There's a difference between sad days and anxious days. I've been known to have both, with quite a bit more anxiety as I get older. I suppose all the "stakes" in life get higher once you have a job and relationship and net worth. Mindfulness and a focus on relationships have made me better and better at handling these negative emotions when they inevitably come along.
My Theory on Anxiety
It would make sense that anxiety is rooted in a biological purpose, somewhere connected to our fight or flight senses, but that modern society has fed it an unhealthy dose of steroids. For me, an anxious day is when my stomach is in knots, my heart pounds viscerally in my chest, and my face gets hot and tingly. I'm usually stuck with it for hours.
I would love to tell you to meditate in these moments, but it's really hard for me to do when I'm anxious. There is a fear-quality to anxiety that kicks my fight or flight mode into high gear, and I'm just not advanced enough at meditation to break through that fear.
Of course, I try to breathe. Be here now, and not somewhere in the regretful past or scary future. From there, I try to utilize the below strategies.
How To Cope
- Write it out: Grab a pen and paper, and just start writing. Acknowledge all of your feelings, and why they are there. Sit with them for a moment. Investigate each one, observing with curiosity and kindness. "What am I afraid of?" "Why would that be bad?" "How does this change things?" Journaling is such a powerful tool for self-interrogation. I often find it just as effective as talking to a therapist.
- Indulge in the worst case scenario, dispassionately: Hopefully journaling has given you a little distance and clarity from your fears. Now, allow yourself to trace them all the way to the end, the worst possible scenario. Identify all possible outcomes, and how you might deal with each individually. What tangible, emotional, and mental resources do you have to draw on to recover? For instance, you family, your sense of self, and skill set will likely remain intact. I bet you have a greater ability for resilience than you think.
- Favor the most likely outcome: What outcome makes the most sense, realistically? It's almost never the worst case scenario. Do yourself the logical favor of assessing the odds of the situation moving to worst possible case, and settling your mind on the most common outcome.
- Keep in mind the average attention span: Remember that even if you fail in some way, this will fade from immediate memory in mere minutes, hours, or days. If the top people in politics can continue on after major scandals and celebrities can still get work after sex tapes, no one will remember that stupid thing you said in the meeting, etc.
- Talk to yourself: Either out loud or in your head, say the words "I love you and I forgive you, no matter what happens." Too often, our anxiety stems from a sense that the people around us will abandon us if events play out in a certain way. You can ultimately cut off this seemingly endless supply of anxiety by simply saying to yourself, "You will never not be loved by me. Together, we will get through anything." Corny, I know! But it is powerfully soothing.
- Reach out: To the people who your anxiety touches and to people it does not. For those involved, be genuine, vulnerable, and compassionate. If an apology is necessary, make it sincerely, and ask if it's possible to move on. I have almost always found that radical transparency is a fast-track to human connection. The same goes for someone uninvolved. Call your best friend, mom, or significant other for someone to bounce your anxiety off of. Usually, you'll get a much-needed reality check. It is often helpful to hear from someone outside the situation that you are not a bad or unlovable person, regardless of how this turns out.
- Move on: Put on some music, take a shower, go for a walk, say YES to an invite. Push through the anxiety by reminding yourself that life is multi-faceted. If one aspect goes terribly wrong, your whole life does not go down with it.
Chances are that things are not terribly wrong. It's often just that our society breeds the anxiety glitch in our brains. It makes sense; we're constantly under surveillance through digital means and it's really easy to preserve memories, for better or worse. For worse, it's really tough to escape our actions these days. More on that later, with tips on how to reduce chances of anxiety. But until then, do what you can to take care of yourself, mitigate this gut-wrenching feeling, and find your way back to a blue sky state of mind.
I'm still learning about this topic as I go through it myself. If you have any tips for managing anxiety, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!