I have struggled with anxiety in my life. Everyone does at some level. Sometimes, mine has become an obstacle, and sometimes debilitating, keeping me mired in analysis paralysis. I have worked at and tried many things to improve my response to and overcome the most serious of the anxiety. As anyone who has struggled with this will tell you, this is difficult work.
I don’t have a full answer yet. I don’t feel like I have “arrived” or overcome this in any sort of complete way. And the good news is that I don’t really have to. Anxiety can be modified, molded, channeled, and used if not to my advantage, then at least to keeping me alert and active. At least two of the human instinctual responses to anxiety involve movement, commonly known as fight, flight (or freeze being the third that arguably is a lack of movement, although still presumably requires motor control).
When I write the following sentences, it forces me to at least make concrete and begin to confront the nature of what I’m wasting so much energy fearing: “THE FEAR IS IN MY MIND. IT IS NOT REAL. This sounds like (and actually is) a bad movie slogan, and for some like me, is a little to new-agey in its emphasis almost in denial of an emotion that is real. This is very similar in its thrust to President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous admonition that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It is magnificent rhetoric, even if perhaps not strictly speaking, literally true.
Perhaps an even more useful way to think about and act toward it is to state, “THE <em>HEIGHTENED</em> ANXIETY IS IN MY MIND. IT IS NOT REAL.” This is more accurate, and thus perhaps more believable and resonant of something I can then act on by matters of degree. There are some things to be afraid of. The next rational question though is always the same – what can I best do about the object of the fear at the given moment?
- Remind myself, I have probably dealt with this or something like it many times before, and moved forward despite it.
- Use ‘wise mind,’ a technique from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, consciously acknowledging and asking, what is the most rational course of thought and action here?
- If I can move forward with even 40% of my force or ability, it will be 100% more than not moving forward at all.
- If it helps, say, “I don’t have to get rid of all anxiety to have relative peace.”
These seem already like a bit of a series of mental gymnastics to go through. And they are in no way exhaustive. What is key about them though is making the initial commitment to do something adaptive (positive and productive) in order to move through the anxiety.