, it was those word scrambles from the newspaper. Then, in grad school, I met Sudoku. If smartphones were a thing back when I was in school, I’m sure I would have happily tossed the newspaper into the recycling bin in favor of using a shiny little handheld device that does all the things. All I had then was a flip phone with a trial version of Tetris. Before that, I lugged around a very solid-looking Nokia. The best game on that clunker? Snake. And now? I have every game at my fingertips – and, while convenient, it’s a little overwhelming. There are so many – well, too many -- puzzle games to choose from in the iTunes app store. Which ones seem to work best at quelling my anxiety at the end of the day?
I've said it before: ideally, it's best to be there, Ram Dass-style, when you're experiencing a panic attack. That's how you'll learn to accept and overcome those uncomfortable sensations. Of course, getting to that point can be difficult -- very difficult, in fact. While I'm a huge advocate of cognitive behavioral therapy, I have to admit this -- I've done CBT with five different therapists now, all with slightly different ways of approaching panic and anxiety. I've definitely seen some improvements, but I still panic. And when I do, I still cannot muster up the gumption to just sit there and acknowledge that these feelings will eventually subside. I have to distract myself to get through it. Making a phone call, playing a game on my phone, even making an alphabetic list of stuff you'd find at the grocery store -- they're all tried-and-true distraction methods for me. On Reddit today, I noticed this piece of artwork posted to the r/anxiety community:
(Note: We spend so much time dwelling on the debilitating effects of our anxiety disorders, don't we? Why not devote an entire day to focusing on our accomplishments [instead of our bumps in the road]? Enter "Win Wednesday": a day to reflect upon the past week and share our successes -- no matter what their shape or size.) Patience is a virtue, they say. And I lack it. Even when I'm feeling relatively calm, I have trouble waiting. (Lines, waiting rooms, and restaurants are the worst. How long do I have to stand in line? When will the nurse call my name? Will they bring my appetizers before my blood sugar drops to zilch and I begin to panic?) But this week, I had a small waiting-related win. I had woken up early to meet my husband and our realtor to sign some paperwork. (We're in the process of buying a house! More on that soon.) I'm more of a night owl these days, so morning energy doesn't come easily. We finished up our paperwork and I decided, on a whim, to take a drive to the mall. I had some coupons to use at CVS for some dirt-cheap makeup and a free candy bar, and I also wanted to browse through the bookstore. (Even though gas is expensive, and the mall is a good 15 miles away, I can always rationalize spending money on gas. If it helps to keep agoraphobia at bay, it's worth it.) I drove right from the realtor's office to the mall. I parked in a strangely-empty parking lot, got out of my car, walked to the mall entrance, and tried to open the door. Locked.
Hello, dear reader. Google probably brought you here, right? Admittedly, this is a rather niche blog post. But I think it's a necessary one. I have panic disorder and I recently had septoplasty surgery. If you're in the same boat, I have advice for you. What follows is my "if I could turn back time" wish list. I hope you find it useful as you prepare for your surgery and work toward reducing your anxiety about the procedure: 1. Ask your surgeon lots of questions. I didn't find the proper balance between knowing and NOT knowing what I was getting myself into. At my final pre-op appointment, I should have asked questions about how long the recovery period would take, how much bleeding might occur after the surgery, and the nature of each post-op follow-up visit. 2. Avoid Google. Yes, you've probably already Googled "septoplasty anxiety" if you've found this blog post. But don't dig too deeply. One of my biggest regrets was reading blog posts about septoplasty horror stories. It only amped me up and created more fear than necessary for what my surgeon advised me would be a safe and simple procedure. Talking to your surgeon > looking at the big bad internet.
Coupons. Piles and piles of coupons. I was clipping them, sorting them, and matching them up with grocery store circulars. I was tired, but I knew I had to continue. What if I found a fantastic deal? Or even a freebie? Clip, sort, match. Clip, sort, match. Last night, I spent my four hours of scattered, non-consecutive sleep dreaming of coupons. I suppose my coupon dreams are a symptom of the tetris effect, which occurs after you play the game Tetris for too long. Tetris lovers will surely understand, even after putting down the controller, the impulse to fit real-life objects together in a Tetris-like fashion. From Wikipedia: People who play Tetris for a prolonged amount of time may then find themselves thinking about ways different shapes in the real world can fit together, such as the boxes on a supermarket shelf or the buildings on a street. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of habit. They might also dream about falling Tetris shapes when drifting off to sleep or see images of falling Tetris shapes at the edges of their visual fields or when they close their eyes. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of hallucination or hypnagogic imagery. The Tetris effect can occur with other video games, with any prolonged visual task (such as classifying cells on microscope slides, weeding, picking or sorting fruit, flipping burgers, driving long distances, or playing board games such as chess or go), and in other sensory modalities. I was a huge fan of Snood in high school. Sometimes, I'd play it for hours on end. And without fail, whenever I moved on to the next activity, I'd find myself searching for three like objects in close proximity. Upon spotting several instances of the letter "E" within close proximity on the page of a book, for example, I'd instinctively want to aim a Snood at it to make it disappear.
Last night, I couldn't sleep. Nothing new or special there. It happens regularly, I suspect, to all of us. The day shuts off, but our brain stays turned on. Usually, when I can't sleep, I like to play the Alphabet Game -- an easy mental exercise that provides me with a simple task to focus on -- in order to push out the circular thoughts that are keeping meu up. You pick a category, like boy's names, and then you go through the alphabet and try to think of one name for each letter. Andrew, Bobby, Curtis, Dylan, Edward. When you exhaust one category (Xavier, Yanni, Zachary), you simply move on to another. Items at the grocery store. Professional sports teams. Religious objects. Diseases. Countries. Units of measurement. (The list is endless.) But, last night when I couldn't sleep, I ditched the Alphabet Game in favor of some technological distraction. I pulled out my iPod, opened my NPR app, and scanned the day's stories. Anything about the war or the economy would keep me awake even longer, so I bypassed anything that looked too serious for 4:17 a.m. I settled on this story from Talk of the Nation. An interview with cartoonist Roz Chast of the New Yorker. Okay, that should be good. Maybe they'll talk about cartoons or drawing or something else that's light and fluffy and happy.
Have you ever immersed yourself so deeply in a task that you don't notice the world around you? Maybe you forget to eat a meal (because you honestly didn't even notice that you were hungry!). Or, maybe you convince yourself that you've only been working for about twenty minutes...and then you notice the clock. Five hours have passed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this flow. I found myself in flow today. I'm the amateur genealogist of the Beretsky family. My grandmother was a fantastic record-keeper and left behind half a dozen photo albums and scrapbooks with newspaper clippings of engagement announcements and obituaries. I started peeking through some of these albums over the weekend and, within minutes, I got bit by the family history bug. Hard. Before I could even finish breakfast this morning, I poured over all of the photos and documents. I signed up for one (okay, two) of those genealogy websites. I scribbled notes on paper and drew arrows and deciphered old Polish surnames and poked through dozens of census documents. I made phone calls to a few living relatives. I sorted out lineages. I attached photographs to names. I met three other people on the internet who are researching the same ancestors. And then, I looked up. It was 5 p.m.!
Today at my 9-to-5 office job, I started feeling a little queasy. I was staring at one of the 7 or 8 gigantic Excel spreadsheets that I had open on my desktop. The tiny little rows and columns started to shift, overlap, and blend together into a distorted lattice of alphanumerical dizziness. Probably just eye fatigue, really. But coupled with the uncomfortably ill-feeling belly, it felt like a red-alert warning. Something is wrong with your body!, the warning cried. You're going to puke and you can't see straight! Danger! Danger!
Let's face it: in the throes of panic, it's not always comfortable to mindfully meditate on the present moment. Focusing on your pounding heart or on your irregular breathing patterns can fan the the panic attack flames. Over time, you can work to desensitize yourself to the uncomfortable physiological sensations of panic. But, in the meantime, here are a few ways to distract yourself out of a panic attack.