Reader Tit for Tat asked me what I’d like to change about myself. I’d like to start this series of posts by discussing something that I already mostly managed to change.
I’ve always suffered from intense levels of anxiety. In the midst of happiest moments, I’d find opportunities to skewer myself with worries and doubts. I can create worst-case scenarios out of nothing like I’m getting paid to do it.
Once, I was working on my research at the library. As I was photocopying an article, I imagined N saying something really vile to me. He’d never said anything like that and there was no reason for me to imagine this utterly improbable situation. In my fantasy, I responded to him. He said something even more offensive in return. The situation escalated into a horrible fight.
I was so hurt and traumatized that I burst into tears right in the library. Other patrons saw me shaking and sobbing and rushed over to offer assistance. Of course, I couldn’t explain to them that I was so distraught over a completely imaginary situation.
This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. I kept what-iffing myself into really harsh depressive periods.
People who suffer from intense levels of anxiety often deal with it by engineering the situations that terrify them. This affords them some degree of control over their anxieties. Actually living through a traumatic moment is easier than waiting for it to happen. So if you are terrified of rejection, you will do all you can to provoke your partner into dumping you. If you are scared of getting sick, you will sabotage your health. If you are afraid of unemployment, you’ll make sure you suck during job interviews. When the worst-case scenario really comes to pass, the anxiety-ridden individual experiences a momentary relief because his or her bleak worldview is confirmed.
A moment came when I couldn’t take living with anxiety any longer, so I set out to combat it. The very first step in this battle is always to recognize that anxiety comes only and exclusively from within. The external events don’t bring it into existence. You do.
Here are some activities that have been useful to me in my fight against anxiety:
1. Remove highly anxious friends and acquaintances from your life and surround yourself with calm, secure people.
2. Stop fixating on the future. Whenever images of future disasters start crowding in on your mind, do something that brings you back to the present moment. It helps to have an object (a toy, a souvenir, a small book) that you can touch during such moments and that will bring you back into the present. I used a napkin from my favorite coffee-shop to ground myself in the present, for example.
3. When an anxious moment assaults you, stop what you are doing, close your eyes, clear your mind, and breathe in deep for 5 minutes.
Of course, these are all just cosmetic measures. To get rid of anxiety for good, you need to find its roots. Remember that the first 3 years of our lives are the time where we form our sense of security in the world. Or we don’t. That’s where you need to go to find the root of your anxiety.
These psychological methods are, of course, not the only way of resolving issues of anxiety. In my next post on this subject, I will share with you how religion can be used for this purpose. Obviously, that method will only work for people who are religious.