It is only very recently that I have been introduced to the concept of “false anxiety” when reading Ellen Vora’s book “The Anatomy of Anxiety” (I highly recommend it to anyone experiencing anxiety). The idea is that certain physical things such as a lack of sleep, caffeine, poor nutrition and also hormones can put our body into a chemical/physical state of anxiety. When that happens, the anxiety we experience is a “false” kind of anxiety, as it is a physical experience triggered not by anything in our environment but by processes happening within our body.
The anxiety I experience while ovulating is of exactly this kind and unfortunately it did rear it’s ugly head while on this trip.
We were at Lake Tahoe, a beautiful, crystal clear alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains where we took a couple of days to relax in between driving. I really wanted to experience the turquoise waters the lake is famous for by kayak. I know how to kayak and I’m also a strong swimmer but the day we were meant to head off out onto the lake, I woke up feeling nervous and shaky. It was day 11 of my cycle. The lack of sleep due to jet lag combined with the hormones around ovulation put my body into a physical state of anxiety before the day had even begun.
Nevertheless, we went to get our kayaks (transparent ones to get the best experience of the clear waters) and set off. Within a few minutes of leaving the shore and getting into deeper waters, my anxiety intensified. I felt shaky and uncomfortable. I applied logical reasoning and reminded myself that I am a good swimmer (wearing a life jacket!) and a good kayaker and that there was absolutely zero reason to feel anxious. There was no danger!
But my body took no notice and I started to visibly shake, getting closer and closer to a full blown anxiety attack. I felt so frustrated and annoyed, I wanted to cry. I also really wanted to get out of the kayak and the water. I called over to Tony to let him know what was going on for me. He responded perfectly by just stopping and giving me time to figure out what I needed to do. I decided to steer my kayak into a shallow bay where I felt more comfortable and waited. Slowly, my nerves started to calm down again. I asked Tony to carry on while I stayed in the bay and continued to allow my nerves to settle, because I really didn’t want him to miss out on the experience because of me. After making sure I was really ok with this, he set off but said he wouldn’t go far and be back shortly to check on me. I waved him off and paddled around the little bay, building my confidence and slowly starting to feel more comfortable. By the time Tony returned I was ready to follow him and continue.
I never felt 100% comfortable again on the water that particular day but I also didn’t give in to my false anxiety and just gave up. Somehow, I managed to find a middle way where I neither pushed myself too hard nor allowed my anxiety to control the situation. False or not, the truth is that I did feel shaky, but I also knew that there was no rational cause for this to be found in external circumstances. And if I learned one thing about anxiety, it’s that it gets worse the more I just give in to it. But I also learned that pushing myself can backfire. As much as it frustrates me to feel unreasonably anxious, pushing myself when I’m physically shaking is not being kind and caring towards myself.
The best way I have found to deal with it, is to give it the time and space to let it run its course, to just allow it and wait for it to settle down. It certainly worked well on this occasion and the rest of our stay at Lake Tahoe was lovely (and uneventful with regards to “false” hormonal anxiety). We went for a hike up in the beautiful pine forests that surround the lake, hung out in the motel jacuzzi and pool and enjoyed the general holiday atmosphere there. We left just in time for the official start of the holiday season and the lake getting busy. We’re heading further south along the Sierra Nevada to see the giant Sequoias next. I hope that some serious tree hugging will provide a calming balm for my nervous system.
Here’s a photo of me after my wobble, when I was able to actually enjoy the experience 🙂