How Being Too Informed Caused Me To Have Anxiety Attacks
By Anonymous | For Aging Well Denver
Around the time of the 2016 elections, I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, unable to breathe and unsure of what was happening to me. I had had panic attacks before but they were caused by specific incidents. I was able to rationalize and calm myself down after them. This was different, I was hyperventilating,and gasping for air, for seemingly no reason.
I didn't want to wake my husband so I got up and went into the bathroom. I sat on the floor and tried to catch my breath. I hunted around for some soothing essential oils to relax me. I found the eucalyptus and started smoothing it onto my temples and chest. I still couldn't regulate my breathing, and tears had started running down my cheeks. I was confused and couldn’t get myself under control. I got into the shower and sat cross-legged on the floor of the tub just letting the hot water pour over me.
After I calmed down, I got back in my bed. I felt like a crazy person. My life was good, I had no reason to be stressed or panicked at all. Then, my phone buzzed next to me and I saw the news of a shooting pop up on my alerts. In the middle of the night, I found myself scrolling through a BuzzFeed article, reading the names of shooting victims. Their last text messages to the people they loved and the life story of the person who killed them.
Looking back it seems obvious now, writing this, that I was so clearly overstimulated. There had been multiple mass shootings that year. I had the news on constantly listening as the election heated up. A highway shooter was also active in the town that I went to work in every day. It was just too much.
I made jokes but really, I was scared, and I told my husband that I worried about my drive to work every day. I didn't feel safe at company meetings anymore because of the San Bernardino shooting. It would have been a miracle at the time for him to get me to go to a movie theater and I was jumpy in any crowded public setting.
I had never had issues with mental health before, in fact, it wasn't even something I discussed with anyone. I had always assumed that if I had anxiety or depression, it would be so obvious to me. The next morning, I called my dad on my morning walk and told him what happened. I started crying on the phone saying I didn't understand what was happening in the world but that I had become so scared of it.
My dad is a retired Army Ranger. He has survived more traumatic injuries, hospital stays, and illnesses than I can count. He's not normally the kind of guy that will tell you something scared him or hurt his feelings, but that morning he told me that what happened to me sounded like an anxiety attack. He knew because he's had them before too. I had no idea.
We talked through the incident, the news, and my fears. He didn't make me feel stupid or irrational but he did tell me that I needed to disconnect.
I thought about it so much that day at work. I had become obsessed with the 24-hour news cycle. My notifications were set up on every news app I had. I checked the MSN homepage at work all day and listened to several different radio shows and podcasts. I had headphones in from 6:30 am to 5 pm every day, listening and absorbing what was going on in the world. I would get home and tell my husband a ration of bad things that were happening or update him on the craziness that was the election. He never wanted to hear any of it. He would politely listen to the highlight reel and then move on with his day. I always wondered how he could move through life so unaware of what was going on. Then I started noticing how much calmer he was. He never thinks about the likelihood of a shooting at a bar with our friends, or sits nervously at a work meeting, constantly watching the exits. He was calm because he had no reason not to be.
The fact is that being hyperaware of everything that's bad in the world will not make you any more prepared for a bad thing to happen to you. I learned that listening to 24-hour news coverage actually does me no good. The news will be different tomorrow and all of the worry and negativity that I absorbed the day before was just sitting there in my body. I had become a jittery, fearful person.
So, what did I do? I took back control. I deleted every news app from my phone and unfollowed them on Facebook. I turned off the notifications and narrowed my podcast feed down to only comedy and history, allowing myself one quick 10 minute morning news update show. I went to bed that night after a workout where I actually listened to music and slept with my phone plugged in and out of reach. I made that a habit from that night on.
I made a lot of changes the following year. I can't say that I was able to move on from all of that anxiety just by switching how I consumed news and media. I forced myself out of my comfort zone. I chose to focus on experiences rather than on an everyday shuffle that I wasn't enjoying. The fact is that I became a much happier, less fearful version of myself. It probably isn't solely from disconnecting, but I can say for certain that it helped.
I know I am not the only one that has suffered from the effects of over consumption of news and media. If you are struggling with anxiety, try disconnecting. If that isn't working, don't hesitate to reach out to friends, or schedule an appointment with a therapist or your physician.