Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack


My Fitbit started buzzing like crazy last night, little bursts of electronic joy. I was otherwise engaged.

I tolerate this exuberance from my wristwatch. I could do without it, but whatever. I could posit some sort of psychological damage created by a reliance on affirmation from a digital device, but I can’t really work up the energy. I appear to be using most of it to take steps, anyway.

That said, I love data, particularly personal data. Stuff about me, about what I do and when I do it, and the Fitbit is all about data. It’s not life-changing information, although it can change small things, absolutely. I went through a rough stretch a couple of weeks ago, no enthusiasm for much of anything, and it shows.

I don’t focus on the number of steps, or not primarily. I mostly look at active minutes, which is what the Fitbit folks call exercise, continuous moderate activity for longer than 15 minutes. The consensus seems to be that getting 150 minutes of this sort of activity per week is a healthy way to live; 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking around the block, five days a week, and there you go. Or about 21 minutes per day, spread across the entire week.

So, I can see that last week I averaged around 11 minutes per day, not good. Something was up, or actually not up. I wasn’t moving, or inspired to move. I knew that it was a bad week for lots of reasons; it’s just somehow comforting to see it on my phone or computer. Comforting in the sense of confirmation, and as a blueprint for what steps I could take to fix it.

Which would be actual steps, I guess. And while I note these, and I have a daily goal, I still aim for the exercise concept above just numbers. This week I’m back on track, averaging 95 active minutes per day so far, which for me works out to around six miles of walking (sometimes in a big bunch, sometimes in a few 30-minute hikes, depends). Data helps.

The above graphic made me smile this morning. I drove downtown last night for my monthly evening class at Seattle University. Our household has an intimate relationship with this school, but me, not so much. I’ve mostly gone there as a chauffeur, picking up or dropping off, with a few extended trips to attend a worship service or other event involving my wife or one of my friends (several of whom are former students and/or current employees).

Last month, I had a horrible commute and then ended up parking in the wrong garage, making me 30 minutes late even with a healthy head start. This time I gave myself nearly 90 minutes to get there and turned over my autonomy to Google Maps, since that time of day (i.e., rush hour) is always dicey. In fact, the app took me in a slightly counterintuitive direction, but I’d foreseen this and typed in “Seattle University garage” to get me where I was going.

There is more than one garage.

Which was fine, except when I exited this place I was seriously turned around, and it took me a while to backtrack and adjust and finally trust my memory to sneak into class at the last possible moment. Which is about when my Fitbit got very excited.

Part of my rough-week scenario involved depression, which is a factor in a lot of things and a whole ‘nother story. It won’t surprise anybody to hear that depression can be manifested by a lack of motivation to do much of anything. People with more insight will understand that a side effect of depression can also be situational anxiety; the smallest amount of stress can lead to bizarre reactions. I can get a little panicky over small things, sometimes inexplicably. Like being in an unfamiliar place with an appointment to make.

My daily goal is set at 12,000 steps, but again: I don’t worry about this. If I don’t make it, I don’t care or think about it much. It’s just a goal.

I noted that, as I was leaving home, I was at around 11,000 steps. I figured I’d pick those up over the rest of the evening, somehow, although I wasn’t planning on exercise. I was surprised when, in the middle of my Hansel & Gretel moment, my wrist tingled to alert me that I’d done a good thing.

And it amused me today to see the evidence. It took me 20 minutes to find my way to class from the parking garage, 20 minutes of continuous activity, heart beating faster, legs moving. Exercise in the form of emotional instability and just a tendency to get lost under the best of circumstances.

There it is, then. A mild anxiety attack masquerading as a healthy option, a 20-minute walk on the wild side, and now I have the picture to prove it.

Chuck SigarsComment