There was a time when anxiety was part of my everyday life.
I will never forget (even though I have forgiven) the constant worrying, the never-ending doubts, the ruthless self-criticism, that have characterized most of my teenage years.
Beginning middle school and all the way to the end of high school, anxiety shadowed my every move. Whether it was a big exam, date, unfamiliar place, or casual hangout with my friends, I couldn’t help but feel out of place, uncomfortable, or even entirely overpowered by fear.
It’s hard to put into words the feelings that you experience when anxiety is a constant part of your life. It’s kind of like when a friend overstays his welcome, and you feel both irritated and trapped.
I won’t go into detail about the sources of my anxiety; that’s a story for another article.
But what I can tell you is that my struggle with anxiety made me the person I am today. All the books I’ve read and all the blogs I’ve scrolled through in search for answers have helped me gain a different perspective on the problem I was dealing with.
In a way, this eight-year-long struggle was one of the reasons why I chose to pursue psychology and get my license in psychotherapy. I managed to find all the answers I needed to get a handle on my anxiety, and now I can use this knowledge to help others who are dealing with the same problem.
Here’s what I learned from living with anxiety for almost eight years:
#1 I’m not alone in this
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking you’re the only one dealing with anxiety, especially when everyone around you seems to handle their lives so well. Or at least that seemed to be the case from my biased perspective.
But once I began browsing the web, I discovered numerous online support groups and chat rooms filled with people who were dealing with the same problem.
Suddenly, I no longer felt alone in this. Knowing that there are millions of people out there fighting to overcome their anxiety gave me a sense of belonging. I was neither broken nor the odd one out, just another person whose anxiety has gotten out of control.
Looking back at this whole experience, I think that was the moment when I decided I need to do something about it.
It’s incredible how other people’s stories can inspire us to begin our own journey towards healing.
#2 I don’t have to be in control all the time
When anxiety “takes the wheel” and interferes with most of your decisions and actions, the world suddenly becomes an unpredictable and scary place.
Every new person you meet and every new situation you encounter is a potential threat. Whether it’s fear of criticism, negative evaluation, or rejection, anxiety comes in many shapes and sizes.
And what do you do when you feel like the world is falling apart and you’re slowly losing control over the safe and comfortable bubble that you’ve been living in for the past years?
You become obsessed with regaining control; like it’s the only thing that will keep you alive and sane. You develop all sorts of safety behaviors and turn the people that are closest to you into safety nets.
But holding on to control is like trying to hold a jellyfish, the harder you squeeze, the easier it slips between your fingers.
Objectively speaking, we have less control over what goes on in our lives than we think we do.
And the sooner you come to terms with this reality, the better you can manage anxiety.
#3 Just because I ignore it doesn’t mean it will go away
I used to live most of my teenage years in ignorance and denial.
I thought that if I didn’t pay attention to my worry-filled thoughts, they would eventually go away.
I thought that if I buried my head in the sand and pretended everything’s ok, anxiety would no longer have an impact on my life.
At that time, I was the only way I knew how to cope with my problems, through avoidance, ignorance, denial.
As you can probably imagine, not only that avoidance and ignorance didn’t help me cope with anxiety, but they also gave rise to feelings of guilt, shame, and powerlessness.
And the worst part is that by feeling powerless, ashamed, and defeated, I was less motivated to put aside ignorance and face anxiety head-on.
That’s how anxiety “disarmed” me and kept me in a vicious circle of negative emotions which lead to nothing but idleness.
But after years of running, hiding, and ignoring, I came to realize that I was going nowhere.
You cannot separate yourself from a mechanism that’s built into your system; the only way to put an end to the constant worrying and self-doubting is by learning to manage your anxiety.
Whether you like it or not, when you’re dealing with anxiety, ignorance is not an option.That’s how anxiety “disarmed” me and kept me in a vicious circle of negative emotions which lead to nothing but idleness Click To Tweet
#4 Anxiety is not something I can ‘cure’ or eliminate
But if ignoring anxiety doesn’t work, what else can I do to get rid of this problem?
Easy! I just have to find a way to eliminate or cure it.
So, I began looking for explanations, solutions, tips, and strategies that would help me put an end to this ever-growing, ever-present problem, once and for all.
But the more I read about anxiety, the more I realized that it’s not something I could ‘treat’ (in the traditional sense). In other words, anxiety is not like the common cold or a bacterial infection that you can flush out of your system by following a specific treatment plan.
In fact, when it comes to emotional and mental conditions, the word ‘treatment’ doesn’t hold the same meaning as in the case of medical conditions.
As I said before, anxiety is built into our system; it is a mechanism that signals potential threats and prompts us to take the necessary actions to avoid anything that might cause us physical or emotional harm.
And since ‘throwing it away’ or ‘shutting it down’ is not an option, the only viable solution is to make small tweaks and adjustments so that it doesn’t go off in the absence of real danger.
Simply put, you don’t treat anxiety; you learn to manage it!
#5 Learning to manage anxiety takes time and active involvement on my part
Both my personal battle with anxiety and the experience I gained working as a therapist have taught me that getting past this problem takes time, patience, and active involvement on your part.
Even those who’ve chosen to follow drug therapy still need to change their mentality and habits.
That’s because anxiety is not a disease of the brain, but a condition of the mind.
Whether you’re dealing with anxiety or not, the overall structure and chemistry of your brain pretty much the same.
The secret of overcoming anxiety is in the way you perceive yourself, others, and the world. That’s where change needs to take root!
But there will be times when progress is slow; situations when the impulse to worry and act panicky will prove to be stronger than your desire to regain control over your life.
And that’s perfectly normal!
It’s ok to lose some battles as long as you’re still focused and determined to win the war.
When it comes to overcoming anxiety, there are no quick fixes and foolproof strategies.
You need to be actively involved in the process and find the solutions that best fit your needs.
So, what are your thoughts on this topic? Which of the five lessons did you find most useful? Are there any other lessons about living with anxiety that you think are valuable and worth sharing?
Tell us everything in a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.