Being a parent. Getting older. Facing up to the idea of our own mortality. None of these things are easy. Some days life is serious and leaves us feeling really vulnerable. And anxious. It’s a lonely place. But actually? Most of us feel like this at some time or another (or often). And there’s great comfort in that.
It’s about balance.
This year, I’ve been feeling anxious, on and off. Sometimes for no reason. Despite being predisposed to anxiety, it still always catches me by surprise.
I mostly have no reason to feel this way. And that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t always make sense. Good things are happening. I am happy. Yet, ironically, this unnerves me almost as much as if bad things were.
‘I feel like something is going to happen, to counteract all the good,‘ I found myself saying to a friend yesterday. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t work like that. It’s about balance. There are good times. And bad times. And then good again. I think you’ve had your share of the bad. For now.’
Even writing this makes me nervous. Crazy, eh? Because as positive as we all know how to be, sometimes it can be just as scary having faith in the good.
It’s like the Sex and the City film where Charlotte says to Carrie, ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen. Because no one gets everything they want,‘ when she finally falls pregnant. ‘Erm, you’ve sh*t your pants this year,’ Carrie says. ‘I think you’re done.’
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.
Our natural reaction to anxiety is to feel fear. FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real. Which is basically what anxiety is. Something that probably isn’t going to happen, except in our minds.
The fear brings on all those unpleasant physical symptoms. The dizziness. The nausea. The general state of feeling unwell. Which further convinces us that something must be really wrong.
On a primitive level, this is the fight or flight response but rarely are we actually in this situation where our lives are in immediate danger. So, in our modern lives, where we aren’t running around in loin cloths being chased by lions, we have to learn how to manage this.
To be able to figure out what’s real and what’s not.
Waiting for the thoughts to pass.
Anxious thoughts always pass. This I have learned. Usually once you’ve accepted them and allowed your brain to rationalise them, rather than fighting against them, increasing the fear and that fight or flight response.
Health anxiety for example, which plagues so many (especially us mums whose greatest fear is not being around to see our kids grow up), is particularly receptive to rationale. Thankfully. The headache you’ve got. The dizziness. The exhaustion. What if it’s something serious? Or, more likely, what if it’s because you’re dehydrated, tired and stretched, you forgot to eat (again) and you’re just not looking after yourself as well as you should be. The moment you build up that very rational list in your head, the relief washes over you and the physical symptoms you’re feeling start to fade.
We can teach our brains not to be so scared of the anxious thoughts, to be more tolerant of them and instead wait for them to pass.
One day at a time.
We only have today. That’s our only guarantee. And concentrating on living today makes it much harder to worry about what might happen tomorrow.
It’s not easy to do but we can choose to make the effort to take one day at a time. And to make that day pleasurable in some small way, every single day. Whether it’s going for a walk in the fresh air. Getting a nice drink or coffee. Watching an episode from a cracking box set on Netflix. We have the power to make sure every day is worth concentrating on, in some small way. Because those pleasurable moments lift the mood, increase the serotonin levels and prevent the anxious thoughts from seeping in.
Of course, they will still find a way. And accepting this is part of the process, of not being surprised by their sudden appearance. Anxious thoughts, although unpleasant, are very normal. Even that confident person who you think is rocking life is having the wobbly moments that you are. But it is scary, nevertheless. And I know that some days it’s really, really tough to see the positive. To ditch those thoughts you didn’t invite in and have faith in the good.
And on those days, all I can say is, you’re not alone. Ever. We’re all just trying to remember to take one day at a time. And there is great comfort in doing that together.
Much love to you.