Anxiety Meltdown


Anxiety meltdowns are no fun. I’m sure you’ve had them at some point in your life. Especially if you were a student. Or child. Or parent. Or teacher. Or employee… Or HUMAN.

anxiety-2If you’ve had one (which you probably have), you know EXACTLY what I mean.

If you think you haven’t, then chances are that they’ve happened in a distant past nook of your life – so distant that it’s in the tape archives of your brain, rather than in its RAM (nor even in its hard drive).

If you truly haven’t had one, well, then you can count yourself amongst the lucky and incredibly tiny fraction of our population that may be in your situation.

todo-listI unabashedly admit that I have had anxiety meltdowns many times in the past. As a grad student, I delighted in my discovery that making lists of things to get done helped somewhat, but promptly realized that it was no panacea. Pretty soon, I’d found myself with an overwhelming list of TO DO items that were never getting done – there simply was no good reason to start at any particular task. Of course, I could rationalize that I must start somewhere and that getting one thing done was better than getting nothing done at all. But that was the rational and discriminative mind speaking, even tragically conscious of the fact that it was unable to spur the sweating body into action.

fear-2Anxiety meltdowns are crippling. We find our feeling mind to be completely aware of what needs to get done, and yet the body is too paralyzed to act. We are forced to watch with increasingly despondent anticipation of impending doom even as the torture of involuntary inaction is inflicted upon our most beloved one – our own self. Enough to make even a cold-blooded Bolton bastard shiver in his socks!

Can you relate to this? I bet you can if you were one of the many students who have talked to me about stress in their lives and how your medication isn’t helping. Medication may not help, but meditation will. Like making lists, medication alleviates the symptoms, but unless you leverage that temporary respite to step back and reflect deeply, it doesn’t solve the underlying (and growing) problem.


teachers-mindful2The answer that helps the anxious ones is clear when we admit that we have once been victims of the same affliction ourselves. Then we think back to how we came to address the situation and pass on the learned knowledge to the next generation so they can also put it to good use.

So, how do we, as adults, avoid (mostly) these anxiety meltdowns that seem to plague the lives of the little ones? Speaking for myself and those that I have observed and talked to, I see that we do this by nipping issues in the bud. An introspective nature equips you with the tools required to reflect upon your life. We calmly observe what we did, should have done, and should not have done to avoid certain painful situations. 

heart-attackAs always, this is best illustrated using an analogy of an unforeseen physical setback. Of course, nothing can be done about sudden calamities. An unexpectedly sudden stroke, heart attack outta the blue or a devastating accident – these are things we have no control over, and need to learn to accept in order to carry on. That’s a different skill which is not the subject of this article. Here, we’re concerned with the non-sudden calamities. Those that happen with sufficient warning. Suppose a man has survived a heart attack. We find that he is usually acutely aware of any symptoms that might suggest the onset of the next one after the fact. When he notices one, he doesn’t ignore it. He doesn’t wait until the symptoms mushroom into a full-blown attack. He seeks medical attention promptly to put it to rest, yes?


So it is with those who have learnt to deal with anxiety. Because we have gone through the painful experience of an anxiety meltdown ourselves (YES, WE HAVE. And we know just how sickeningly awful it is. It’s nothing to look forward to. And everything to fear and loathe), we’ve developed such an aversion to it that we’ve started looking out for its earliest symptoms.

Because having one is such a personally traumatic experience, we are constantly evaluating everything to see if it has even the slightest likelihood of causing an anxiety attack. If so, we douse it as soon as we see it so it never even gets a chance to flare up into a full grown attack.

stitch-in-timeSometimes age brings wisdom. With reflection and insight born of wisdom we can see and evaluate situations for what they’re really worth, and consider the value they bring to our lives. But being young comes with its handicaps. Because every situation and experience is so new, the mind is completely overwhelmed by them leaving little if any time at all to reflect. Here is where it helps to meditate. By training your conscious mind to calm down, you get an opportunity to peer into its inner workings. You get to see and observe the life cycle of your personal experiences and evaluate them. You discover new ways to tackle painful situations. You learn to identify common patterns at an intuitive level so you can respond appropriately to them before they even percolate up to your discriminative mind. You will then truly understand what your grandfather meant when he said that a stitch in time saves nine.

I believe that’s what we, as adults, do to avoid anxiety meltdowns. You should know that if we were in the same situation as you, we’d react exactly as you did. We too would melt down, incapacitated, hopeless, sorry, and almost every other emotionally negative adjective you could think of. But since we don’t want to get there, we’ve gotten good over the years in making sure to avoid them.

We address small problems when they’re still small not out of discipline or some other pride-making quality, but out of fear, and the knowledge born of experience that letting the situation get out of hand may well destroy us. Isn’t that why Google tried to buy out Facebook when it was still in its diapers? Isn’t that why Facebook tried to buy Snapchat?


It’s not that the sea is calm everywhere when we command our ships. It’s just that as seasoned captains of the sail, we’ve learned how to steer clear of storms by spotting dark clouds from a distance.





This article has been cross-posted to my meditation blog at


About andatfoothill

I teach at Foothill
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2 Responses to Anxiety Meltdown

  1. I admire you a lot for starting a meditation blog for your students. The world around us is always changing and I am keenly aware that the younger generation of students is suffering from anxiety at a rate that would have been inconceivable to me had I not witnessed it with my own eyes through the numerous children who have grown up with my own children. I sometimes theorize about what might have precipitated this. Over and over again, I come back to three ideas:

    1. With the development of technology and personal devices, I don’t think we necessarily carve out enough time to be with ourselves…to be bored and reflective and quietly observe what we’re experiencing.
    2. Even as we become more open in terms of things like gender differences, I worry that through education young people begin to believe that their is only one acceptable path for them, which is a sort of limiting belief that pushes back on openness to possibility. It makes unconditional love seem unattainable. It makes our worth dependent upon conformity to “the one right way.” What could be more anxiety-inducing that that?
    3. Numbers one and two may contribute to a disconnection between the body and soul and spirit. I have started to observe when society and systems support integrity and when they reward lack of integrity. For example, how frequently are we rewarding students and candidates for dishonesty? For example, does a student who makes up a lie about why they’re hoping to turn in an assignment late have a greater chance of having that work accepted than a student who just owns up to the fact that they were just tired after the great weekend they had visiting with a friend?

    I think a lot about these things and I ask myself what we can do to help the souls in our class to heal. I am both touched and admiring that you have taken this bold step. Thank you!


  2. Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. I think you hit the nail on the head. I’ve been talking to my students about the incalculable value of boredom, but never made the connection to stress and anxiety as you so clearly have.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. Boredom is a gift to be treasured. By avoiding it through filling in the gaps in our activity stream with social media and endless entertainment, we become accustomed to not being bored. Then the very prospect of a future boredom brings on enormous stress as though life itself would be empty or void then.

    Thanks again.



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