Managing my anxiety about having a busy schedule
How a columnist is preparing for an eventful summer with family and friends
I take note of my slight breathlessness and increased heart rate as I dab some blush on my cheeks. I inhale a few deep breaths before standing up to put on my dress. I sit again to put on my shoes and then check the time. After another few deep breaths, I’m up to get my oxygen tanks ready. I haul them downstairs with me, grab my gift, and then I’m out the door.
Sitting in my car, I pull up the address of the bridal shower I’m headed to. I take a moment to assess my body. Mixed in with my standard symptoms runs a thin thread of anxiety. I can recognize it easily now. My chest is a bit tight and my mind is caught in a frantic slurry of thoughts that won’t subside.
On top of the exhaustion that comes with gathering up my disabled body and its accessories before leaving the house, other thoughts increase the stress I’m carrying. Will there be parking? How far will I have to walk? Will people be standing the whole time? Will it be outdoors, like the invite suggested?
This plays over my usual checklist. Did I take my medications? Did I eat enough? Did I turn down my oxygen after walking out to the car? My tanks only last so long, will two be enough? The list of concerns seems endless.
As the weather in Minnesota has shifted and I’ve come out of another long winter of isolation, my schedule has seemingly flooded. On top of the usual clinic visits and bloodwork appointments, I’m suddenly quite busy again with a (mainly outdoor) social life.
This brings mixed emotions. The euphoria that comes with spending time with loved ones is often overshadowed by the exhaustion of these events and the anxiety that precedes them.
Thinking about this the other night, I realized that I often allow the effort of preparation to multiply. It’s as if, for days before a gathering, I’m perpetually living in those 15 minutes of chaos before leaving the house. As if imagining the shortness of breath I’ll feel walking from my car to a friend’s front door establishes a real exhaustion in me before it has even come to fruition.
This isn’t new to me. Living with pulmonary hypertension, I experienced constant stress regarding the same issues of venue accessibility, physical endurance, and general disease management. A weekend at a cabin involved a hefty packing list of medical supplies and general anxiety about what could happen to me healthwise over those 48 hours. Some of my worries have changed over the years, especially since my heart-lung transplant, but those feelings of anxiety have not.
Learning to live with stress
While I know that this stress is unlikely to ever be fully eliminated from my life, I do want to make an effort not to live inside of that stress before it’s due. If I’m facing a busy week, it’s important to take it one day at a time. Nothing is achieved by allowing the effort of these joyous plans to create mental exhaustion. Rerouting those concerns and focusing on the respite being offered to me in the present is the best way to maximize my physical and mental availability for any upcoming events.
On a more practical note, I’ve also learned to be better prepared than I sometimes was in my youth. Instead of chaotically packing things up just before leaving the house, I attempt to be more organized these days. Spending a few minutes the night before wrapping a gift or picking out my outfit helps to minimize my to-do list for the next day.
My health has become a big barrier for me in the last year. Specifically, my increased oxygen needs and the effort of utilizing oxygen tanks have become a big pain in getting me from point A to point B. And the energy it takes to get organized enough to leave the house at all can feel overwhelming. This doesn’t even address the energy I’d like to reserve to enjoy the destination once I’ve arrived at it. But I’m determined to push through.
My quality of life hinges on being able to enjoy simple moments with the people I love. And it’s worth it to endure a bit of stress and exhaustion for any opportunity to have those little joys in my life. The goal will always be to do things that help me make the most of this time I’ve been afforded. Enjoying this summer with family and friends is definitely the best way of fulfilling that hope.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.