In my past few blogs I let you know about my lifelong struggle with anxiety; namely, overwhelming and intrusive feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension. Often this would manifest as a sense of impending doom. Having practiced this trifecta of Worry – Fear – Anxiety for decades, I now feel confident I have reached “expert level.”
Lately, I have talked to more people who are experiencing these same three feeling about world events whether it has to do with the fear of terrorists, worry about the economy, or apprehension at the outcome of our recent election. They say, “Everything around me seems to be swirling in chaos. I feel angry much of the time. I want to lash out at those people who disagree with me.”
Now for some of you this is something new and uncomfortable. For those of us who have lived with anxiety for most of our lives – Welcome to our world!
Here’s the situation – you find yourself right in the middle of circumstances that you did not create and that whatever your political affiliation you find unsettling. Perhaps you feel powerless, out of control, and enraged at what is transpiring either inside the government or outside on the streets. Many of you may feel like striking out and attacking those who vehemently disagree with you. And these feelings of rage, fear, anxiousness, and judgement are now becoming uncomfortable, intrusive, and so dominant that you may find your thoughts and conversations dominated by this. Perhaps you have even stopped doing what you love, stopped talking to friends, perhaps even stopped relating to close family.
Now just as an aside, this is the first time in a very long time that I have actually felt normal not because I have overcome my worry, anxiety, and fear but because so many of my friends who used to tell me, “Calm down. Don’t be so anxious,” are now looking at me with all too familiar panic stricken eyes. I know your pain.
So here are some questions you may be asking now:
How do I sort out what is real fear from what is something I am imagining because of what I see on Facebook or hear in the news?
How can I respond to fears and worries about a true danger to me and my loved ones while noticing the anxious thoughts full of imagined threats?
How do I motivate myself to action without becoming paralyzed by my fears?
What is true news? Real facts?
How do I keep myself from obsessive worry and not drive my friends and loved ones away?
How do I experience peace – true deep inner peace even when I feel the world around me is sinking into chaos?
OK! Honest truth? I have no idea how to answer all of those questions. But those are the real questions I am asking myself right now too.
Piece of Advice #1 – Don’t be afraid of the questions!
Recognize and name what’s going on – use the acronym STOP
Stop – Take a moment to step back and think about what is happening, really look as if you are watching a movie. My mother would tell us before we crossed the street – Stop – Look – Listen. This is great advice right now. Take more time to become more aware and less reactionary. Now you can go to. . .
Tune-In – Name your feelings, thoughts, and the questions you have about what you are experiencing. Pull out a piece of paper or journal and write what you see, feel, think. What do these fears and worries feel like? Can you name everything you are experiencing? When you put a name on something it loses some of its power to overwhelm you. Now you are ready to . . .
Open-Up – Anxiety, fear, and worry close you down and put you into defensive mode – attack, or retreat mode – flight, or paralysis mode – freeze. These are helpful in the face of Saber Tooth Tigers, etc. But in general, the flood of cortisol you experience closes you down and damages your body and your friendships. So take a moment right now to relax, take a deep breath, put down your guard and see what happens. Now you are ready to . . .
Proceed – Since you have taken some time to become more thoughtful, what you say or do will likely be kinder, more focused, and come from an inner place of peacefulness that will motivate and inspire you and others.
What we’ve learned is to resist acting on our first impulse and to STOP and take a moment to really look at and name what is happening outside and inside.
For example, I have decided that I want to follow more closely what is happening politically in our country but that if I read news or look at Facebook late in the evening it tends to feed my ruminating and intrusive thinking that prevents me from sleeping. So I do this earlier in the day so that I have more time to digest what I’ve read and also have more time to look at both sides of the issue feeling more balanced, peaceful, and ready for a good night’s rest. I also make it a point to make sure I talk about and do something I enjoy every day and not let my anxious, worried, and fearful thinking hijack my life.
All of this has made me think about the anxiety I have lived with for so long. What if I have been wrong all my life in thinking that in order to feel happy and start doing what matters to me, I had to be free from all worry, anxiety, and fear? What if significant pain and struggle are companions everyone takes along on the road to a vital life?
Next time – Why it is so important to befriend your worries, fears, and anxieties – the danger of Toxic Avoidance.
Sources: Let me know when you see the Iguana, Melissa Moyzen Blacker, Shambala Sun July 2015 and The Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy Workbook for Anxiety; John Forsyth Ph.D., George Eifert Ph.D.