Everything is the worst thing ever... that’s how it feels to have an anxiety disorder.
Worrying that someone is going to break up with me produces the same chemical reaction in my body as having a tiger chase me.
Fearing that I’ll lose my job or that I’ve upset my boss feels like I’m on an airplane that’s going down and about to crash!
Anxiety is the sound of my blood pounding in my ears.
It’s not being able to get a breath because I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest.
It’s my dry mouth and a head that feels too light.
Fortunately, at this point in my life, I know that many thoughts that scare me aren’t founded in reality. They’re a sort of negative speculation and often they’re wrong.
That’s because I now know that anxiety is a liar.
Let things be
At the beginning of one of my past relationships, I was having an extremely difficult time accepting that an amazing young woman could be interested in me.
She once took what I thought was “too long” to reply to my text message and I got worried that she was done and not interested in me anymore.
My compulsive negative thinking was extremely persistent and caused a lot of anxiety that I had to find a way to work with.
The worst thing to do would’ve been to keep texting her, trying to get her attention, or trying to figure out why she wasn’t answering me.
That’s really unattractive.
So, what I did was... I let things be.
There was nothing I could do about whether or not she sent me a text message. I decided to focus instead on managing my thoughts and feelings.
I started a dialogue with myself.
“Do you know that she’s not interested in you anymore?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Do you even know what she’s doing today?”
“No. I don’t know what she’s doing today. She could be working, or taking a nap, or maybe the battery in her phone died and she hasn’t even gotten my message yet. There are countless things that could be preventing her from getting back to me that have nothing to do with me.”
Then, I went for a walk with my dog.
I find walking to be really helpful in dealing with anxiety. Moving forward is symbolic as well as therapeutic. Probably, it’s the change of scenery that gives a new perspective. To me it’s a stress-relieving exercise and a chance to breathe in the fresh air.
You see, I spend much of my life indoors. Going outside for a walk interrupts my patterns and habits and sometimes makes it easier to be in the present moment and to ground myself in the physical world. It’s much better than sitting around focussing on whatever is causing me anxiety.
I looked at the trees as I moved past them. A breeze rustled through the leaves and touched my skin.
I could smell the scents of summer, the cut grass, the barbecues.
I watched the skyline as an orange sun started to sink behind the houses.
And I watched my dog poop in someone’s front yard. Yeah... that too! [Of course I picked it up. I had the plastic baggies with me.]
I wondered if my dog ever thinks it’s funny when we walk down the street and I’m carrying a bag of his poop.
Anyway, it wasn’t long into my walk that I started to feel a lot better.
And then something almost magical happened.
I got a text message from the woman I was dating inviting me to spend time with her the next evening. The text came at almost the exact moment I’d forgotten about it.
She wasn’t tired of me. She wasn’t done with me. She wasn’t upset with me.
There was nothing wrong at all.
I had made everything up in my head.
I don’t even remember what she’d been doing that prevented her from getting back to me sooner.
What I do remember is my anxiety grabbing a tiny piece of information—a text message yet to be answered—and encouraging me to worry over things that simply weren’t true.
Anxiety is a liar.
This was first published in the January 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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