4 Healing Tips for the Chronically Anxious Person
If only there were a device to automatically capture one's thoughts just before falling asleep - were such a thing in existence there would be a brilliant read on the blog today about what it feels like to deal with chronic anxiety. Too bad the world will never know...
Anxiety is usually in capital letters in the heads of people who deal with it. It's blocky, bold, and baleful. In short, it's everything that will not be ignored or managed through common sense and reason. Common sense says, "you can trust your friends," reason points out that the reason you do is because they have proven trustworthy, and then anxiety comes along and sticks a sneaky knife in your back: "if they don't betray you outright, what if they forget about you? What if they drop the friendship because it is no longer convenient to them?"
Anxiety is unreasonable, and for those who have dealt with the chronic version of it, a formidable enemy. It's one of those intangible mental and emotional things that the rest of world labels as worry, which is somewhat correct, only it's much bigger than the occasional worry. Instead of being something you identify: "I'm worried my car is going to be an expensive repair," it becomes a general dread and unease about life.
"Something is wrong and I can't identify it."
WHAT CHRONIC ANXIETY FEELS LIKE
Underneath the surface where no one else sees, this person sits in a tiny craft in the expanse of their mind, tossing about in a turbulent sea. For the anxious person, most often the causes lie more within than without, when their heart, mind, and emotions turn against them - a little like an auto-immune disease. It varies between feeling like something is really, really wrong, and a general unease that somehow, we're botching something. Somewhere.
Sometimes it's a storm, but the worst of it is just feeling alone and very inadequate, about to get eaten by some sharks because you sent up the flare at the wrong time for that rescue craft to see you.
For reasonably-adjusted folks we shore up our boat and ride out the panic that comes in waves. The stress factors from outside also flood the inside: such as a criticism or doubt from someone else rocking the boat. From the outside it looks like this person is simply over-sensitive, but to someone already struggling to stay afloat in a sea of negativity it also comes down to being too overwhelmed to respond in a healthy way.
LET'S TALK ABOUT SENSITIVITY
This topic was a struggle for me because I didn't want to be the sensitive person. Sensitive people are generally regarded as being weaker and don't we all wish to be strong? "Survival of the fittest," and all that. Strong people survive, weak people don't. Isn't that what evolution and religion teaches us? All humans struggle over life.
I read an article awhile ago that flipped my perspective on the topic. Absolutely sensitivity can be a pain to deal with, but that's just it: the pain lays a threshold for a keener appreciation of everything else. We may feel the reverberations of conflict more, but conversely reaching a peace is so much more satisfying. For example, most sensitive or idealistic people hate conflict,but they of all people are the best qualified to bring about a resolution. A keener perception of light will only make a better painter once discipline brings forth results.
Sensitive people notice things. They feel things. I have no scientific backing to quote on this, so of course you may take it as nonsense if you wish, but they tend not to fly through life as much without appreciating small things: the sweet crunch of summer peppers on butter bread, the way the light hits new leaves in spring, and the joy that silk-skinned babies bring.
They gather in so much more intel about life around them they fight not to become overwhelmed by the great scale of life. Especially considering that for every positive impression of the world, there is at least one negative, and maybe five more.
Sensitive people who have been abused or pummeled by life are hit hardest. They may respond with cynicism, behavioral disorders, panic attacks, emotional shut-down, eating disorders and irrational fears. Grief may over-turn them. Criticism may prostrate their confidence. As a result many put up insurmountable walls, which makes the waves on the inside more dangerous, unless, God forbid, they put up enough walls to effect a personal drought and shut down whole sections of their life.
Look at those two simple words. Ha! "overcoming anxiety." What a laugh. BUT, you can. If you are a sensitive person becoming whole, healthy and thriving (not anxious) will give you the tools you need to live life confidently. You may always notice more, feel more, and maybe even cry more, but this isn't a weakness. Feeling things is never a weakness, allowing those feelings to become your guide is. That is a mistake most sensitive people make at some point leading them to unwise decisions, or they get tired of fighting it and grow a tough hide which can lead to cynicism. But why not let this sensitivity work for good and beauty?
You can overcome anxiety, you can not overcome feelings. They will come and go: sharp or soft, hard and tender, deep, and as fleeting as a soap bubble on a hot day.
Your feelings are not who you are, and your anxiety is not who you are. They are part of you, but on human scale can only represent you, not be you. One of the keys lies in seeking out your identity, at the core of you. I've talked with a hand full of people who have always dealt with anxiety (and can corroborate it with my own experience): while it's a hard swim out, it's worth the journey and totally possible.
Here are the 4 things that have helped me most in the struggle:
I know all your red flags just started waving wildly, but I'm not referring to an Eastern routine wherein all the spirits come to visit in an alternate universe. I simply mean taking the time to sit and be. Watch the sunrise, or the wind in trees, or stare at the autumnal roses. Really let it soak in: God put a lot of Himself in nature, and it's a place in which I can always count on finding Him.
For the anxious person the best thing to learn is how to simply be, which correlates with God's "I AM." He is, and when we lay aside distractions and activity (even in reading and walking one is distracted) and sit still we learn a little more about that part of Himself that he put in us.
Put aside at least 5 minutes daily at first, and then try to increase to 15; you can spare that. Then, find a place where distractions will be lessened (re: no phones!) and sit.
2. Tell one person the struggle
The one way to reinforce a struggle is never to talk about it. It looks like strength, but really it's undermining the structure of our life and well-being to bottle things up. If you don't have that one person (or two) that knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about you than your life isn't entirely healthy.
It's difficult, no doubt.
Think of one person with whom you could even consider sharing something that humiliates or shames you in life. That's your person. If you don't have a deep relationship, take steps toward forging friendships that can lead you to that person. It's essential.
3. Make Lists, not War
A good list can take a hair-raising week or month to something completely manageable. Key word: manage. Good managers organize things, because they know how much it helps to sort and prioritize. Now, I haven't managed to apply that to my sock drawer yet, but I happen to know it works if you have an exceptionally busy time coming up and it's overwhelming you.
I sort first by event or project, then my responsibility in it, and then I break down each thing that will need any prep. The key to prep is being as proactive as possible. Making a taco salad for a Sunday lunch crowd isn't that big of a deal among bigger things, but in a stressful week you may be laying in bed Saturday night groaning over the prospect of getting up early the next morning to chop all the things... and you really need the rest.
A little chopping on Thursday night when you had a spare hour and a Netflix subscription could make all the difference. It's a relatively small thing, but in adult life if you don't prioritize the big, and manage the small well, your life easily turns into a hectic mess.
Make lists. Be proactive.
4. Take a look at your life
Is your life driving you, or are you driving it? If you are frequently stressed out or overwhelmed in a week it may be time to sit town and take a good, hard look at the schedule. Is there anything that you can cut out without damaging income, relationships, or service?
Are you trying to do too much?
When we are constantly so overwhelmed that we can't do the things we want to do or feel like we should do (i.e. take the kids to the park, give back to our community, exercise, or learn something new) it could be time to reorder priorities. I'm not saying that some of this isn't normal, because adult life is comprised of these decisions, but that we take the time to decide what kind of life we really want. How are we balancing work, play, fun, education, and giving back?
Take the next year (really not kidding, it takes a long time) to filter through what you really want for your life. Since a year is a long time to look at I challenge you to ask these two questions:
- What is the life I think I should have?
- What is the life I actually want?
At the risk of making the post too much longer I'd like to illustrate from my own life. A few years ago I was pretty stressed out thinking that I was wasting time at a job that wasn't leading to my ideal life. What [I thought] I wanted was to work flexibly enough to travel the world and work remotely. It was the cool lifestyle, a lot of people I knew were freelancing creatives, and it looked perfect for me.
Then I read Unworking: Exit the Rat Race, Live like a Millionaire, and Be Happy now, where he talks about figuring out the life you genuinely want vs. simply buying a wholesale dream: i.e. the best thing in life is working 4 hours a month catching butterflies so I can buy a dream beach house and get on HGTV. Or for me, propping up my feet for 3 months at a time in places like Positano, the Faroe Islands, and within chiming distance of Big Ben. The realization hit me (right after I applied to become a flight attendant) that I love being part of a community: 1 community.
Travel refreshes me, but the more so because I get to come home. HOME. It's a beautiful feeling. Knowing that, and with some advancements in the work I was doing, I began to find more purpose and satisfaction while continuing to sort out what I'll wish most to have done at the end of my life.
Life changes. I may yet test my writing and management skills and launch a freelancing career. Perhaps the flight attendant dream will happen. Maybe I'll get to work for a women's magazine. If it does that's great: change is the spice of life.
Chronic anxiety when there are no external factors to explain it (such as a dysfunctional relationship) can't stand up against learning who you are at the core of you, and finding a spot to dig in and intentionally build life.
Finding identity, when you can't identify what is causing anxiety, is a good place to start.
So to sum it up:
- Learning to "be" and stilling the chattering voices goes far to dissipating anxiety.
- Cultivate friendships.
- Organize your life: make lists.
- Nailing down one's calling and purpose in life (huge, but worth it) is an essential task that can knock it the rest of the way.
So I've found.
L. Raine is part of an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn a "commission" by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.