Once a week, Little Winnowers, we are focusing on anxiety. It deserves a day entirely to itself because it is so powerful, so consuming. And unfortunately, it really is one of our biggest inhibitors to growth.
For we Winnowers, our focus is on letting go – on moving through our lives in the present moment without being crippled by anxiety over the future or clinging to a nostalgia for the past. We are learning to weed out the thought patterns that inhibit us, and to hold tightly to the core beliefs that make us who we are.
Over the past few years, my anxiety has blossomed into center view. On some level, the anxiety has always been there, pulling at my brain, leading my healthy thoughts down dark alleyways, like the rule-bending older neighbor you idolize until you realize they’ve gotten you into some serious trouble.
Anxiety really came to a head over the past two years, as I’ve struggled to define my identity as an adult. In trying to move forward in my life onto new endeavors and into new challenges, there is a voice in my brain that’s grown unfortunately colossal. Anxiety tells me: NO, you! Bad things will happen if you take that risk. Stay where you are safe. Anxiety makes me a control freak.
My brain spirals with hyperbolic thoughts: your brother’s mental health could tank if you don’t check in on him. Family members might die, and you’ll never see them again. You’ll become so homesick for Milwaukee you’ll never be able to function in a new city. Your family will entirely fall apart, and you’ll feel forever guilty that things would have been different if you’d just have stayed. This is Anxiety. Anxiety is relentless.
Again and again, anxiety has caused me to operate out of fear instead of trust, out of a loss mentality instead of a growth mentality. Anxiety is crippling in its grip – and when I am unbalanced or haven’t slept, it’s led to major panic attacks. Sometimes, the panic attacks happen when I’m driving, and that is the scariest occurrence of all. Anxiety makes me feel out of control, and panic attacks ramp up the anxiety to a debilitating emotional and physical confluence of symptoms – acute feeling of lack of control, hyperventilation, dizziness, screaming, shaking, terror. They are horrible, and they happen when the anxiety comes to a head.
To help manage both the underlying anxiety and the panic attacks, I’ve been seeing a counselor. I’m a huge proponent of counseling and psychotherapy. I believe in systemic change to the anxiety, and I believe everyone – medicated or not – needs to incorporate talk therapies into their recovery from anxiety. Medication alone is not sufficient. Unless your friends and family are trained, licensed therapists, they do not count as therapist substitutes. I feel very strongly about this, because I think people use the “my therapy is a glass of wine” or “my friends are my therapists” as excuses not to address their own mental health with honesty and clarity. I also know that therapy can be a financial barrier for many; however, the investment in your own emotional health is paramount. And it is so not the same as saying your friends are your therapists. What your friends are is really, really good friends. And that’s wonderful! But they do not offer the same resources as a licensed therapist.
One of the most influential anxiety-reducing strategies my therapist Sue has taught me is about recognizing an anxious thought pattern when it begins. The baseline Anxiety 101 trip we need to remember is that anxiety is always about the future. Anxiety spurs and spins and spirals when our brains takes a thought and begin to develop scripts for the worst-case scenarios. These scripts are loud. They are detailed. And often, we really, really believe this is the outcome that is going to occur. The first step in beginning to work through our anxiety then is to learn to step back and recognize what is happening – you are fixated on the future, not focused on the present.
Once we acknowledge that the anxiety is there, we begin to recognize the pattern. In that moment, you anxiety is that it is telling you a story about the future. When we develop the habit of recognizing and labeling anxiety, we are then able to learn the process of working through it to a more calm, clear life.
All my love, all the time,