Having agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and panic attacks isn’t as much fun as it sounds – but it’s close. Sometimes, on rare occasions, one needs tricks (tools) to help get them through those times when you would rather stay calm and relaxed. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true: being relaxed can be fun, too.
Today I would like to discuss an anxiety trigger that a lot of people struggle with: sound. By sound, I don’t mean the gentle purring of a kitten or the soft sound of the wind rustling through the trees (unless those are your triggers). What I am talking about is the eardrum-piercing, headache-inducing, stress-creating loud sounds that we face nowadays. In other words, I am pretty much talking about everything in the world.
Face it, the world is loud. Television is loud. Music is loud. People are loud. And what do most people do when confronted with a loud situation where they cannot be heard above the noise? They get louder. It’s a never-ending acceleration of decibels that is spiraling out of control.
This is very bad news for the people (myself included) for which sound is a panic trigger. Noise causes stress for us because we are already acutely in tune with every sound that comes our way. To us, noise bombards us with its constant bomb blast. Little sounds are loud; and big sounds are intolerable, just like in the picture above (hint:if you look close, you can see my house).
Why am I talking about this today? It’s because of a personal experience I had a few days ago. I had to deal with a lot of panic triggers, and again I did so successfully. I turned a potential negative into one of the best evenings of my life.
The Main Event
My wife and I had tickets to an Elvis Costello concert in a town about 90 minutes away. Elvis is one of my favorite musicians, so I really wanted to go. What I did not want was to deal with all my triggers along the way: traveling in a car (motion sickness), and eating in a restaurant with people I did not know.
I combatted this the entire time prior to the trip by practicing relaxation techniques. I mediated a while. I used bio feedback, where I take deep breaths and try to slow everything down as soon as I notice myself spiraling. I did some work, which usually relaxes me by occupying my mind – not allowing it to go down the anxiety path. All these things worked until it was time to go. Then the stress switched into high gear as usual.
Step on the Accelerator
When we finally arrived at our restaurant, two hours before the concert, I was happy to see it relatively small and empty. I anticipated a quiet dinner, eating something light and talking with people I was about to meet. I was dead wrong. Within minutes, the place filled up, and there was a line out the door. There was a constant stream of people trying to get in – to get a bite to eat before the concert. And to make it worse, everyone was loud.
Please understand that I am not talking about a reasonable sound level here. I am talking about screaming and yelling and shouting, noise and music and confusion: audio and visual stimulation that had my heart racing and my stomach knotted up tight. I felt helpless. It felt uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was to get out of there, but I couldn’t without causing a scene.
There was no way to carry a conversation without trying to yell, so after a while I just sat there quietly and tried to stay calm. Then, when the sound got to the point where I could no longer stand it, I employed one of my so-called “tricks.” I simply put my hands over my ears to block out some of the noise, closed my eyes for a while, and tried to “go within.” This is a form of meditation (distraction) that is sort of like a mental way of escaping to a calm place.
I don’t know if people saw me do this; but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter one bit because it works and it calms me down for a while. It’s simple – almost too simple, but it works.
Sometimes when we look at our stressors, we have to think of ourselves as a magician and the mind is our audience. Our goal is to use “misdirection” – to get the mind to notice something else, something other than the stress-inducers. We need to block out all the inputs that cause us to flood, and only focus on those things that keep us relaxed.
I can only offer advice through personal experience. The “tricks” I have learned are through trial and error. Some might work for you, and others might not. But the point is to keep trying, keep going and never give up.
The reality of life is that, unless we lock ourselves away and have absolutely no contact with the outside world, we are going to have to deal with noise on a constant basis. Not all neighborhoods have signs telling people to be quiet.
And, as tempting as it can seem, we cannot just leave society and live like Thoreau. (Besides, I don’t know about you, but it would be hard for me to give up some modern conveniences like my computer, baseball games on television, Fritos, and of course, toilet paper). It is no wonder Thoreau lived by himself.
Don’t lose sight of your goals. Everyone can live an amazing life of fun, meaning and fulfillment. Your dreams are never that far from your reach. Never stop chasing them – and if you make them come true, come up with some new ones and keep going!
Hang in there, stay strong – and smile!
(PS: the concert was AMAZING!)