We often think as our anxiety as a monster lurking under our bed that only gets bigger as we get older. He feeds on our insecurities, never-ending life stressors, every embarrassing moment we have, and every failed relationship we experience. We become too familiar with that tightness in our chest and inability to breathe. We know that at the very least, anxiety can be pretty distracting, and can become absolutely life consuming. You may feel that your anxiety hinders you from living a full life – going to that event, calling that person you like, getting up on the stage for karaoke, immersing yourself in travel or crowds…the list goes on. Anything we can think up, our anxiety seems to give us a reason that it poses some threat.
Let’s imagine your life with no anxiety at all. Did I just hear a huge sigh of relief? Yes – no negative feelings about going to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, no hesitation to say or do whatever you want – WOW that sounds amazing, right? Let’s continue – no worry about that upcoming project, no fear about what your boss will think when they find out you messed up that assignment, no concern about hurting your friends’ feelings if you do something wrong toward them…still sound amazing?
Having our anxiety monster follow us around ALL. THE. TIME. isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He motivates us to do well at work, in social situations, or at school, and prepares us for challenges, creating an incentive to do well. He lets us know when there’s danger…maybe too often…but he keeps us from making decisions that would be unsafe. He helps you have a quick reaction time when something does go wrong, allowing you to fight or flight so that you have a better chance of avoiding harm. He helps you make decisions as you carefully consider all possibilities and outcomes, allowing you to be a cautious thinker and good problem-solver. He can show you areas in your life that may warrant your attention – anxiety regarding one particular person may show you that this relationship isn’t healthy, or anxiety about money may grant you awareness that your finances need to be assessed. Regardless, considering what your anxiety monster is whispering in your ear provides an opportunity for growth and success until it becomes self-harming, self-blaming, or self-punishing. When we allow our anxiety monster to control us with his awful whispers, we give him the power. When we say it out loud, we take the power back as we externalize it.
We have to teach our anxiety monster some limits. Just like I’d suggest that you implement good boundaries with those around you, you have to set boundaries with your anxiety monster. Let’s look at what we’ve tried – we’ve tried to send him away for good, we’ve yelled GET OUT a million times, and we’ve tried to ignore him. No luck so far. Once we accept that he will forever be our monster, we can acknowledge the great things about him. Start by deciding when and where he is and isn’t allowed – is he not allowed in bed with you? When he tugs at your hand as you’re trying to sleep, let him know you’re there, but don’t metaphorically get up and explore with him. Tell him that you’ll get back with him in the morning. This also requires boundaries with yourself. Next, define your lines. How loud is he allowed to yell before you can’t handle it anymore? When you notice that he is escalating, take a breath with him. Metaphorically ask him to calm down before approaching you with that subject again. Be his thermostat – regulate his temperature. You are in control.
When your anxiety monster calls, pick up the phone. Acknowledge his presence, and let him in like an old friend as you enforce your boundaries. I predict harmony in your future. Listen to the messages he’s sending you – do they warrant an action that will improve your life? Remember, not all monsters are bad. Together, we can #endthestigma