Like a Pixie, Imma Fly Away (And Other Responses to Anxiety)

Whenever something makes me feel anxious, I like to fly away. I start to feel all this nervous energy in my body, and I just need to get out of there fast! The emotion anxiety triggers a physiological response that releases stress hormones that tell my body it is in danger and prepares it for an attack. In our modern world, this survival function is not as helpful as it used to be.

My anxiety triggers are wayyyy tooo common, and also can’t kill me:

  • Looking on Facebook and seeing a post from a party I wasn’t invited to – and thinking, I thought we were friends! Why wasn’t I invited? Does she not like me?! Did I do something wrong!
  • Or scanning on LinkedIn and seeing someone’s promotion and thinking- why haven’t I got promoted yet!? I’m so behind. I’m not where I am meant to be at all, I should be further along in my career. I’ve done nothing with my life. AHHHH SOCIAL COMPARISON!
  • Someone saying, “That’s weird, why would you do that?”. Yeah bitch I did it so obviously it’s normal or I wouldn’t have done it! If only, usually I just begin to question myself. Am I weird? Was that not what you’re supposed to do as a human? Panic!
  • Or “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” – well, why would I have said it if I didn’t want to do it! Instead— I begin my overthinking process and… after rethinking everything all I can say is, “I’m not sure.”

In these situations, no one is trying to kill me, but it releases the same chemicals like someone is. For me it’s terrifying. I go mute or become unable to stop crying or run run run. 

For most of my life, I have responded to this anxious feeling by flying away. I either run to the bathroom and cry, or run to my book and read about someone else’s experience, or I run to another city or another friend. After running away for 25 years, I learned the hard way that the problem doesn’t disappear when you run away, it just gets worse and more complicated. I only started changing my behavior because I became aware of the negative impact running away was having on my life to the point where I can confidently say that I have an anxiety disorder. 

Now, I’m in therapy working on changing my behavior in how I respond to anxiety and conflict. I’m reading a book called The Anxiety Toolkit by Dr Alice Boyes. It is helping me to become aware of my anxious thought behaviors so that I can focus on changing them. 

According to Dr. Alice Boyes, flying away from your problems is actually a common response to anxiety, so much so that it’s a type. 

There are three common types of avoidance coping:  Freezer, Flyer, and Fighter. 

Freezer

A freezer is someone who when they don’t want to do something literally freezes up. They either won’t respond to the question or they might stonewall you. Stonewalling is when a person refuses to talk about certain topics that the other person wants to discuss. They will try to keep everything the same and prevent change from happening. 

Flyer

A flyer (aka meee!) is someone who when they don’t want to do something will either physically or mentally leave the situation to avoid dealing with the issue. They may remove themselves by moving location or changing friend groups or switching jobs; they may distract themselves with too many plans, and responsibilities or they might escape into books, film, video games, and other worlds. 

Fighter 

A fighter is someone who when they don’t want to do something will work really hard to confront the issue head on, however, they will unintentionally avoid dealing with the main crux of the problem. When the strategy is not working, they will struggle to admit that it is not working or they will avoid asking for advice, thus not resolving the problem. 

*

There’s no right or wrong way to respond to feelings of anxiety, it’s all about doing what you need to do to feel better. When the anxiety is caused in response to a person or something out of your control, it can be difficult to deal with and you might have to change the way you think about the situation, instead. But when you’re in pain, you’ll do what you need to do. That’s what had to do! Time to put on my big girl underwear on and confront my truth! Had to go into my Grandma’s drawers to get ’em but I’m doing it. 

Information rephrased from The Anxiety Toolkit by Dr Alice Boyes
For the science on the Flight or Fight Response, can read the article on Harvard Health Publishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *