Have you seen any of the #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike posts on Twitter?
Today I read this article on The Mighty, and some of these really hit home for me.
I’ve been seeing posts like this pop up… post telling “normal” people what it’s like to live with Anxiety Disorder… And how they can accommodate us to make us feel better.
I really want to say something about this…
It’s true. These are the actual thoughts and feelings of a person who has Anxiety Disorder. These thoughts come uninvited. They cause physical symptoms as well as emotional ones. They can interfere with every aspect of life. They’re very real…
And they can be crippling.
But they don’t have to be…
Now, before you freak out and tell me I’m wrong… keep in mind I have been diagnosed with severe Anxiety Disorder…. And these thoughts cross my mind daily.
But I DO NOT have to be controlled by these thoughts. No, I’m serious. Just because these thoughts come… just because I have a physical stress response to them… does NOT mean I have to let them win. And neither do you.
We CAN control our thoughts. I promise you. We can process every thought that enters our mind. We can choose to take them in and let them rule… or we can choose to reject them and turn our minds to something else.
Let me give you a real life example. Last night I made arrangements to have a phone conversation with my friend. But my friend didn’t answer my call or call me back. My friend will most likely not contact me today either. My initial thoughts are “My friend is annoyed… my friend must be mad at me, I’ve screwed up this friendship. My friend will never contact me again! Even if my friend does contact me, the friendship won’t be the same!!”
-You’re probably not going to like the next part… but listen up… because it’s important-
TRUTH: My friend’s life does NOT revolve around me. My friend has other things going on and is NOT obligated to accommodate me just because I’m feeling anxious. And neither are your friends. Or your family. Or your boss. The reality is this world does NOT care about our anxiety. And this world does NOT stop and wait when we are dealing with our anxiety. The people in our lives should not have to tiptoe around our feelings. And our bosses really don’t care. To expect them to excuse us from our responsibilities or treat us differently because we can’t manage when they don’t is, quite frankly, a bit narcissistic.
The only way we are going to be successful in this society is if we learn how to manage these symptoms on our own. We can do this… no, we have to do this.
So… things didn’t go as planned for me last night with my friend. I have 2 choices.
1) Let these anxious thoughts control me. Get progressively more worried about my friendship. Contact my friend multiple times hoping for some assurance that my friend is in fact still my friend (which… BTW… I’ve learned from experience is exactly the way to make those fears a reality)
2) I can fight these thoughts. I can remind myself of the truth… and I can choose not to think these anxious thoughts anymore. I can decide not to pick up my phone and check… or send a text attempting to entice a conversation. I can practice self-control.
If you have been in my life for more than a few years, you know that for most of my life I’ve always gone the way of option 1. Freak out, obsess over the situation… and constantly pester every one until I either get an answer that satisfies… or I ruin things entirely.
But if you’re a part of my life currently, you’ll know that I’ve made significant progress in this area.
Most of the time I can process thoughts successfully. Give me a few minutes (or days if it’s a bigger issue) and I can handle my thoughts/feelings well. But sometimes (usually just when I’m overwhelmed by other things in my life… or if I feel my heart is on the line) I may start off down the road of letting the anxious thoughts win… I become scared and start flailing around for understanding or affirmation. But then I remember what is true. I battle the anxious thoughts. I choose to release the anxiety and relax my mind. I can choose to stop obsessing and asking for validation. I can live my life without those thoughts!! Then when someone does get back to me, I can say honestly “Hey, I’m sorry I stressed out for a bit. I guess I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts. But everything is ok. Thanks for being understanding.”
I’m not perfect. And truthfully, lately it has been harder than usual… but I AM NOT defined by my diagnosis. And I AM NOT a slave to my thoughts.
It is NOT an easy battle. And you won’t always win. I don’t. But it IS possible. I promise. And I can assure you it gets easier the more you practice it.
If you have Anxiety Disorder and need help fighting your anxious thoughts, I strongly recommend reading some of these books:
- Who Switched Off My Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
- Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
- Battlefield of The Mind by Joyce Meyer
- Every Thought Captive by Jerusha Clark
The first two were written by a lady who has been working in the area of cognitive neuroscience for over 30 years. Her books have been incredibly useful in helping me understand how to manage anxiety!! I strongly recommend them.
The others I haven’t read in several years, and I can’t remember much. But I remember they did provide some valuable insight at the time.