How to help my girlfriend through apocalypse anxiety?
December 20, 2012 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Help my girlfriend get through apocalypse anxiety?

She has a history of anxiety- health anxiety, claustrophobia, a general fear of death which she thinks is where most of them come from. And every time one of these stupid apocalypse things comes around, it freaks her out and for the week leading up she has a hard time coping.

She knows it isn't true and that it won't happen on an intellectual level, and has read the things that explain why it won't happen and why they're a crock. She knows why it's stupid. It's just an uncontrollable anxiety she still feels- she's said she just wishes she could take a pill that would put her to sleep until it's the day after.

Does anyone else here suffer from this sort of issue? I can only talk to her over Skype, so there's only so many ways I can distract her- and the anxiety makes her moody and sometimes difficult to talk to at times, especially over a screen. I sympathize a lot, and it breaks my heart to see her suffer from this sort of pain that she doesn't know how to stop.

Any advice?

Thanks a bunch, guys. I hope this is in the right category...
posted by drd to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I think the biggest problem is that she's been feeding her anxiety with all the reading, so probably the damage has already been done. Reading something non-apocalypse related, turning off the net and the tv, getting drunk, soothing baths/spa massage, long walks - some or all of these distractions might help chill her out a bit. Getting outside will help with the claustrophobia too.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:07 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

...she's said she just wishes she could take a pill that would put her to sleep until it's the day after.

While it doesn't knock her out, what she's looking for is a benzodiazpene (Ativan, Xanax, etc.). If she has a GP and explains to them that this is a very situational, short-term thing, the GP might be able to prescribe her a few pills to get her through the next few days. GPs will give short-term benzodiazpene prescriptions for things like long flights, but it is left to the doctor discretion whether your girlfriend fits the bill.

NB: If she takes benzodiazpenes she cannot, under any circumstance, drink.
posted by griphus at 2:09 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

'Every time'? So, Mayans, sun implosion, all of that will trigger it?

First, obviously, therapy, and total abstinence from doomsday media.

Second, maybe investing time in supporting something civic-minded (e.g. to mitigate enviro-collapse) will help her feel she's part of a possible, partial solution. Help her shift focus to positive changes that have happened in the world. (Because anxiety is partly, according to one operational definition, about feeling powerless to control something judged important. Aim: to decrease that feeling through constructive action, and help generate a feeling of general hopefulness.)

Third, help her anchor daily life in love. Regular contact with people you care about helps with pretty much everything.
posted by nelljie at 2:11 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that may help is to point out that it's already 12/21/2012 in half of the world.

She needs to get on the couch. This is no way to live.

For the record, I was in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California in 1989, and I was in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I was part of a Hurrican Katrina restoration team for the phone company in 2005. Bunny knows disaster. Bunny also doesn't enjoy driving on elevated roads, bridges, in tunnels, under elevated roads or pretty much anything she's seen with her own eyes crumble under stress. Bunny is also not very fond of high rise buildings or heights of any sort.

Bunny has been on Celexa for 5 years now. It's good. It's SO good.

Seriously, I can drive anywhere, even in the dark (and me with night blindness). I used to force myself, but I was miserable. Ask Husbunny about the time we were on the bridge in St. Petersburg, FL in a driving rainstorm. (He read aloud to me from a Baseball Abstract to distract me.)

Anxety is no joke, it needs to be treated.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:13 PM on December 20, 2012 [11 favorites]

To late in the evening for a thoughtful response--tell her we have safely passed the time of this Apocalypse--it is now past 11:21 AM in Samoa
posted by rmhsinc at 2:14 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Oh, and, yeah, she definitely has an anxiety problem. The short-term benzodiazpene prescription is a short-term bandaid that will just get her through the next few days without freaking the fuck out. Past that, she really needs to seek out help that isn't GP-prescribed anxiety medication.)
posted by griphus at 2:14 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

It is basically too late for benzos, unless you're in the middle of, I don't know, Hawaii. There's it's just almost certainly too late.

1. She needs to make sure to eat, drink, and expose herself to light/noise/etc. on a normal schedule. That means turning off screens around 7pm her time tonight (or using FLux.) It means she gets a big glass of water every hour or two. Etc.

2. She needs to make relaxing and other key anxiety-reducing activities her top priority. If she's freaking out, she needs to NOT be trying to pay the bills, study for an exam, or anything else till she's calmed down. Physical safety and comfort come first. No going out drinking, either.

3. She should probably look through some CBT resources, learn about the nature of anxiety, and try out some "defusing" techniques (from ACT.)

4. You need to recognize that you can't fix her anxiety. This is an internal experience completely outside of your control. It is not your fault that she is suffering, and you are not a failure for the fact that she's still suffering.

If she gets bad anxiety about this kind of thing a lot, she should really see a therapist to figure out why and learn some good coping skills.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 2:15 PM on December 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Tell her it's already tomorrow in over half the world and it hasn't blown up yet. And then tell her to go get some pills from her doctor tomorrow.
posted by greta simone at 2:15 PM on December 20, 2012

Practice meditation with her.

Meditation's very simple: sit down somewhere comfortable, sit up straight but comfortable (comfortable's key here), close your eyes and...

And breathe out.

Then breathe in, and then out again. Count (however you please) "one".

Breathe in, out. Count "two".

In, out. Count "three".

In, out. Count "four".

In, out. Count "five".

In, out. Count "one".

Keep going. If you feel your focus being grabbed by anything, focus on your breath. Try to think of the air as it passes over your lips and down into your body and out again.

That's meditation. Try that with her, together over Skype. Meditation is the single greatest reason why I am no longer a fear-riddled wreck of a person.
posted by DemographicLanguage at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is essentially identical to fear of flying phobias. She has anticipatory anxiety. The same treatments that work for that would work with this.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:23 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found that cutting out coffee (I still drink tea) was a huge part of reducing my anxiety.
posted by titanium_geek at 2:44 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness and acceptance. Basically it isn't going to happen but if it does? We're all gonna die, that's the deal, can't do shit about it so just keep swimming.

And then I do a little Dory dance to make myself feel better.

But yeah, complete abstinence from reading about these things (mine are less "oh noes the world will end on X date" and more "we are heading for global catastrophe with climate change, fiscal cliffs, recession, wars and so on") and just letting the thoughts roll away when I do have them.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

For this specific situation I think she is on the right path. Take some Tylenol PM as directed on the package and sleep through tonight. Assuming the Mayans thought the world would end with the winter solstice their time, if she sleeps past around 6:15am est tomorrow, she can rest easy until the next issue.

I would talk to a doctor about her anxiety issues for the longer term solution.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Watch The Muppet Movie.
posted by rhizome at 3:17 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stop talking to her about it.
posted by empath at 3:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Obtainable as a tincture in health food stores (20 drops ought to do the job), or as an herbal tea in many supermarkets (e.g. Yogi 'Cold Season' tea), valerian root has a powerful tranquilizing effect. Seriously, I'm surprised (but grateful) the stuff's legal.

Do not use long-term. Do not combine with booze (except as tincture medium -- if she can only find the herb itself, vodka is helpful in extracting into tea), opiates, or other tranquilizers. IANAD, nor an herbalist.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:47 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

To late in the evening for a thoughtful response--tell her we have safely passed the time of this Apocalypse--it is now past 11:21 AM in Samoa
posted by rmhsinc

I thought we were talking about Mayans - shouldn't we continue worrying until the 21st is over in Belize?

Plenty of time to obtain some xanax, in other words.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:19 PM on December 20, 2012

Mayans today do not believe that the world ends tomorrow- that's not how their calendar works. The descendants of the people that made the calendar are celebrating the new era. You would think the Mayans would know in their bones if there was something spiritual to worry about. I would suggest to her that she start making plans for all the great things she's going to do in the 14th Baktun that starts this Saturday.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:42 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Give her Neil Gaiman's "Signal To Noise". It's about a film director diagnosed with terminal cancer making a movie about apocalyptic mania in the year 999. It manages to put end-of-world fears in their proper place, as an indulgence.

My favorite quote: "The world is always ending, for someone."
posted by benzenedream at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have some of the same anxieties as your girlfriend, though not to that extent. I have OCD, and in me the main symptom of it is a fear of death, mine and others'. When it's at its worst, I have trouble shutting it up or reasoning it away, and I've been afraid of some embarrassingly silly things, knowing all too well how irrational they were.

I don't know if your girlfriend's anxiety falls under OCD or something else, but it sounds like it's making her incredibly unhappy and interfering with her life, and that's a sign she should see a therapist.

As with any other mental health condition, there's only so much a partner can do. She'll have to take responsibility for herself, and it's okay for you to say "hey, if we're going to have a healthy relationship you will need to work on this, because your anxiety is putting a strain on me too." Wait to have this conversation until she's calmer, like after the world doesn't end.

In the meantime: distraction helps. I'd suggest she dive into a really absorbing (and non-triggering!) book/TV series/video game/etc. Exercise helps me with my anxiety, too. If she gets too worried, she can try a short but moderately intense activity, like ten push-ups or running to the end of the block.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:57 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Avoiding all apcolypse-related media is easier said than done when it's plastered everywhere. Personally, I'm trying to avoid it for a similar reason as your girlfriend, but people at work, on the radio (at work), on the subway, on the open pageof the newspaper directly in my sightline that someone left on the subway, etc. are all talking about it.

I'm trying to do distracting, physical tasks like cleaning and wrapping gifts tonight... wrapping gifts is especially good because it's a) for someone else and b) for the future. There will also be Christmas movies and/ or mellow jazz in the background. Might work for her too.
posted by windykites at 6:00 PM on December 20, 2012

Well you say she knows it isn't true, maybe though it will help to remind her that the Gospels tell us "you know neither the day, nor the hour". By definition, then, any scheduled Apocalypse Day is a recipreversexcluson, a number described by Douglas Adams as anything other than itself.

(Theologically, this is true, even though I've expressed it in silly terms. As Linus put it "sound theology has a way of [reassuring]."

If you want to get really silly, tell her a Xtian told you that the Mayan Bible licenses them to eat all the xocoatl left behind by the heathens who head for the hills in expectation of a scheduled apocalypse, because that's what I intend to do. (Waste not, want not.)

You may want to download "The Happiness Trap" for tricks to help with anxiety, and also to schedule an appointment for better anxiety treatment. I take 20mg of propranolol 3x daily for example. Benzos won't go very far (I hate them).
posted by tel3path at 7:08 PM on December 20, 2012

In addition to the valerian tea, you might mention that the end of the world has been predicted a lot without coming to pass, for instance Pope Sylvester said the world was going to end on 1 January 1000, Martin Luther said the world would end no later than 1600, some Puritans thought the world was going to end in 1697, the Crimean War of 1853 was thought to be Armageddon, etc., etc., etc.
posted by feets at 9:37 PM on December 20, 2012

Also, for general anxiety reducing purposes, here is a slow and adorable snail video for her to watch. Unless she dislikes snails, then it will make everything worse.

The key is to really pay attention to the snail. Every time you start thinking about stuff and getting lost in your head, turn your attention back to the little snail, feeling his little way along with his little weird nubbins and his funny slow sgooshy body. Pay attention to the snail. It's awesome.
posted by windykites at 9:38 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just remind her we are all dying all the time anyway. As Hank Williams put it, we'll never get out of this world alive. Basically, every day is an apocalypse for someone. That should cheer her right up.
posted by spitbull at 5:18 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Exercise. There is a ton of research on anxiety and exercise. It works for me , as well.
posted by eq21 at 6:35 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

All the rationalizing in the world is not going to quell an irrational fear. Hell, by rationalizing with it, you arguably give it MORE credence by treating it the same way you would a rational thought. Therapy for the long-term.

For the short term: Try to help her not run from her anxiety, but rather accept the uncertainty. Maybe the world will end, WHO KNOWS?! Probably won't but then again maybe a seagull could get hit by a plane and fall out of the sky and kill you and then your world will end. Chasing certainty is not going to help someone with an irrational anxiety because there is always a "what if...?" Therefore, she's got to accept the uncertainty, and decide to keep going on living anyway. Don't run from the anxiety, accept that it is the uncertainty that is causing her so much turmoil. Good luck. Anxiety is a terrible feeling.
posted by Katine at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2012

posted by serena15221 at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2012

All clear!
posted by DeltaForce at 9:03 PM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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