Before I start on today’s topic, I wanted to give a 5K update. Monday I got a text from the person I was to run with saying she was in the ER and “don’t sign up for the 5k!!!!!” My first thought was, “You are in the ER! Why are you thinking about the 5K?” and, of course, I had already signed up. She’s doing much better and now my sideline cheerleaders have doubled…to two. I knew I would think, “Why did I think I could do a 5K??” but I thought I would actually be running the 5K at the time and not a week before the race. I’m going to walk the route Friday, so I can see what I am in for. I can do this. Right? (grabbing your lapel) RIGHT??!?!?! So yeah. If you see me, talk to me, see a rodeo clown that reminds you of me- I’d appreciate it if you would let me know that I can do this (even if you are lying).
Anyway….on to the real post.
For the past two weeks, several people have randomly talked to me about their anxiety. In person I’m about as articulate as a drunk wombat (okay, a drunk wombat sounds super cute, much cuter then me) and my on-the-spot advice comes out like, “You should probably do….stuff….” So I thought I would write about what I do to cope with anxiety. None of my strategies are ground-breaking or even overly complicated, but for me they work.
I’ve been pretty open, probably too open, about my anxiety. But for years I was in total denial that I had anxiety. About anything. Ever. To people who know me in real life, I’m sure that is hilarious, because I’m wound pretty tight approximately 85% of the time (the other 15% I am sleeping). I thought I had to have this veneer of perfection and could not show any cracks in my surface. So, the first and biggest step for me was admitting it. Even now, when I feel anxiety creeping in and try to struggle against it or resist it, it gets worse. When I admit the anxiety is there, I can work with it and find out how to deal with it instead of blaming myself for not being this 24/7 happy robot gameshow hostess woman (did that last sentence make you think of Flo from the Progressive commercials like it did me?).
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this- feelings are not facts. Imagine you are walking outside in the dark. You see something on your path, but it’s hard to make out what it is, so you keep walking towards it (why did you go out without a flashlight?? That is how horror movies start!). You get about 10 feet away and realize it’s a bear. You are suddenly flooded with adrenaline and panic sets in. What is bear confrontation protocol? Run? No, don’t run. Running makes them chase you or something. Punch it in the head? No, that’s sharks. I think. What the hell is a bear doing in Chicago anyway???? A car drives by. It’s headlights illuminate your path and you see the “bear” was a couple of garbage bags some slob left out. The “bear” was only real in your mind. The vast majority of the time, the reality of the situation usually is never as bad as we build up in our minds. If I catch myself creating bears where there are none, I stop, take 3 deep breathes and remind myself that I am not in real danger.
I examine what is happening in that moment. The sounds I am hearing, they way my clothes feel on my skin, any tension by body is holding, my breathe going in and out, and any other sensations. The Buddhists call it mindfulness and, for some reason, when ever someone says, “The Buddhists do it”, whatever it is sounds really wise. Anyway, non-Buddhists heard about the practice of mindfulness and realized that it is great for reducing stress. Best of all, you can do it anywhere at any time in a minute or two. Most anxiety comes from projecting our fears into the future. “What if I do this and my legs fall off?” “What if I go in there and fall into an abandoned mine shaft?” “What if I forget to wear pants and everyone laughs at me???” By switching our focus into the present moment it’s nearly impossible to panic- even if you’ve fallen into an abandoned mine shaft.
Something I need to mention is that it’s important to not wallow in your fears. Experience the feelings to their fullest extent, but let them run their course and move on. Realize that whatever you are feeling, everyone feels at some point. Like I said last week, you are not a special snowflake. The world is not divided into people with unflappable confidence and you. It’s just that some have decided that the only way out is through and that voice in their head, that tells them the world is going to collapse if they do whatever, is full of crap.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Think of that voice like an overprotective relative who you know has your best interests at heart, but is annoyingly free with the advice. You listen politely, thank them, roll your eyes behind their back, and do what you were going to do anyway. Even if you panic, remind yourself that no one has ever died from a panic attack (seriously). Your chances of passing out from a panic attack are also near zero (look it up, Mr/s. Skeptic). However, your chances of regretting opportunities lost forever because you let your anxiety and fear take your power are much, much greater.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some resources written by people with lots of letters after their names giving practical advice on how to cope with anxiety and not let it overtake your life.
Ways of Coping With Anxiety – About.com
Happiness V. Now-Ness- Psychology Today one minute mindfulness exercise
The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane– Don’t let the name fool you. The first several chapters of this book are dedicated to helping reduce stress and anxiety. It goes on to to give other practical advice on helping your self image. Really a great book.
Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers– The second half of this book is a little iffy, but the first half is definitely worth the price. But if you’re too cheap to buy the book, let me sum it up for you. 1- literally everyone gets afraid, 2- they do what they are afraid of anyway, 3- with practice this gets easier, but the fear will never go away completely. Saved you $9.
And I’ll find strength in pain. And I will change my ways. I’ll know my name as it’s called again – “The Cave”, Mumford and Sons
Have a great week!