Anxiety is one of the most-widely common mental illnesses in the United States. We live in an age of anxiety. While often referred to as an illness, it functions more as a thought and feeling response to physical or circumstantial conditions. Some walk around with low-grade anxiety all day, every day; while others, normally calm, experience full-flung panic attacks in the face of traumatic triggers.
A little stress can be good, but when stress becomes an inappropriate response (disproportionate or present without normal life stressors) we begin to have a problem. Stress that hinders your normal activities by causing you to lose sleep, change your appetite or avoid people or circumstances because of the anxiety you will feel, needs to be addressed.
Today I write directly to those who experience anxiety. Even if you do not personally struggle with it, I invite you to read on to better know the experience of those who do.
Anxiety is a monster that makes the anxious feel small and powerless, throwing us around, knocking our heads against doubts and insecurities, whispering fears and threats into our ears until we can no longer see straight.
With each doubt, we begin to analyze and analyze, look for evidence, think if we can just find answers, we will find peace. Then the monster whispers…or shouts louder.
We analyze again, go back in time, mark up a tally sheet of all the interactions we had with a person until we are wiped out, exhausted and have pushed everyone away who could not cool the rage of the anxiety monster inside us.
The analysis gets us nowhere. Like tinted sunglasses, anxiety makes us see things through a filter. We cannot tell if it really happened the way we remember because it was so long ago no one else remembers.
Emails and phone calls begin to come out of nowhere. In such detail, you outline, “I did, she did that.”
What we walked with peacefully for so long becomes a cloud that takes hold of us. Did it always make us feel this way?
No, the spotlight of anxiety is on it now.
We want to know if our fears match up with what really happened. You try to find something stable to anchor yourself while being tossed around. It feels like a storm.
But it is a monster.
The cycle continues as you try to find some evidence to validate impressions or make it so you do not have to tear yourself apart in the condemnation which comes from anxiety.
It wants you to tear yourself apart.
But you know what, it is not healthy. It is not healthy to dig up little moments two to five years ago and say, “see what you did” to a friend. It can only lead to bitterness, resentment or insecurity.
Anxiety will not give you all the evidence. When something happened so long ago , the person can only remember it as well as she can. There might be missing details and you would never know because no one else remembers it. Memory is faulty.
Things that are long past do not make for good evidence toward the conclusion your anxiety suggests.
Memory is often unmerciful. Mercy makes excuses for others. “She was in crisis”; “She was stressed”; “She gets impatient easily”; but does not draw conclusions from them.
To be able enough to say “no” to those thoughts is part of freedom.
A lot of time anxiety will not let us.
In the midst of it, it seems impossible to see any other world than that which is storm-tossed. But there is help. Learning about how anxiety works can help you divert the storm as it brews. Therapeutic techniques can help mitigate its effects. For some, medication can help you get your bearings so that you can implement the things you have learned.
The monster is not you.
The battle is not between you and your neighbor, but between you and anxiety.
We are meant for freedom.
Life can be more than this.
Life can be good.