by Christy Gualtieri
A few weeks ago, I was invited to take a trip with a group of oceanographers to explore the depths of the Atlantic ocean, as part of an expedition to gather information on two sunken vessels that had been stopped halfway to the ocean floor. Having grown up in Florida, regular visits to the warm waters of the Atlantic were a major part of my childhood; and I was excited to revisit it, especially during this chillier time of year in the Northeast. As I was lowered into the ocean, safe in a steel cage, I was greeted by beautiful sights: large schools of fish swirling below me, the gentle waving of underwater seaweed, and gorgeous coral formations. Everywhere I looked, above, below, and all around me, I was fascinated by all the things I saw, and how quiet it was. The only thing I could hear was my breathing, a loud, rhythmic soundtrack.
Loud and rhythmic and even, until I saw the shark. I didn’t know what species it was, but what I did know was that it was enormous and flat-grey…and it circled our post and doubled back when it realized we were there.
In the cage, there was little space to move and even less time to think. The adrenaline in my body kicked in but there was nowhere to go, and all I could do was try to anticipate the shark’s next move, dodge it in the cage, and just wait until our team lead could send the message to haul us out of there. The ocean bed we were in, the one that had looked so peaceful and calm a few minutes ago, was now a horrible place to be, and as I tried to make myself as small as I could in that steel trap, all I could do was wish to be somewhere else.
The team lead was taking too long; there was a problem with the equipment. The shark circled in again, and all I could do was scream.
…I screamed so loud I almost woke up the two babies sleeping upstairs, my husband told me as my brother-in-law took the Virtual Reality console off my head.
I apologized as he told me to keep it down, then I started laughing. It had felt so real! With the new VR technology, your entire plane of vision – all 360 degrees – is covered, and the attached headset fills your ears with the appropriate soundtrack, so it’s hard for your brain to believe you are sitting in a game room basement instead of in a battered and bitten steel cage.
As someone who suffers from anxiety, life can sometimes feel like I’m in a simulated reality game. My fears – and they don’t need to be big, either – feel magnified, larger than life. How am I supposed to get out of this? I think. Instead of hearing everyday noises, like the ambient noise of conversations in a coffee shop or the horns of traffic, my mind fills my ears with the pounding of my heart and the horrific what if outcomes of what I’m facing. And when I know that it is my anxiety that is causing the trouble, that things aren’t that bad but I feel as if they are, it’s up to me to try to stop it in the best ways I can think of. I’m not able to remove a headset or VR goggles because I’m not wearing them, but I am able to employ some stress reducing tricks to help keep me in check. (My favorites right now are listening to calming music; trying to catch a yoga class if I can; or finding something to sew. And staying away from the Internet.) But when those stress reducers aren’t available to me, I do my best to hunker down and wait for it to pass me by; and afterward, enjoy the relief that feels similar to a headset being pulled off of my shoulders.
If you suffer from anxiety, know that you’re not alone. What are your favorite stress-reducing tips? Feel free to share in the comments!
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.