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Stand Up Against Smothering Anxiety

I’ve had some anxiety growing up—the stress of exams and ever-growing workload—but never to a point where it prevented me from sleeping or other physical ailments. Actually, that’s me in denial. I have TMJ and acid reflux periodically, but stress and anxiety have become so prevalent in our society that we accept them as the norm—downplay their danger and ignore our bodies telling us that something’s not right.

I probably would have continued that way if not for my daughter’s crippling anxiety. She has been battling acid reflux from anxiety, insomnia, and other little acts of self-harm ever since she was seven. We’ve “escaped” out of parties, schools, and groceries due to her panic attacks more times than I can count. But her body still surprises the both of us.  I recently learned that her anxiety has contributed to her almost legally blind level of nearsightedness. Her ophthalmologist discovered her eye pressure spikes dangerously whenever someone approaches—for someone with chronic anxiety, that means years of compressed eyeballs, this weakened eyesight.

Despite the lies we tell ourselves, the body knows. Our bodies rebel in the form of gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and even nearsightedness to beg us to notice. Broken hearts, loneliness, and trauma can alter our health, impair our memories, and even shrink our brains. Healing is possible, but it takes a lot of work. So, our first act of self-love should be to acknowledge our emotions, sensations, and pains and take care of our whole selves.

Back to my anxious daughter, we’ve tried medications, herbs, essential oil, Tibetan singing bowls, and massages, and continue to explore every hope of remedy from the anxiety’s stronghold. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s something I’ve done as a parent to cause such crippling anxiety. Did I force her out of her comfort zone too fast? Was life just moving too fast?

The late founder of Atlas Sound, Lloyd Ivey, said to me, “Caitlyn, you’re not a Type A personality. You’re an A+.” That may be who I was or still am, but we need to accommodate each other for a family to thrive.

To remind myself, I hang this non-functional clock in my bedroom. Our family spent weeks putting this mechanical clock together from 320 wooden pieces and gears a few years ago. There are gears of different sizes that propel the next gears. Together, they turn the clock hour after hour. I focused on the gears that I considered more important, but the larger or faster gears were not better. Each gear needs to move at its own speed, otherwise, the whole clock halts. That’s exactly what happened to our clock. Remember, the little gears that are so frequently and easily overlooked are essential.

Eight years since the onset, her anxiety still hasn’t gone away. It is a wave that ebbs and flows. Right now, finals and AP exams are stressing many students out. My two teenagers are going to Stanford and Berkeley for undergraduate classes in a few months. This might be a situation that many would envy, but I see anxiety insidiously creeping, and it keeps me grounded. I tell my kids I’m proud of them in mundane moments. I tell them I would rather you be happy, healthy, and driven with purpose than stressed out, addicted, ivy-league educated, and six-figure salaried. You don’t need to impress me because I love you already. Since the very beginning, I just want you. I want you to love me. I want you to still visit and enjoy spending time with me when I’m old and useless. I want you to still be ok after I’m gone.

We all deserve this kind of love and security. Maybe you’re not there yet, or maybe you’ve never been shown unconditional love, so you aren’t great at it yet. Start by announcing to yourself that you deserve total acceptance and love. Stand up and make a conscious effort to acknowledge your body and show yourself love and compassion.

Caitlyn Wang Avatar

Response to “Stand Up Against Smothering Anxiety”

  1. Clarissa Shen Avatar
    Clarissa Shen

    Mom 🥺

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