Dealing With Anxiety: Fighting Back Against Its Crippling Effects
Anxiety has become a buzzword in our society. Mental health care and treatment remain one of the fastest growing fields in our economy and educational systems. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety appear to be par for the course in our modern lifestyles. And just because it’s talked about more openly and may even seem commonplace, does not diminish its effects in our lives.
Our forefathers had worries, stress, and were undoubtedly anxious. But their anxieties were different; they were about different things and (as a society) they handled it much differently. We inhabit a world that is more fluid and elastic in our economies and communities than in times past. For the individual, this creates feelings of drift, shift, and risk, each of which feed anxiety and worry. And we live in a sharing society which promotes and rewards individuals who verbalize their concerns and struggles. Whereas our grandparents buckled down, got to work, and were less likely to talk openly of their stress, fears, or anxiety, we feel (as a rule) more comfortable with publicly declaring our mental states and the struggles we may be experiencing.
Many of us live with the consistent presence of anxiety in our lives, for matters both large and small. Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with many of the commonplace roles we have: as an employee, a boss, a spouse, or as a parent. The acceleration of the pace of life in these areas does not help the issue either, and none of us are arbitrarily immune to the constant pressures that our modern society presents to us. If you claim that you do not have anxiety in your life, you should think more deeply about your days and your mental outlook during them. Avoiding anxiety is not always possible or within our control; instead we need to train ourselves how to mitigate and temper its effects in our lives.
Control And Fear
Anything that controls you is a problem. Whether its substances, false beliefs, or stress and worry; if it is dictating your life and you feel powerless against it then it is detrimental. Consistent anxiety is precisely that: your brain is being hijacked by worry. All too often the worry that is controlling you is due to something that you (likely) have little control over. Anxiety is rooted in fear; fear of failure, of the unknown, or of a lack of control. Places of fear are never strong areas to venture out from; they are not solid foundations for actions and right thinking.
We need to train our thoughts and actively renew our minds. Preparing our minds for reflection and introspection is one of the foundational skills and efforts of a life well lived. Teaching ourselves to take an objective, out-of-ourselves view of both a particular situation and our feelings about it is a critical practice in gaining a more realistic perspective on our lives and thoughts.
Feelings Only Go So Far
We are a culture which idolizes feelings. Our conversations and sentences casually start with the words “ I feel that…” Our language tends to be nebulous and loose, lacking in precision and quantifiable descriptions. This lack of clarity is a problem: it ducks and dodges, deliberately trying to not get too precise, for fear of offense or perhaps a lack of mental training and clarity. If we cannot precisely verbalize our feelings on the subject, it can mean that we lack control and power over those feelings. The emotions are in charge because we haven’t trained ourselves to be in the driver’s seat of our mind and mental outlook.
Behind our feelings and involuntary reactions to a given situation is a story. Our emotions and anxiety might be what we are experiencing (a.k.a. the onstage production), but the real source and battle is the screenplay and script from which our feelings and thoughts are reading. This script is the story behind the story, and it’s there that we need to delve.
That’s Not True!
Lately, when I find myself accosted by anxiety, I’ve taken to playing the “That’s Not True!” game. It’s a simple game and (as far as I know) one of my inventions:
Attempt to identify the source of the anxiety and then ask the question:
“Is that true?” *
If you can’t prove that it’s true, then you have to state, “That’s not true.” Per game rules, you do not have to show that it is false, but only demonstrate that you cannot prove it’s valid and accurate. You have to temporarily remove yourself from your immediate feelings about the situation and focus on facts.
Stay productive. Once you’ve declared, “That’s Not True! “ (per game rules this must be said audibly and preferably at a high volume), you must immediately find some task to do. It is consistently amazing how much anxiety can be forgotten because we force ourselves to move on to other things in the day.
*Note: If the answer to Step One is “ Yes, that’s true.”, then get going promptly on a resolution, don’t just keep worrying about it.
There is nothing inherently sexy with this “game” method; just a sheer force of will to banish anxiety from our minds. It takes resolution and grit but, by providing ourselves with a framework of a game, it gives us a set of external rules and structure to play by. It’s part of training our minds and emotions to be stronger and able to be bent toward our will, not having them ruling over us. Nothing kills anxiety quite as well as TRUTH.
Avoidance Will Not Help Us
Anxiety is not a “kill or avoid at all costs” phenomenon. There is even value in the struggle with it; we prepare ourselves to be emotionally and mentally tougher each time we enter into the arena. We should not cling so tenaciously to comfort or ease that we sacrifice a host of other profitable things to be rendered immune from our stresses. Avoidance could lead to situations such as the following:
We steer clear of situations with others (family and friends) because they cause us anxiety.
We don’t attempt the project or work because it makes us uneasy or uncertain.
We refuse to pursue a goal, a skill, or a new priority because we fear the unknown.
Avoidance only works in the short term; for our long term mental health it’s much more advantageous to step into and wrestle with the anxiety and battle the concerns.
There Needs To Be Resolution
There is decidedly a time and place for professional help or medical treatment for anxiety or depression. But for many of us our struggles are not to that level, and we cannot stay on the couch or in bed with the curtains drawn indefinitely, watching The Price is Right reruns. We cannot allow our anxiety to control us to any meaningful extent. Several things need to come out of this struggle:
We must recognize that many (most) things are out of our control, but our minds are not. We should be excited and energized to claim our headspace as our own, every day.
Mental and emotional toughness. We’ve survived stress and anxiety before and, if need be, we can do so again. By struggling we develop the grit that we need for future mental battles.
Empathy and forgiveness. Understanding our struggles and anxieties should equip us to be better listeners and helpers for others who struggle with their internal loads.
We need to recognize anxiety for what it is: fear and often unfounded fear. Out of our struggle with it needs to come resolution and (hopefully) by being willing to face down that anxiety we can emerge more resilient and better equipped to deal with it when it inevitably surfaces again.
Do you struggle with anxiety?
Have you found other strategies (such as the “ That’s Not True! “ game) to help deal with that anxiety?
Originally published at https://fjwriting.com on February 26, 2019.