Like many of us, I have struggled with anxiety in one way or another for most of my adult life now. Anxiety can be a killer of the mind as well as the body. It can suck the joy right out of any situation and leave you feeling trapped and drained. Anxiety is multifaceted. Anxiety can be overt and bombastic, throwing apprehension, fear, and panic into any moment. Anxiety can also be quiet and subtle. It whispers in your ear, unearthing insecurities and doubts, forecasting dreaded outcomes for any and every situation, and your body listens. Your body reacts to your thoughts. It jerks and tenses and weighs heavy as you pull it hopelessly forward along a life of miserable anticipation.
After some time dealing with anxiety, it becomes habit. Feeling and reacting this way feels familiar. In a strange way, you begin to crave it. It sounds crazy, to be addicted to a feeling of misery but that’s what has happened. Biochemically this is how we have learned to view and react to our world, and biochemically we reinforce these patterns of thinking. From our upbringing and experience, we create these ideas of who we are and we form a perceived reality in our heads. We get so used to thinking in these cyclical negative patterns that we never stop to question their validity or what purpose they are serving in our lives. It is a cycle of self-inflicted anguish.
Oh, how I want to break this cycle. A big struggle for me in my adult life has been how I handle and react to my job. Nursing is certainly stressful, any nurse will tell you that. There is a difference, however, in being stressed out intermittently as a nurse on the job and seemingly obsessing over what could go wrong at work to the point where I am thinking about it when I am off. The anxiety lingers like a thorn stuck in my mind even on days when I am off. It can cause nausea, mood swings, loss of appetite, and loss of sleep. Anxiety has consumed me. I have lived in the perpetual past of recalling painful memories involving shame and regret and the perpetual future of hypothetical worst-case scenarios.
Looking back over so much of my life, I have rarely savored the present moment. I have either lived in the past or the future, calculating and anticipating, only occasionally picking up on the preciousness and serenity of the present moment. Anxiety is a weight. This weight, I feel it in my head, in my arms and chest, I feel it in my back and in my feet. I feel it every day. How miserable I have been over the years, and for what? To what purpose did all of this anxiety serve me? Nothing of value that I can recall except cultivating misery and self-doubt within myself.
Recently I have made efforts to unearth a lot of these negative beliefs and tendencies that I carry. I am carefully examining how these beliefs came to be. Beliefs like “You’re not good enough”, “You’re going to screw something up”, and “You don’t deserve happiness”. We all have beliefs we pick up from our lives, but that doesn’t mean they are all valid and should be believed. Some are downright detrimental.
Guess what? Most of your thoughts are lies. You don’t have to believe them. Most of the entrenched beliefs that contribute to anxiety are lies that shield you from the complexity of reality. Anxiety for me has been about anticipating possible stressful or hurtful events in the future, most of which never came true. My brain is seeking out false realities, making sure I am prepared, but really the brain is condensing all of the possible realities into one, the worst one, for familiarity and convenience’s sake. Better prepare for the worst right? My brain has bad habits. Life is not certain. Life is not simple. The future does not exist. Anxiety is a simplified lie. I am slowly choosing not to believe it and not to feed it any power.
It takes a considerable amount of effort but we can slowly reveal these ignorant beliefs we hold about who we think we are and our abilities. We can reveal them and we can vanquish them. We can insert a new narrative and a new character for our lives moving forward, someone more authentic and fulfilled and grateful. We aren’t bound to misery just because it is a part of our pasts. That is another lie I have told myself. This is how it has been so this is how it will be. Wrong.
I have been working on understanding my negative thought patterns through mindfulness and meditation too. I am reading, listening, and watching many self-help, spiritual media in attempts to keep my mind focused on these goals going forward. I want a better life for myself, I am slowly learning that I can have it and that I deserve it. There is also something I am learning adjunctly that is turning out to be just as important, and that is patience.
Patience is hard. I’ve historically never really been good at it. When I want something, I want it and I want it now. We live in an age of instant gratification. While my intentions have been good with wanting to change myself, I have had the mindset that I should just watch a bunch of anxiety and self-help tips, implement them into my life, and then it will all be better. On my journey of self-help, I have noticed that a lack of patience is hindering me from reaching further. My expectations and mindset have been unhelpful. It’s like I expect everything to fall neatly in place when I hear a motivational speech or a new meditative exercise. I have had frequent thoughts of “Why isn’t this working yet” or “I shouldn’t be feeling anxious like this anymore”. I have been invested in events and outcomes going a right, fixed way instead of being patient with the process and going with the flow.
What I have been failing to do was respect the process of growth. Growth and development, like success, aren’t easy and instantaneous (at least for the vast majority of us) and they don’t flow in straight lines. Life isn’t a straight line. Success isn’t a straight line. There is no A to B to C and eventually to Z. Life is chaotic and often plays out in cycles. We have to respect the nature of the universe. We have to have respect for the process of growth, and that requires patience. It requires the understanding that you aren’t going to have revelations followed by passivity and somehow come out a more enriched person. Self-help is an active, continuous pursuit. Progress is something you have to work at each and every day in order to maintain it. Any of these goals I have mentioned require an active pursuit. And hard work. And time.
Time is so important for all of this. It takes time to entrench new mindsets and expectations. It takes time to rewire neural connections, dismantling old pathways, and forming new ones. It takes time to erode old, antiquated beliefs. All of this takes time. I don’t want to feel discouraged because my expectations were not met. If I change my expectations and celebrate every little victory as it comes, I can put the power of change back in my hands. If things don’t go as planned, that’s okay too, it’s part of the journey and there is usually always a valuable lesson in failure.
Even though I’m not where I want to be now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t made progress. I have made tremendous amounts of progress in self-reflection, meditation, and self-love. There are situations that went really well last week because I practiced mindfulness. I had social anxiety that I transformed into meaningful interactions with others. I had several good mediation sessions. On several occasions I have been able to generate joy and gratitude. I have tools now to help me rearrange my negative thoughts but it requires frequent utilization. There are also times my mind gets away from me and I start over-analyzing things that don’t matter and that take me away from the moment and causes me to doubt myself. That’s okay too, it’s part of life and it will happen. Surrender and make peace with the fact that we are not perfect and that everything is not always going to turn out like you want or expect.
I am making progress and I can feel it it’s just I need to be humbled and understand that progress is not a passive nor instantaneous phenomenon. If I want change, I have to work each day, however small, to change my life for the better. There is no other way. Enjoy it all as it happens and encourage yourself, even when you backtrack. And you will backtrack, but keep the vision and focus alive and allow yourself to look at any misstep as a learning experience. Remember progress is not a straight line. It would be awfully boring if it were anyways. Enjoy this life for the chaotic force that it is and know that you are right where you should be in this moment. Cherish yourself and your journey. Be your #1 fan and live a life of imagination without bounds for you are worthy of it all!