Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letting Go of Anxiety: The Ultimate Struggle

It’s been a while since first discussing my issues with anxiety. This is what started me on my road to happiness, to creating my own Happiness Project. Dealing with my anxiety has been a constant struggle—there are weeks and months when things are good and nothing bothers me. Then, there are those times that it all comes crashing down again. However, now that I have some knowledge in my grasp, I am better able to deal with the anxiety. I try not to let it bring me down—I know what it is and I look at it just that way—“This is only anxiety, nothing more. There is no evidence that anything is wrong.” As a work in progress, I am always looking for new information to add to my collection of tips and advice to dealing with anxiety, whether it’s suggestions for dealing with anxiety when you’re experiencing it or focusing on those things in life that really matter in order to combat the bad feelings.

I have been feeling anxious again for the last couple of weeks, for a specific reason, which makes it better than experiencing it for no reason at all. Still, it’s nothing be worried over really. It’s only my perception of something that may or may not happen. I have been going over all of the tips and advice I have been given by others and from reading various books. It’s not been that bad, but each time I experience these emotions, it concerns me, both because of what it can do to me physically and because I’m just tired of always stressing over unrealistic worries.

Readers, some of you must have sensed my anxious thoughts. Some of you have posted your own ideas of how I can focus on other things in life. And I thank you for it.

First, there’s this post from Time Management Ninja. It is very true that “we worry about too many things; we panic too often; and we let too many things scare us.” In my case, this is definitely true, and what he says about the end result has always been true for me as well: “Many of these things never happen. Or they turn out to be not as bad as we imagined.” So I should heed his advice and “keep [my] bearings in the face of urgent and perceived emergencies.” I am trying. Sometimes trying is all I can do, but it’s better than being so fearful that I can barely move, and trust me when I say that I have been there too.

Second, J over at The Crazy Life of J posted 8 Flights. While not really about anxiety at all, some of what she says can indeed be adapted for my purposes. Her post is more about changing something in your life, starting with a few small steps. When I was younger and asked what I would change about myself, I would always think Be prettier, Be skinnier, Be smarter, Be funnier, be whatever. Now, the thing I’d change is my way of thinking. Because a lot of anxiety isn’t so much derived from what is happening in our lives as how we think about what is happening in our lives. It’s not easy to change the way you think about things, especially if you’re not aware that it’s the main problem to begin with. But by following J’s examples, I can start to change the way I think by making small changes. Just as J discusses, I’ve been focusing on things that I am grateful for. I keep a list of gratitudes in my happiness binder. And when I’m feeling down, feeling like the world is against me, I can look at my list and physically see all the wonderful things in life I get to experience every day. Also like J, I’ve also been getting physical. Throughout my life I’ve done various forms of exercise, but quite sporadically. Lately though, I’ve been running more than I have been and I’ve picked up more yoga classes. While I enjoy doing these activities (among others, like biking, swimming, walking, etc.), physical exercise is essential for dealing with and warding off stress and anxiety. So while I may push off an engagement with a friend for a yoga class, it’s not so much that I’d rather go to yoga as it is very important that I stick with it. While I may groan at getting up at 5:30 a.m. in order to fit that run in, I’m always so glad I did and I feel so good when I’m done.

Speaking of yoga, there is a great article on About.com in regards to how yoga can help with anxiety. I’m going to focus on these tips the next time I’m feeling anxious.

Caribbean Princess also had some ideas that I can relate to. First, she posted 10 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Down. Many of these can be applied to anxiety—I try to participate in some of these when feeling over-anxious. Some of these tips were even mentioned to me by my therapist: Go easy on yourself; Write (I do this every few days, whether it be a blog post or writing in my journal—either is very therapeutic for me); Do stuff; Spend time with people (when I was feeling at my worst, it was the last thing I wanted to do, but the thing I needed to do); Watch a feel good movie (you can read about my favorites here); Listen to great music (I’ve written about music I love here); Read (if you’ve read this blog before, you know I love to read); Share your feelings; Be thankful (as stated above). CP has her own ideas of how these things can help one to feel better, and I fully agree!

Second, CP posted her ideas on living in the moment. This is something I’ve long strived for. It’s not easy for someone who loves to plan—I’m always looking forward to the next big event. But in so doing, I sometimes lose sight of the now. I’m constantly reminding myself to pay attention to and enjoy what’s going on right now. Even if I’m doing something that’s unpleasant, I try to tell myself to be mindful of what I’m feeling and thinking because soon it will be over and I’ll forget how much I detested that activity and therefore won’t be able to fully appreciate when it is finally over. Much of what CP says here pertains to me—I felt like she wrote the post to me and for me because these are all ideas and tips I should be focusing on. I worry about many things, but mostly about my physical health. This is mainly due to my past experiences. Based on my past, you would think I could easily live in the moment—often that’s the one thing that death of a loved one teaches us. But I tend go in the other direction—I can’t wait until a doctor visit is over and so I obsess over it and forget about the time before and after the appointment. Only when it’s over and done with (and nothing new happens), can I move on with my life. It’s ridiculous. At least I know and understand that. Changing it is what I need to focus on. I have learned a lot from CP and will continue to do so. She (along with so many others, including my husband, mother and sister) have so much to teach me when it comes to living in the now and not focusing on things that don’t necessarily matter.

Based on all of this, you can probably guess what I’m fearful of. Denise over at Cupcakes and Cadenzas has a solution for this. She recommends doing one thing every day that scares you. I think this is a great idea. I don’t know that I could do something every day, but every week might work for me. I tend to shy away from certain situations because I’d rather stay away from confrontation of any sort. Whether it’s telling someone I was first in line or that they overcharged me for an item or telling a rude person to bugger off, I don’t do it. I don’t like it, but I would just rather avoid the whole situation. This is not doing me any favors. I get upset at these situations, but by not addressing them, the only one I’m hurting is myself, which only crushes my self-esteem. So why not say something? What’s the worst that can happen, right? And if I get a positive result, isn’t it worth it? It’s just one more way I can make my life better and focus on the positive.

I’m currently reading Power Over Panic by Bronwyn Fox. Published in 2001, some of the data may be outdated, but one thing she mentioned really resonated with me and could be the key to my letting go of anxiety for good: “The need to be in control is one of the main obstacles to recovery. Recovery means the opposite. Recovery means we need to let go of the need to be in control. We don’t realize that our overwhelming need to be in control perpetuates our disorder. Once we can let go of this particular control, we gain control over our panic and anxiety.” I do try and control many things. My life has felt so out of control for the last four years, first with my father’s death and then with the death of three of my grandparents and one moving far away to be with my uncle when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So many changes, one right after another, all dealing with death and change, well it has changed me and made me try to hold on to everything the way it was, rather than accepting it as it is.

So there you have it. That’s what’s been going on in the blogosphere in regards to warding off anxiety, becoming a better person, and overall just feeling happier. Letting go of anxiety is a constant work in progress for me, and probably will be for a long time to come. The important thing, however, is that I recognize the issue and am dealing with it, even if it does take years. All of these tips and suggestions will be added to my happiness binder under the appropriate tabs. Thank you to all who helped me feel better this week. You truly have made a difference in my outlook.

14 comments:

  1. For what it's worth, all of us I'm sure would be more than happy to be a 'Happiness Network', for each other as well and to be a back up to each of us (Those who frequent the local blogosphere)
    Take great care, as unfounded fears can wreak greatly on us and there are too many stresses in the modern world today.
    As we are there for each other, so we are greater in strength (Apologies for the sermon)

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  2. Pilgrim - Thanks so much for your kind words. This community has given me more support than most of you probably realize. Just lending an ear, listening, and giving advice and support has been a great help to me. Plus, my writing about it, in a way that's quite public, has been therapy too. I consider myself lucky in that I know what I am dealing with, have been working at it, and know that there are ways of dealing with it. Thanks again!

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  3. This is a great post and thanks for sharing. Holding onto the past or worrying about the future is not something that's easily overcome and it can affect your life terribly.
    I don't know if you've heard of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). It's all about how things are stored in your subconscious and how they affect the way you live your life but because it's in your subconscious you have no real control over it. By re-programming your brain to think differently you can make significant changes to your life and the way you think about things. It's a science that has been around for over thirty years and helps people in all walks of life. Big organisations use it to improve staff morale etc. The basic theory is that no matter how positive you try to be, if something is buried deep in your subconscious, you need to address that in order to move on. Obviously there's a lot more to it than just that. I have studied it for many years and use it for myself on a daily basis and also use the techniques on all my singing students and voice coaching clients. It really does work.
    Apologies for this turning into such a long comment and I really hope you find something soon that helps you to let go of your anxiety.

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  4. Thanks Denise. I have not heard of NLP, though I'll be sure to look into it more. Everything you said makes sense to me. There are so many things that affect a lot of what you do and you aren't even aware of it. I don't feel like I didn't deal with my father's death, yet there are many aspects of how I felt about it that I didn't even realize until now. Strange how it can take years before you see all of the effects one situation can have on you. Thanks again for the information.

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  5. Kanalt, I totally feel you. I've struggled with anxiety for years (and still struggle with it). In fact, my therapist also recommended yoga, as a way to combat it. I made a total ass of myself but I'm glad someone else finds yoga beneficial :)

    Anyway, remember that like the Doctor, you are NOT alone. It sounds like you have a good support network and you're working hard at managing your anxiety. I have faith that you'll succeed when the bad days come calling. YOU CAN DO IT!!!

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  6. Kanalt this post really spoke to me too. I think my last little health scare really helped me to refocus on all the people and things that are important to me. I am trying to enjoy them a whole lot more. Yesterday I found myself saying to my husband that I hope my parents were still around for many years to see their grandchildren grow up. Then I remembered that I have no control over the future so I needed to focus on the fact that they were around now and enjoy seeing them on Skype and talking to them now. I also started worrying about how possibly having another operation would affect my Phd. Then I forced myself to just work hard now and to wait until I had seen the specialist etc before any big decisions as it makes no sense being stressed out now.

    It will always be a work in progress for me too as it is in my nature to plan and to always try to be in control. You are not alone my dear and we will support each other.

    Thank you for your lovely writing. :-)

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  7. Kate - I started yoga about 4 years ago just because I had been wanting to. Now, it helps me so much I could never think of giving it up. Since the anxiety though, I do attend more classes than I used to - I'm averaging about 3 a week, though sometimes more, sometimes less. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who deals with anxiety - thanks for your support!

    CP - Thanks for your comment. Yes, years ago, before I met my husband, I wondered if my dad would be around to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. Thankfully, he was able to do that. If my husband and I have kids however, they will not have a grandfather, as my father-in-law died before I met my husband. But, like you said, we cannot control the future (nor the past, obviously), and so we have to make the best of what we have when we have it. Thank you for your support!

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  8. I'm a little late on this, but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. Thank you for the mention, but please know that even though I may have found steps that work for me, it is still a daily struggle to follow them. It has gotten easier, but the "anxiety monster" still sometimes sneaks in.

    I'm sure you've read it, but if you haven't I would totally recommend checking out The Power of Now. I'm only part way in and while I don't necessarily consider myself a spiritual person, I find some of Tolle's practices very helpful in staying present.

    Thank you for your honesty and ability to share this with everyone!

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  9. You are such a strong, engaging writer. Thank you for sharing your struggles and successes here. I think many of us struggle from time to time with similar issues yet lack the courage to share it. I am glad you are discovering a set of skills that is working for you. x

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  10. J - Thank you. I hear what you're saying about it being a DAILY struggle to keep up with what we know we need to. I actually haven't read The Power of Now, though I don't know why not. It is highly recommended by everyone who reads it, it seems. It's going on my list - right now! And thanks for reading about this struggle of mine - in the beginning I debated about whether or not I should, and I know some people would say never to get so personal. But, it is truly a form of therapy for me. It helps me to put all of my feelings down and look at them in different ways. Plus, the support from everyone here has been overwhelming!

    Sandra - Thank you too! *blushing* I would say that my sharing is not so much brave as it is necessary to process what I'm feeling. I've read that many people feel ashamed of having anxiety. I can understand that, but personally, I don't feel that way. If I can help just one person who struggles with the same thing, then I'm giving back in some way, and that makes it all worth it. And if I don't, well then, just talking about it had helped me. ;)

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  11. Thank you for being brave and sharing this! Now, onto something useful: I know you wrote this post ages ago, but I recently found this study about how assuming the best in social situations helps teens and adults suffering from anxiety. http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/07/16/assuming-the-best-in-unclear-social-situations-may-help-anxious-teens/27740.html

    I especially thought the line from the article "It’s thought that some people may tend to draw negative interpretations of ambiguous situations" seemed to talk about what you were saying about worrying about something that probably won't happen. My mother suffered from panic attacks for years, often while driving, and they were always triggered by getting fixated on the worst possible scenario of highway risks. And of course, we never actually got into an accident (thank god!) but she taught me that in as much as you might be the random person that something shitty happens to, it's much more likely that you'll be the lucky person that ends up safe and sound when you pull into the driveway. Good luck hun!

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  12. A.Y. - Thank you for caring to read about it. I will definitely look into the article you mentioned and add it to my Happiness Binder. For me, not knowing how something will turn out is a stressful thing, and thinking of the worst-case scenario helps me to prepare for it, so that if I do hear it, it won't be a shock to my system. Unfortunately, like you said, that's rarely the way it turns out and then I've done all that worrying for nothing. And of course I can't get that time back.
    Thanks for your support!

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  13. I completely agree about the line of what not to post. I feel the same way you do- this is my therapy and if it makes people uncomfortable, then don't read it! But I have found, especially with posts like the one I wrote about my mom, that there are a lot of people going through the same things I am. And if my words can help them, even in a tiny way, then who am I really hurting by keeping it all inside?

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  14. J - Very true! I have found more support from people here than I have offline (not that I haven't found support offline, but I mean more people who have gone through it or know someone who has).

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