To someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the idea of being locked in a room with a ticking clock seems like a living nightmare. I’m pretty sure I’ve actually had nightmares similar to the concept. However, I have found that escape rooms have been more therapeutic than not. I’ve tried everything to cope with my anxiety; medications, meditation, exercise, yoga, you name it I’ve tried it, and although all of these things have helped, not one of them has provided me with techniques to apply to my everyday life. When things truly get overwhelming, I can’t just say, “hold on, let me yoga real quick.” Life doesn’t work that way.
I constantly over analyze and overthink. I cannot simply slow my brain down; it’s like my thoughts are on a hamster wheel and every time I get a break, I realize I’m in this perpetual circle of restless thought. GAD is characterized as “excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance),” and typically accompanied with several other symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability (DSM-IV TR).
When I first heard of an escape room, I was excited, yet nervous. To those of you that don’t know what an escape room is, here is the gist: you are given one hour to break out of a room, but in order to do so you must solve all of the puzzles, riddles, and clues. When I tried my first escape room at Mind Bender Games, I was with friends that I felt really comfortable with. They explained what I was getting myself into so that I wasn’t nervous. Knowing that you aren’t really locked in is a huge comfort, but the ticking clock was still in the back of my hamster-wheel head.
As soon as the door closes, the timer starts. It is a bit overwhelming at first because you don’t know where to start. I frantically began searching around the room for anything that could give me anything. Before I knew it, five minutes went by and my anxiety spiked. To a normal person, five minutes doesn’t seem like long, but to me, it seemed like I had wasted so much time. I was in my own head trying to solve this, but that’s the thing… escape rooms are not an individual endeavor; they are a complete team effort. So, for those five minutes that I felt like a failure, I was actually perfectly normal. My team mates hadn’t found anything and it was okay. We were all frantic together, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a spastic ball of stress. We finally found a clue, which led us to another, and then another, and then another…. but the most important part was that I wasn’t alone in my frantic behavior. We were all under pressure, and it was fun. The pressure was good pressure, not unrealistic self-made, exacerbated pressure.
While participating in the escape room, I realized that my anxiety was beneficial. When typically my over analytical, restless nature had been a downfall, it was finally a strength. I was constantly working to solve a puzzle, or searching for a clue. The ticking clock surprisingly helped my anxiety because I learned to be excited, rather than anxious; it’s like playing a minute-to-win-it game where the fun clouds the anxiety. However, the most important thing that the escape room taught me was that you are never alone. I learned to celebrate my anxiety and use the people around me to get through the tough days because, just as in an escape room, life is not an individual effort. No one can get out by themselves.
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