Anxiety got you down? You’re not alone!
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Anxiety exists because on some level as humans we need that anxiety to warn us of impending danger. It’s our survival compass for when times get tough and we can’t see the blue skies and safe path through all the dust created by what-ifs playing in your mind.
- What if I can’t get past this?
- What if the storm never ends?
- What if I can’t find my way back?
- What if I get so lost, I lose everything I care about?
The list is endless and can be damaging if we don’t learn how to stop that question and replace it with something amenable and productive.
Trying Times Require Care
These times are very trying and causing many of us anxiety. I had to remind myself to stop asking that what-if question every time my nerves spiked due to the circumstances. I quickly realized that I would sink and fast if I didn’t pause and come up with a better way to get through these times.
What happens with me, and I’m guessing most of us who suffer from anxiety, is that we start off with an innocent enough question about a problem we’re experiencing, trying to understand the root cause of it so we can solve it. What tends to happen with me is I continue to dig until I’ve dropped far below the actual issue. I land in the dreaded pit of no return where the loop of trying to fit an unworkable solution into the puzzle creates even more anxiety.
The anxiety loop is cause for concern because we can’t solve a problem with an old set of solutions. We also can’t see a new problem as anything but a problem because we’re viewing it through the same tired lens that we’ve used time and again.
Every Problem Has a Solution
What I discovered, or maybe I should say rediscovered, is that every problem has a solution. I say rediscovered because before all of this happened with this terrible pandemic, I knew this. I have experienced many epiphanies over the years when I directed by brain to search for a solution to a problem. I had ultimate trust that a solution existed for every single problem that would come my way. And one always did. The fact that I’m still here and alive, fed, loved, and still smiling serves as proof that I’ve always found a solution to my problems. Never in my history has a problem ever derailed me so much that I wasn’t able to survive it.
Remembering this fact gives me strength today. It has helped me rediscover that part of problem solving that I’ve always loved, solving the problem!
We may not always like what the solution is, though. That’s usually where we go astray. We put into our minds how we think things should go and when they don’t go that way, we get disappointed, frustrated, fearful, and yes completely sidetracked with anxiety. Anxiety in this case, in its simplest of form, is the by product of our fervent desire to have an outcome and life not cooperating. Anxiety is that convoluted space in between desire and outcome.
There are so many facets of life that we have zero control over. And that has never been more apparent to me than while living through a pandemic.
- What if I can never retire now?
- What if I lose my job?
- What if I lost my house?
- What if my parents die?
- What if someone I care about falls gravely ill and I can’t be there for them?
All of these are legitimate concerns. If anything existed to cause us anxiety, these what ifs are them. They’re questions I believe most every human on the planet is asking themselves right now. But we can’t answer them. No matter how many different ways you ask yourself these what if questions, you’re always going to get the same answer, which is we’ll never know until it becomes a reality. That space between desiring for it never to come true and the unknown outcome is what creates the anxiety and sheer terror in our minds.
Is it fair to say, knowing we can’t control the outcome of these concerns at this moment, that perhaps a better use of our time, energy, and heart should instead go into asking ourselves better questions? Questions that will better help us to solve the problem of constant worry over uncontrollable things?
My character, Ivy, in my recent book, Uprooting, often challenged her the listeners of her Uprooting podcast to have a serious chat with themselves by asking themselves really good questions.
So, let’s suppose we try the same thing. What if instead of asking what if, we ask what can I do right now with my current situation? You can answer this question productively in a way that helps you solve the problem of anxiety. You may not be able to solve how you’ll retire if you’re retirement funds are washed away by an economic depression. You don’t have a crystal ball or the ability to travel in time to a future where you’ll be able to know the outcome. So why not instead, focus on problems you can solve immediately?
Direct Your Focus
By focusing on something else, you give your mind and heart a break from the things that drown you in anxiety. So be kind to yourself and turn your attention to something you can control. Elevate your emotions instead of lowering them. And the best way to do this is to agree to place all those questions about the known, the ones that keep you up all night long, someplace other than in your mind.
What do I mean by this?
A Powerful Exercise
Write down your anxious questions. Then, put them away someplace for safe keeping. The act of writing down your thoughts helps to free your mind because you no longer need to focus on it. It won’t loop in your mind anymore. You’ve downloaded it for later. Knowing where you placed it gives you peace of mind. You’re not telling yourself to forget it. You’re simply telling yourself to keep it someplace safe for now so you can you focus on something else that may bring you relief and answers down the road.
With a free mind, take the next five minutes and ask yourself, what is good about my current situation?
Some of you might be rolling your eyes wanting to scream at me that there is nothing good about it. I’m asking you to trust me for five minutes and ask it anyway. Have a pen and pad handy and seriously consider this question. Don’t stop asking yourself this question and searching for answers until you’ve written at least 3 items.
I did this exercise myself last week when I felt overwhelmed and then rediscovered the gift of asking good questions of myself.
I started off writing out my anxiety questions.
- What if my spouse, parents, siblings, or friends die of this and I can’t be with them?
- What if it takes me 18 months to get back to the office?
- What if I don’t get to see my nephew marry his fiancé in the fall?
- What if my computer breaks and I can’t work anymore?
I just kept writing until my list took up two sheets of computer paper. I then folded the paper and placed it in my drawer at the back of my closet.
I breathed, took a fresh notepad, made some tea, and sat in my favorite chair in my living room. I began a new list answering my question what is good about this current situation?
- Oh, well for starters, I’m healthy.
- My spouse is healthy.
- I have the ability to telecommute.
- I have great friends.
- I have Zoom and can meet with my family and friends online whenever I want to see them.
- The flowers are blooming.
- I’m growing my own scallions and they’re multiplying.
- I just learned a new song on the piano and it actually sounded pretty freaking awesome.
- My couch is incredibly comfortable.
- I’m enjoying tea with a fresh lime.
- My hair is growing longer and shaggier, but hell I have hair.
Gosh the list went on for a long time. It was way longer than my anxiety list.
What this did for me was encourage and empower me to feel the light and the warmth of the things that are going right in my life. That felt so much better to focus on than the what ifs that hopefully and likely will never come to pass.
A Powerful Lesson
I realized something very powerful. I realized how amazing it feels to live life in search mode for those things that make me smile and feel connected to something far beyond the anxiety I left behind in my closet drawer.
Friends there is so much more to life when you decide to focus on those things that give you pause and the undeniable feeling that you’re okay and you’re not just getting through life. You’re thriving in it, and that all the unknowns are simply possibilities that can turn in your favor with time and patience. All in good time you will come to see that life, with all it’s twists and turns, is always offering you new hope for this moment right now and well into the future.
Over to You
Will you give this a try? Will you share some insights here in the comments?