Anxiety is a problem for millions of people around the world and can range from being a slight unease in the chest to a full-blown panic attack. Not everyone will experience it the same way and rarely have I seen people who do not battle anxiety on a regular basis understand how it can affect someone. In my case, the strain that I feel most often is social anxiety, which generally appears almost every time I’m in a crowd without a pair of headphones on. What I don’t understand is why this feeling exists at all.
Social anxiety is a mental disorder where a person is incredibly nervous when in a social situation. Symptoms can include abdominal discomfort, a tight chest, lightheadedness, and a 'negative loop' of feeling anxious about any anxious feelings. Panic attacks may also occur if the right conditions cascade into each other. I’ve yet to experience a sense of panic when out shopping at a crowded mall or even when on a train in Tokyo. Everything else, though, is a regular occurrence to such an extent that I’ve started to actively avoid going to busy places unless I am alone and wearing headphones. When in a crowded place by myself, it’s possible to push away the oppressive claustrophobia that comes with being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people who generally stand a little too close to others. This is generally impossible when out with Reiko or the boy because both enjoy talking in a near-nonstop fashion, and not answering questions or being part of a conversation/soliloquy is not an option. So, when out and about with the family, I generally keep the ears open to keep the peace at the cost of enjoying the different environment.
This has been “just the way it is” for years, and I’ve usually associated this with my strong dislike of unstructured noise. When people congregate somewhere, conversations and other sounds blend to become virtually incoherent, which makes it a challenge to hear what anyone is saying. However, after a bit of an anxiety issue today that resulted in a feeling of oppressive claustrophobia where I wanted everyone in a crowded park to “go away”1. The feeling is completely irrational and I understand it as such, but anxiety is really hard to control.
As the feeling generally crops up when I’m surrounded by noise, I’ve been paying attention to how loud a place is in order to maintain some semblance of sanity when outside. However, Reiko seems to think that my problem is not sound, but sleep.
This past week I’ve been working pretty long hours to accomplish a number of tasks and objectives. From Sunday to Friday, a six-night period, I managed to get about 27 hours of sleep. Nozomi gets more than this in two days, and the boy gets it in three. Generally when I am not getting enough sleep I have difficulty focusing on voices and this results in conversations coming across as incoherent noise rather than communicative language. As the ears get tired2, noise increases, which leads to anxiety, which leads to lots of frowning or a strong desire to escape the current environment, even if it’s just my living room. Reiko thinks it’s better if I get to bed before midnight every day, understanding that sometimes I’ll be waking up at 4:45am for early-morning meetings.
The idea does have merit. Generally I’m battling the strong desire to fall sleep between the hours of 2:00pm and bedtime. The body or, more likely, the mind is clearly trying to tell me something. My concern is that by spending more time in bed there will be less work accomplished. Reiko’s concern is that if I’m always focused on getting work accomplished, then a serious burnout isn’t too far off.
Two decades ago I could push myself pretty hard and the consequences were minimal. I’m clearly not as resilient today, and adjustments must be attempted. So, with this in mind, I’ll set a goal for myself to be in bed by 11:30pm every night, as this will mean being asleep before midnight. The trick will be to tell the mind it’s time to shut down for the night.
By “go away” I mean leave and/or give me and my family a good 50 meters of space.
I know it’s not the ears, but the brain. That said, this is generally how I describe the issue.