The Best Way to Overcome Anxiety
In the past year, I have tried a lot of new things in an attempt to overcome my anxious thoughts. They include
- Becoming vocal about my fears
- Stepping outside of my comfort zone
- Walking into vulnerability
All of these things happened without me knowing. They happened because I had no hair. I know that sounds strange, but stay with me.
My hair was my entire identity. When I say that out loud, it sounds absurd. But it’s true. It was the shield of armor that I hid behind so that I didn’t have to be who I was. I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t know who I was without my hair.
I always received compliments on my hair, and to me that meant that my hair must be all that people noticed. So when I lost it because of the chemotherapy that was required to fight my breast cancer diagnosis in 2017/18, my anxiety skyrocketed.
I won’t spend too much time talking about the ins and outs of how losing my hair made me a better version of myself. You can listen to my TEDx Talk if you care to know the whole story. The point is, cancer became a socially acceptable way for me to be anxious. So I leaned in.
Suddenly, I could live out loud. Instead of hiding what I was feeling in an attempt to portray the image of someone who has it all together, I could be an emotional train wreck in public and people would give me a pass because, you know, cancer.
I have mixed feelings about this.
On the one hand, I feel grateful that I used cancer as a tool of empowerment.
On the other hand, what a shame that I had to have cancer to feel empowered.
It gets me thinking, though. Is part of the reason people suffer so much with anxiety because they cannot find a socially acceptable reason to express it?
Anxiety is such a taboo subject it seems. We talk about solutions a lot. There are a lot of tools for stress management, overcoming obstacles, and self-care rituals. Everybody can use a good tool for overcoming stress, making it acceptable to talk about stress management to the masses.
What we don’t spend enough time talking about is the reasons we need to manage our stress. That is not as fun. That would mean admitting imperfection. That would mean becoming vulnerable. That would mean that people would stop following us on social media.
We live in an age of solutions, not problems, right?
We actually live in an age of massive problems that we stuff under the mattress of solutions.
While it is important to continue to talk about ways to overcome anxiety, I think we need to spend more time on simply recognizing that it exists. And let’s be clear, it exists.
I’m not sure if anxiety is on the rise. I think it has always been a presenting factor in a lot of people, including me. A lot of people struggle with anxiousness. The degree to which anxiety is experienced is different from person to person. But one thing is true for all of us. Anxiety is exacerbated by society’s new rules of engagement:
- Show everyone your highlights
- Don’t talk about your low-lights
- Don’t make anyone wait for anything, nor should you have to wait for anything
- Answers are readily at our fingertips
- The message that failure is not an option is evereywhere
- Social media and text messaging reducing human connection
Is part of the reason people suffer with anxiety because they cannot find a socially acceptable reason to express it?
Maybe these things are the reason we feel like we have to have some sort of ailment that society will accept for us to really feel our feelings. After all, Facebook doesn’t care if you can’t get out of bed to face the day.
We need to stop hiding behind our highlight reels and start living in front of our anxiety.
Stop trying to pretend that you have it all under control. You don’t. I don’t. You may have come a long way since you first started dealing with anxiety, but be clear that anxiety will never go away. This may appear harsh, but I would rather you get angry with reality than misled with a lie.
While anxiety may always be the unwelcome guest to the dinner party, it does not always have to be the guest of honor. Learning coping mechanisms to reduce anxious feelings can significantly limit its impact on your life. This is why programs like Panic Away are so highly recommended. They provide tools in a variety of different ways that work to challenge negative thought patterns.
Talking about anxious thoughts helps. I don’t mean just talking to a trained professional (although I highly recommend this). I mean talking about it in conversation. If you are feeling anxious about something, call it out.
Talking about anxiety does not make the anxiety worse. What I found through my own experience is that talking about my struggle with vulnerability, exposure and anxiety helped other people to talk about their own struggles. Although we all present our angst in different ways, I found that more people than not experience the same emotions at one time or another.
Life is about human connection. Go connect with humans. I promise, it will help.
You are Not an Anxious Person
While you are a person who lives with anxiety, you are a person first. This messaging is important. Stop describing yourself as an anxious person. Doing this gives all your control over to something other than yourself.
Putting the word person before the word anxious means that you have put yourself in the drivers seat. You get to decide where the road will lead.
You are so much more than your anxiety. I know that sometimes it feels all-consuming, and it beats you down to the point where you cannot get out of bed. Even in those moments, you are more than what your anxious thoughts are telling you.
I know that sometimes anxiety appears to come out of the blue (it actually doesn’t, but that is for another post). When that happens, don’t relinquish your control. You are still the one steering the vehicle.
Three Things to do When Anxiety Arises.
- Grounding. Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste (this might be as simple as the saliva in your mouth). This helps you to re-focus.
- Mantra. Something that you can repeat to yourself that is empowering.
- Breathe. Take four slow breaths in to the count of 10, hold for 5 seconds, and slowly release to the count of 10.
Cancer was my socially acceptable excuse to attack my anxiety. What I learned from the experience is that sometimes we have to create our own socially acceptable reasons to deal with the things in our lives that are holding us back.
No matter how severe your anxiety is, we all share the same reason for wanting to manage it. We want to live more joyful, purposeful life. That, in itself is socially acceptable enough.
The best way to overcome anxiety is to own it. Stop running from it. Talk about it. Bring it to life. Only then will you begin to win the battle.
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