“I’m at work and text my husband something random during the day and he doesn’t immediately reply. I know he recently picked up our daughters from Grandma’s and should be home by now. Maybe he’s napping. Or maybe they got in a fatal accident on the way home and I’ve lost them both. My life without them begins to flash before my eyes and I get choked up. But I decide to focus on my work because it probably didn’t happen and everything is fine. He replies a few minutes later and all is normal.”
“I’m getting ready for a gathering with friends and trying to decide what to wear. I really just want to be comfortable but not look like I don’t care. I try things on but I feel like I look fat in everything, and not like the body of a person who cares so much about health and wellness. I think my friends will look at me and think “sheesh, she should really be in better shape if she actually practices what she preaches.” And then I think about how I DO practice what I preach and that maybe what I preach is all wrong since I don’t look fit and maybe everything I’m passionate about is a complete joke and I’m wasting my time and energy on a farce and I’m a farce and going to make a fool of myself once I’m found out.”
“I’m locked out of my work computer randomly when I try to login one morning. It’s odd since I hadn’t even had unsuccessful login attempts. I call IT and start the unlock process and they ask my manager’s name. I wonder if I’m getting laid off that day and IT accidentally deleted all my credentials too early before HR got through the process. I think about how the heck we would pay our bills and how much I don’t want to try and find another job. But IT swiftly unlocks my computer and I’m back in business.”
“I’m laying in bed at night and hear a mysterious, nondescript noise. I wonder if we’ve locked all the doors and closed the garage. I imagine armed robbers entering our home and murdering us in our bed. I wonder if they would go upstairs and get our girls or if they’d be safe on the other side of the house. I wonder how long it would take for our bodies to be discovered. I get up and go check all the doors and go back to sleep.”
“I’m running late for an 8:30 meeting with my boss because my three-year-old was acting like a three-year-old and traffic didn’t help either. I’m sure that my boss thinks I’m irresponsible and disrespectful. I arrive at 8:37 and my boss isn’t there. I check my email and at 6:15 am she had sent a meeting reschedule for later that day, so I was never actually late.”
“I feel a small fleshy bump under my chin and rub my thumb over it back and forth. Is it possible to have cellulite on your chin? Or is it some form of chin cancer? How long will it take to spread? How many other little cancers do I have growing in my body and how long do I have to live? Could I survive chemo? Would I be strong enough to fight cancer? How could I ever say goodbye to my family if I lost that battle? What if my mom gets cancer? How do children lose their parents to terminal illness? How do parents lose their children to terminal illness or accidents? And now I’m heartbroken and holding back tears for every child and parent who’ve had to say goodbye long before they should’ve had to.”
“I write a blog post about anxiety and how it feels to me. I go back and forth trying to decide if I should actually publish it or just treat it as a journal entry for therapy. If I publish it, people will probably think ‘oh she’s crossed the line and shared too much this time. She’s kinda crazy and I don’t think I want to read her stuff anymore. She should be on meds.’ If I don’t publish it, then I’m giving into fear and not being myself. Vulnerability is all the rage right now so if I share it, maybe I’ll connect with others who feel this way too and we can all laugh with each other and comfort each other and not feel so alone. But no one is this crazy and if they are they are probably on meds and managing it so that makes me a stubborn hippie and people will think I’ve taken this holistic wellness stuff too far if I still feel this way and won’t take meds. Clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about and should not be sharing wellness crap! But what if I did get on meds and they made me suicidal or they did the opposite and numbed all feelings whatsoever?”
These are all real thoughts of mine, all of them on repeat in some shape or form throughout my days. I once heard that it’s good to share your irrational fears with others because saying it helps it sound ridiculous and helps take the power of the fear away. And I can laugh about it because I’m just so used to thinking like this. It’s my norm. But the patterns remain and I catch myself in these thought patterns and sometimes I get annoyed and angry and exhausted. I sometimes think I am broken, but I also know there is a biological/neurological mechanism to why this happens and I am still a work in progress.
Anxiety is the brain and body stuck in or easily triggered into fight or flight, caused by trauma, stress, or other perceived threats. When I get anxious or find myself in these fearful thought patterns, I’ve learned to check myself and evaluate what might have gotten me here. Sometimes I just acknowledge the past events that may have impacted my nervous system more permanently. Sometimes there is a true underlying worry that I’ve been avoiding and need to deal with, and other times it happens when I’ve had too much sugar or caffeine. I also get this way when I haven’t been active enough to sweat out the nervous energy, and the day after I’ve had alcohol. And oddly, it’s often correlated with my monthly cycle. There are so many triggers for me, many of which I could control, but I definitely don’t have it all under control.
I have learned through therapy, meditation, and studying the effects of stress and trauma that I am not my thoughts. I can recognize them, acknowledge them, breathe through them, but not judge myself or my thoughts. I thank my body for trying to protect me, and remind it that I am okay. I also know that my mind is creative and analytical and intelligent, and those qualities are my strengths, but they come with their downside, which leads me easily into anxiety. That’s where I find peace though, knowing that there is a purpose for my discomfort.
I should caveat that I am fully functioning mentally and my anxiety does not keep me from functioning in the world. This is also one reason why I haven’t yet taken medication. I completely support anyone that needs medication to help with normal function. I have sought other therapies and learned a lot about anxiety and myself, but if it ever became debilitating or dangerous, I would absolutely take medication. However my hope is that by working with it instead of against it, anxiety can find an appropriate place in my life rather than taking over.
The work is not done; maybe I will always live with this. But there are more tools and therapies and books to read and the more I learn, the more I love myself, so I am hopeful! In the meantime, I share my journey – the ups and downs, in hopes of making connections, learning and teaching, so the fear cannot control me. And I hope others can learn to sit with their anxious feelings and learn from them rather than run from them. Let them be an opportunity to listen to your body to find the balance and healing it needs, and maybe discover your strengths in the midst of it all.