Anxiety is a lurking sense of distress that is perhaps in all of us to some degree, but no one really wants to acknowledge it. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to disguise it in a more acceptable form. We try and gym it away, drink it away or get busy with more activities in an attempt to be too busy to notice it.
Appropriate stress is really good for us when it is in moderation and in the right time and place. Our bones need stress in order to grow, our muscles get stronger if we stress them moderately a few times a week with intervals of rest, and we learn by ‘stressing’ our brains to form new neural grooves.
I see stress like an artist’s canvas stretched over a frame of wood. It provides a healthy background on which to paint different aspects of my life. It is only when the canvas is put under extra strain or I try to put the same painting onto a bigger frame, that the inflexible paint begins to crack off. As much as I try to hide the flaws and touch up the painting to appear perfect, the flaws begin to be quite conspicuous. Instead of acknowledging my feelings, I try to hide them under hurried splashes of paint. This then makes me feel anxious about who may notice which makes me feel insecure and undermines my confidence. This increases my stress and anxiety levels, causing a vicious cycle of self-destruction.
What is this pressure in society that makes us feel like a failure if we have an imperfection? I sometimes wonder who wrote the rules for perfect living and why needing help is such a shame. I have spent so much time living according to what I think others expect of me. It really takes up a lot of energy that I could use more efficiently. Even my own expectations of myself are generally harsher than I would set for my friends. It also makes me say the words, “should” quite often, which underlines my perceived inability to cope. Missing the standard set for me only wears down my confidence about being able to successfully achieve what I have set out to do.
Perceptions play a big part of anxiety. The gap between what I perceive needs to happen and what is actually happening, is what is causing the tension. This is where it is helpful to get an outsiders insight into my situation and to ask me the right questions to help me see the reality of my expectations.
Time to take control of my thoughts.
Being in charge of my own thoughts is very powerful as it is just that – being in charge. I came across a saying recently that has been a very helpful tool in dealing with excess anxiety and fear. It goes like this, “If you don’t like what you see, change what you like.” Initially this seemed to me like a cop out. Now I find it quite helpful, if I can get my brain around it!
Even a small issue can cause stress. I really dislike leaving the house with the bed unmade. I feel that this is a respectful act of stewardship that all self-honouring people should do daily. Notice the word ‘should’. If I do not do it, the implication is that I am being disrespectful, dishonouring and lack a sense of stewardship. This sounds a bit harsh in reverse, but it shows us how much pressure I may put on myself…or my family…when there could be a perfectly good reason that the making of the bed is a trivial exploit compared to the magnitude of other unforeseen situations – like needing to lead a meeting for a sick colleague or change the flat tire on the car. Having such high inflexible standards puts extra stress on relationships and increases agitation and stress.
The other big cause of angst is fear. Anxiety and fear are big buddies that love to hold hands all the way. Fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of what others may think, and fear of making a mistake, embarrassing myself, looking like an idiot or any other logical or illogical thought that may lead to a negative outcome. Weighing up the seriousness of the resultant negative feeling may allow us to face the fear head on. Unveiling the fear may uncover the truth, or possibly, an untruth. Instead of running in an anxious panic, realizing the truth can be quite sobering and even humorous. I find my heart trying to deceive my head, or the other way around, just to make a false peace. It is time for anxiety to unfriend fear so that it can get a grip on a healthier outlook.
Another good friend of anxiety – change.
Change can be stressful. Any new situation creates stress. It could be a new job that creates stress or an illness, a loss, increased tension in a relationship, new challenges of children or parents facing new stages in their development.
I find that the possibility of future change can also cause me increased tension especially if there are many unknown factors. The saying, “better the devil that you know than the devil you don’t know,’’ suggests knowing what is ahead can settle my mind as I can start planning a strategy for coping with the change.
We all have it – now let’s deal with it.
We all have anxiety, but when it becomes debilitating and affects our health, relationships, work or sleep then it is time to do something about it. We can’t carry on doing the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome. As discussed, change itself is stressful. So this means that we are going to have to face the new stress of getting help, if we want to deal with current anxiety. If anxiety is slowly letting you down there is no shame in getting help. It takes strength and trust to let someone else peek into our own decision making.
This means swallowing our pride to prevent a fall – less stressful than getting up after one.