Tag Archives: the future

Anxiety Blowing Through Here

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In the last several years, I have no idea how many anxiety episodes I’ve been through. Yesterday morning, it struck me that those two words were the key. When I suffered my first actual, acute panic attack, I started to learn how to manage panic. Certain tricks helped, but arguably the most helpful was to remember prior panic episodes. They rarely lasted more than 15 minutes. The moment — and the accompanying sensations and feelings — would pass.

Just a Few Questions, Ma’am

Nowadays, I rarely have a full-blown panic attack. Instead, I have periods where I feel the force of anxiety gripping me. The experience is generally longer in duration, less overt and more difficult to exit in some ways. Negativity builds on itself, and for me, it hits the hardest in the quiet hours at the tail end of an evening or the earliest moments after waking. It comes dressed deceptively as “facing reality,” with a barrage of interrogating questions: 

You do know you have that project due today? How are you going to finish? What about your other goals for the day? Remember that task you were supposed to do two days ago? Why haven’t you exercised yet this week? When are you going to take your health more seriously? What if you end up with a sudden condition as a result? How do you plan on affording surprises like that? Do you really think your career is working?

Outsourcing Worry

No one would deal well with being handed rapid-fire, big-picture questions like this upon waking. In my weaker moments, I’ve foisted this examination on those I love — and occasionally, it’s spilled over to disoriented love interests opening their eyes (or trying to finally close them). In those moments, I’ve simply been overwhelmed with the internal interrogation and have sought to “outsource” the question fielding by means of projection. Often, their responses are no better equipped than my own; it’s virtually impossible to field an infinite stream of negative possibilities, particularly when your brain is slowing down or warming up.

Two Thoughts to Ease Your Mind

Yesterday morning, I awoke to this proverbial chair-under-the-lightbulb-style internal investigation. Fortunately, earlier this week, I had several reminders and lessons in the benefits of staying positive. Despite my anxiety, I attempted to find a way to do so. I made myself a cup of tea. I looked over contract work that came in subpar, considered redoing it and instead took a few notes. I read some positive bloggers online. I turned up some music, and used my notes to request revisions. My morning began to turn around.

Two thoughts helped me make positive choices yesterday. First, I remembered that sometimes, no single action lightens the anxiety load. Sometimes, we have to pull out a few successive methods from our mental cache of coping mechanisms. Secondly, I had this single thought:

Anxiety is transient. Eventually, I will feel positive and calm again. These worries will find solutions. That which is frightening will seem less frightening when I find a new perspective. I can choose to suffer through this anxiety or simply disregard it, trusting these concerns will be there when I find myself in a less fearful viewpoint.

Worry Like the Wind

And, eventually, voila! It happened, perhaps somehow because I trusted that it would, or maybe just because anxiety is not a fully sustainable state. The day went well, work got done, and I even went for a mile run and played a little tennis. This morning, of course, the episode virtually repeated. I find myself with two deliveries, birthday present shopping to do, and a mid-afternoon appointment in a neighboring county. There will always be stress, and for those of us who battle anxiety, there will always be moments of stress-squared. But these will only be moments, or at absolute worst, days or hours. Eventually, the worry passes, the wheel of fortune eventually gives us a break, a stranger says a kind word, a rainbow appears in the sky, or we have our own mini moments of epiphany. Essentially, the wind eventually changes. And, until we learn to fully “shortcut” our anxieties and forgo them, we can always take comfort in the fact that their presence — though, at times, potent and omnipresent — is only temporary.

Imaginary Paths

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Present-centered awareness remains the exception for me, still, instead of the rule. Growing up, I witnessed two polar ways of handling the emotions that bother us — the head-on tackle (sometimes exhausting, but insight-producing) and avoidance (where emotional needs seeped out in less-than-healthy ways). As a result, I’m often erring on the side of emotional confrontation — with others and myself. If I analyze enough — and piece the puzzles of my reactions, thoughts and feelings together — I should be able to understand and heal core issues. In general, when things do click into place, progress is generally more immediate in nature as the mental obstacles fall away.

Forcing the Pieces Together

The downside of this direct approach, however, is that sometimes the “clicking” won’t come. I find myself circling an issue, believing that with enough attention and effort, insight will come. One of the things that has struck me about being present is that insight seems more organic. Others have told me as much — that by simply being and living, insight arises, largely by virtue of releasing judgments and paying closer attention to experience. Despite the fact this notion makes little sense in my paradigm, I’ve begun to notice this dynamic taking place.

Reaction vs. Anticipation

I’m often trying to analyze anxiety (a recurrent struggle for me). Anxiety by nature confounds us, and quite often, its paralytic force leaves us unsure of its origins. I view it as a reaction to a notion or event, and am constantly trying to discern the source so I can logically talk myself down from the worry ledge. Today, it struck me that anxiety may not qualify as a reaction at all, in the purest sense. Instead, it’s anticipation of an event that has not occurred. How can we react if there has been no action? In those moments, I’m walking an emotional path of a fictitious place. Something about this notion felt profound. Just as I could never write a review of a hotel I’ve never stayed at, there’s little sense in breaking down a reaction to a thing I’ve never experienced.

Maybe the larger point is simply to recognize that the source of fear has not occurred; it’s tomorrow’s weather, it’s an undiscovered country, it’s a potential romance (or heartbreak) with someone you’ve never kissed, it’s a job you’ve never experienced your first day at. Fear of these things and their inherent negative possibilities may be natural, but it’s difficult to defend the positivity of an experience you’ve never had. As a result, sometimes our attempts at talking ourselves out of anxiety become less than effective, because we have no compelling evidence to counter the fear yet.

Trading Knowing for Noticing

Roughly 18 months ago, my father received an unexpected, terminal diagnosis that numbered his months to live. He seemed fine at the time, and we did all of the things that come naturally to such a situation — educated ourselves, saw specialists, cried, feared, made plans and contingency plans, and tried to relax. I’ve thought a lot recently about Christmas Eve, asking my (then new) boyfriend how to get through a holiday without that anxiety rocking me. “Just look at him,” he said, and that’s what I did. For that day, I immersed myself in being near my dad, holding his hand, talking to him, and being with my family. He was okay and every imaginary path was simply a possibility.

For all the living we did between then and the following fall, there was no way we could have imagined what would have occurred. We had no idea that his prognosis would ultimately improve, beginning a near-unbelievable decline in bodily markers that indicated disease. We didn’t know that he would live, symptom-free, for that next year. We had no way of knowing that weeks after this improved and symptom-free state, he would have a freak accident while shopping in our hometown, indirectly activating the disease. We had no way of anticipating brain surgery (neither expected nor related to his condition), a medically induced coma he would never quite come out of, our that by Thanksgiving, his chair would be empty.

But we also had no way of knowing that he would speak to each of us in the hospital before things got bad. We had no way of knowing he would stir for three days, allowing each of the three of us kids to experience a little more of him before we lost him. We had no way of knowing that we would gather, laughing, crying, playing guitar and singing, the day he left us. We had no way of knowing a light rain would fall outside the hospital as we hugged goodbye. We had yet to experience the joy of holidays spent together in his absence, the growth that even a few months could bring thereafter, and the breakthroughs we would make as a result. I had no way of anticipating creating this blog, typing this post, or doing laundry in anticipation of a weekend coastal trip I’m about to take. The future did not exist back then. In the same way, the future does not exist now.

Letting Life Exhibit the Evidence

Whether we battle anxiety disorders or not, we’re all looking to avoid pain. The needle itself is always less emotionally painful than the wince before the shot. Anticipation can be the most wonderful thing in the world, or the most terrible thing, but it will never, ever be the equal of experience. Perhaps that’s why experience can so powerfully bring insight. Sometimes the healing comes when you least expect it. Sometimes you wake up and realize you’re no longer crying. Sometimes you wake up and realize you suddenly are. Some forms of healing come through mere experience, just as some wounds do as well. All we can do is allow it to happen, try not to run, and try not to live an event that is merely one of a myriad of possibilities. Sometimes you just have to look at something to recognize this is your reality, this is your job right now. Few of us are professional psychics. We don’t need to be. Our job is instead, to do the living, not the prediction, to be the evidence for or against the fortune cookie, horoscope, weather report, or prognosis.

One-Minute Mind Makeover: Picking a Positive Password

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Words we hear often become truths we accept. They can have a profound effect on our self-esteem over time, ranging from bathroom-mirror affirmations to repetitive verbal abuse. They can effect our vision and work ethic, as evidenced by everything from company slogans to the now-famous “Wal~Mart Cheer.” Words we read can also affect our psyches, whether it’s the serial-killer thriller we read before bedtime that finds its way into our nightmares, or the e-mails from loved ones that weave their way into our better dreams.

The Gateway to Happiness

Sometimes, repetition of a word alone can affect our moods, outlooks, and perspectives. Some time ago, I recognized my mood dipping just slightly when logging into my personal e-mail account. I finally realized the password itself, entered countless times each day, was subtly affecting me. So often we select passwords that evoke memories, rather than future aspirations. Instead, I began a long-standing pattern of selecting passwords that were both forward-looking and positive — a phrase that epitomized my far-off vision for my company in my work account, an inspiring song lyric for my personal e-mail or a thought of perspective as the password for my bank login (how many of us could use an encouraging word before facing down our account balance?).

Say the Magic Words

Try it for a few weeks. Choose a two-word phrase that inspires you (remembering to keep it secure — a great way to do this is to routinely substitute numbers for certain letters). You might be surprised to find that it unlocks your brain and heart, along with your accounts.