Saturday, March 21, 2009

Memories Stress Me Out!

It's been quite some time since I've had to drive a long distance (which for me, long qualifies as anything over 30 mins!) and even though I've opened up my life more than ever and never turn things down due to anxious feelings I find that sometimes those old memories of anxious feelings come creeping up on me.

I used to go through severe panic attacks and episodes during my commute to work or while visiting family members and friends that didn't live around the corner. My hands would go numb as I tightened my death grip on the steering wheel and my breath would catch in my throat at the first sign of traffic.

I've found that I'm much more relaxed now when I drive, but every once and awhile, when a "longer" drive comes up, I can't help but notice my mind wander back to those super stressful times. I can almost feel my stomach clench and my palms sweat. It's not quite anxiety.... it's not quite anticapatory anxiety (because I'm not shying away from the drive or scared of it). My memories just come on strong and remind me how fearful I once was. And that memory freaks me out a little. The memories temporarily put me back into that feeling of immense dread and fear.

I guess the closest comparison I can think of is say you once took a tumble down a flight of stairs...nothing serious, just enough to get shaken. Then imagine every once and awhile when coming up to a flight of stairs your memory of that fall comes on so strong that you can practically feel your body ache like it did after the actual fall.

It's intense! And it's something I'm still finding myself working on because it's not a matter of working through a panic attack or anxious episode... it's about reprogramming my brain (in a way). I can't breathe through a memory or switch it to a positive because it's an actual thought of something that used to happen.

If you find this is something familiar to you, here's what I've found helpful: Instead of switching my thoughts or trying to ignore them (which, who am I kidding, ignoring thoughts is hard!) everytime I come across something that used to stress me out or cause me anxiety I make it a point to completely focus on how good I am now feeling. This way, when I get behind the wheel for a "long" drive my last memory of the car was me singing my heart out to some of my favorite songs with the windows down. I'm not changing my bad memories - I'm just focusing on creating new, happy ones to recall. Because if you can recall one memory, you can recall any memory. So why not make it a good one?

Take time to create new memories and focus on when you feel good and strong. Draw on those memories when you need a little boost of strength.

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