I can’t believe that I am about to tell you about a super embarrassing anxiety symptom, but here goes! The other day, I returned home from the gym with the intention of taking a quick shower, getting dressed and going to the store to buy food for dinner. Sounds simple, right? But I couldn’t get in the shower. I felt a weird sense of heaviness and pressure all over my body that prevented me from moving. It took me over two hours to finally step in the tub and turn on the tap. And once I finished my shower, I was so exhausted that I lay down in my bed, naked, and stared at the ceiling for three hours instead of doing anything productive because I was experiencing severe anxiety symptoms.
There have been other times where I wake up and I don’t even get out of bed for hours because I am dreading the act of going in the shower and starting my day. I literally feel paralyzed and unable to move. Sometimes, I have had such bad anxiety symptoms around showering that, if my boyfriend is home, I ask him to sit in the bathroom with me while I shower.
Why am I so anxious about showering? What is so terrifying about the shower? I’m not sure. I brought this up with my therapist the other day, and we brainstormed some ideas about why I experience anxiety symptoms around the idea of showering. I do love that showering is super easy and does not require a lot of thought or effort since I just need engage in the same ritual each time: wet hair and body, lather in shampoo, rinse out shampoo, lather on conditioner, soap up my body, wash off the soap and conditioner, the end. But I think it’s because of this very ritualized nature of showering that I get anxiety. Since my body is on autopilot when it comes to the process of showering, it leaves my brain free to think about other things. Naturally, as someone with bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, this leads to negative self-talk, dark thoughts and self-judgements on everything about myself, from my appearance to my personality. And unfortunately, because I am in the shower standing under running water, I can’t distract myself with my phone or a book or a newspaper, which are my typical coping mechanisms for when these thoughts invade my brain.
I don’t think that I have ablutophobia, which is the fear of bathing. But rather, I think sometimes I am scared to go in the shower because I am scared of what will happen afterwards. Once I shower, I need to get dressed and leave the house. And my symptoms of anxiety make that thought terrifying because I am worried that something bad will happen, particularly something that is my own fault. If I don’t shower and stay in bed, then I can avoid negative events.
I Googled “Anxiety around showering” to see if other people have these anxiety symptoms when getting in the shower or whether there was documented medical explanations for my fear. I found a lot of personal stories but not a lot of professional opinions explaining the phenomenon. ! In one forum, a few people mentioned that being in the shower makes them feel trapped and vulnerable. This really resonated with me. I definitely get anxiety around showering when I am home alone because I am scared someone will break into the apartment and attack me and I won’t be able to hear them because of the running water. People also mentioned the fear of falling in the shower, which I can definitely identify with.
One option to help improve the anxiety would be to get a radio for the shower, so I can listen to music or talk radio to distract myself. However, that is only a Band-Aid solution to a bigger problem: the anxiety symptoms that lead to my inability to be alone with my thoughts. I can certainly agree that it is not healthy that I can’t be alone without a distraction. I can’t walk down the street without calling someone, I can’t just sit silently and take in my environment. I need to be able to embrace mindfulness and live in the present. So what are some ways that I can improve my mindfulness?
- Dedicating time to being device-free/screen-free
- The guidance of a professional through mindfulness cognitive-behavioural therapy
- Attentive listening
- Apps for your phone such as Calm or Headspace.
I’m going to make a commitment to you, my readers, to try to actively address my fear of being alone with my thoughts, whether it is walking down the street or taking a shower. I am hoping that I can do some of what I listed about to reduce my anxiety symptoms.
What about you? Do you have any fears or anxieties that you are embarrassed about and want to get out in the open? How do you reduce your anxiety? How do you improve your mindfulness?