There is a frantic young child inside me who screams and shakes.
Her name is Anxiety, and I can feel her quivering in my chest. She emerges from a guilt-soaked place, dripping with fear and hysteria so thick I can see it dripping from her limbs.
She insists on compulsions to make her feel safe. She thinks she can’t function without them. She makes long spreadsheets to calculate what books to read and what places to visit because she is terrified of what Life might bring if she relinquished control.
She doesn’t trust herself so she makes up systems to make her decisions for her. She is cocooned in the bubble wrap of her vices, blind to the miraculous unfolding of life.
Her shrill sobbing voice emerges in my brain, insisting that my power lies in micromanaging the Hows and What-Ifs of my life. That once I control every detail, I can finally relax.
I wouldn’t be the writer I am without her.
Fear and anxiety are the flashing neon signs that point to places where we need healing. When we follow our surface-level fears like “Why can’t I quit smoking?” or “Why am I so nervous right now?” to their roots, we find that they lead directly to deeper assumptions of “I’m not good enough. I can’t do anything right. I’m not important.”
These beliefs run our lives in the background while we unconsciously act them out. But by using anxiety as a learning tool, we can let it direct us to the places where we need the most love.
When anxiety comes to play, here are some strategies we can use to soften the blow:
*Notice it. You are a divine and pulsating human being who is larger than any fear or doubt or petrified heart. Anxiety is separate from you, and it is smaller than you.
Acknowledge the fearful thoughts in your head as if they were strange animals in a zoo that you had never seen before: “Oh look, I’m freaking out right now because I’m imagining the countless ways my car could plummet off this cliff. How interesting.” No need to judge yourself – the goal is simply to notice. Each time we gently notice our thoughts, we open up a break in the action and create some breathing room for hope and possibility to swoop in.
When we solidify ourselves as the observer, our anxiety becomes something that is happening to us rather than an uncontrollable force or a shameful blemish on our character. This realization alone can be a revolution.
*Talk to it. Internally ask: “Hi, Fearful Thought about what I’m supposed to be “doing” with my life. Come sit down for a second. What is it that you’re trying to show me? What is the lesson here?” Listen to the answer that floats to the surface, even if it surprises you.
*Let it out – briefly. Allow yourself ten minutes every day that are solely devoted to worrying, outlining every possible outcome that could go wrong, expressing your self-loathing, and being terrified. Go all out, through journaling or shouting in a mirror or whatever method comes most naturally.
When the time period wraps up, stop. Move on with your day. Your ten minutes are over, and you will have another ten minutes tomorrow, so now it’s time to redirect your thinking.
Throughout the day, when you find yourself swimming in these thoughts again, stop and say “Wait – I will save that for my ten minutes later.” So you aren’t trying to stop the anxiety but you’re postponing it to a more manageable time when it doesn’t interfere with your life… and in the process, you create the habit of redirecting your mind.
*Share it. We think we are dealing with struggles that no one else understands, when the truth is that every human being on the planet struggles with misguided thoughts, self-sabotage, and crippling fear.
Be the brave one who shares your stories of dread and apprehension, and you will open up the way for others to share their stories too. Talking about anxiety out loud makes it less looming. Embrace this messy human experience with the people around you.
*Transform it. The juices of anxiety are raw and poetic. Use your all-consuming fear to create scratchy words in a journal, then convert them into beautiful blog posts to share with the world. Cause some breakthroughs. Change some lives. Get some fan mail.
*Repeat. Let go of the perfectionistic desire to vanquish anxiety completely. Consider that our goal might be to work in tandem with our anxiety for the rest of our days, soaking in whatever lessons we need to learn.
Love and Deep Breaths for the Journey,
(What are some strategies you use to handle fear and anxiety? What have you learned from these emotions and experiences? Share your wisdom in the comments section!)