Assist, Don't Resist: Adventures in Accepting Anxiety

Positively Present - Anxiety Might Look Like
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For as long as I can remember, I've been anxious. During some periods of my life (like now) it's worse. Other times, it's just a faint trace, like someone's perfume lingering on you after a hug. 

For as long as I can remember, I've been trying to elude my anxiety. I've tried almost everything. I've tried mixed drinks and drug cocktails. I've tried sleeping too much and sleeping around. I've tried therapy (which does, to some degree, help) and soul-searching (also helpful, in its navel-gazing way). I've tried shopping and scrolling. I've tried yoga (also useful in the moment) and meditation (albeit, only a handful of times). I've tried snacking and starving. I've tried calming apps and I've read (and probably written!) beat-your-anxiety articles. I've gone for long walks and I've sat by myself in silence and I've tried new things and I've clung to old comforts. Maybe I haven't tried everything, but I've put in a lot of time trying to avoid or quell my anxiety. 

And guess what? I'm still anxious.

Not all the time. And not always in the same way, but it's always there. Maybe there's a part of me that, deep down, doesn't want to let it go. Or maybe I literally cannot let it go. Either way, it seems to be here to stay and, after three and half decades of trying to outrun it, lately I've been thinking... what if I just stopping trying? 

Resisting it obviously hasn't been working for me. Sure, I've been able to dodge anxious feelings by altering my mind or distracting myself, but the anxiety always finds a way to come back, no matter how hard I try. So what if I just accepted in instead? This obviously isn't ground-breaking idea -- the notion of accepting anxiety has been around forever (god knows, I've probably even written about it somewhere), but this is the first time in my life I've actually felt like, hey, maybe I really can just stop resisting this and see what happens. After all, what have I got to lose? 

Acceptance of anything, but particularly of difficult things, is rarely easy, but here are a few things I'm going to try in an attempt to assist, rather than resist, my anxiety. Yes, it seems like a bit of a backwards idea, trying to help my anxiety instead of hinder it, but, at this point, I'm willing to give anything a go! 

 

REFRAME IT

It's only in recent years that I've come to realize how closely connected anxiety and excitement are to one another. If you pay attention, you might find that you feel similar when you're excited and when you're really anxious. So I'm going to try to use that to the best of my ability and try, when possible, to reframe anxiety as excitement. This won't always work, of course, but when it comes to certain things (for example, a speaking event I'm nervous about or a party I should attend but feel too anxious to go to), maybe it will help to try telling myself that I'm actually excited, rather than anxious. (Because, to be honest, something I think I am actually excited and I'm so used to being anxious that I confuse the two!)

Here's an interesting article, "How 'Anxious Reappraisal' Can Turn Anxiety Into Productivity" on this subject, if you want to learn more about this idea of choosing excitement over anxiousness. It claims that reframing anxiety as excitement can lead to improved performance and productivity. While I can't vouch for that yet, it does make sense. And I like the idea that, in reframing the anxiety, you're not attempting to get rid of it but rather to use it to your advantage. 

 

LEAN INTO IT

The article mentioned above also discusses what is going to be my second anxiety-acceptance tactic: leaning into it. Trying to get myself to calm down or chill out clearly hasn't worked for me. (Or, rather, it doesn't work in the long-term, as there are definitely some things that can calm me for a bit, but they never last.) According to the article (and some other sources I've explored), it's easier for the brain to go from one amped up emotion to the other (going from anxious to excited is easier than going from anxious to calm, apparently) so, rather than trying to chill out, I'm going to try amping it up (in a more positive way though).

I could see how, depending on the situation, the person, and the level of anxiety, this might not be a good idea, but for me personally I can see it potentially working. I have a lot of energy and thoughts and ideas (sometimes it feels like my mind is just one giant exclamation point!), and trying to work with them instead of trying to get rid of them might just work for me. I also read about this idea of inviting the symptoms, in which you're supposed to pay attention to the symptoms and take control of them by attempting to heighten them. This seems a bit of an odd trick, but the whole "using paradox" thing might be interesting to explore as another way to really lean into the anxiety. 

 

SIT WITH IT

And, finally, I'm going to try to just sit with it and let it happen. One of the most difficult aspects of feeling anxious for me is knowing that it's irrational, unhelpful, and not productive. I know it's a waste of time and stressful not only for me but for those around me, so I try to resist it. But I think, much like trying to untangle a knot by aggressively tugging at it, this just makes things worse. Whenever I feel anxious, I try to undo the feelings as quickly as possible, which, so far, hasn't really worked out for me. I'm going to try to stop fighting it and see what happens. I'm going to sit with it, even if that means literally just sitting and doing nothing, and I'm going to try not to judge it. 

I'm going to try, best as I can, to observe the anxiety and, if possible, even try to enjoy it. Weird as that sounds, so many good things (like the illustration above -- my most liked post on Instagram so far!) come from my anxiety. It's always been a part of me and, while reading First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety the other day, I pondered my answer to the question, "If I could give up my anxiety completely, would I?" There are times that I would probably say yes and, sure, maybe I would be better off without it, but I also know that it's part of me, like it or not. Maybe it won't always be, but, while it's here, I might as well try to find the good in it and make the most of it. 

 

I know these ideas won't work for everyone (and they might not even work for me!), but I figure that if something (resisting anxiety) really isn't working, it might be worth trying to do the opposite (assisting anxiety) to see what happens! If you have anxiety, what do you think of the notions of reframing it, leaning into it, and sitting with it? Do you have any other ideas for coping with anxiety without trying to run from it? I'd love to hear your thoughts or experiences in the comments section below! 

 

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6 Things You Should Stop Settling For

Positively Present - Stop Settling

 

As the leaves start to sprout on the trees and the flowers begin to poke their heads up through the dirt, I'm reminded, once again, of how spring is the ultimate symbolic season of change and growth and blooming once again. After months of drab, colorless treetops, things are blooming as they always do, and it's showing me that we, too, can bloom again, even when things have been dormant for some time. One of the best ways to channel the springtime vibe of transformation is to investigate what we've been settling for.

When we can identify the areas in which we're not getting what we truly want in life, we're able to consider how we might reshape those aspects of our lives. Of course, such transformation won't happen overnight, but recognizing the places in which we might be settling is the first step towards change. Here are six areas in which settling should be avoided. But don't beat yourself up if you've been settling in these areas. Just consider how you might want to change them going forward. Like the seeds tucked underground all winter long, you, too, can recognize that there's more to life than dirt and darkness. You, too, can push out of your confines and stretch toward the sunlight you deserve. 

 

LUKEWARM LOVE AFFAIRS

Real love (not that easy falling-in-love stuff) is tough. There are highs and lows, good times and bad. But if you're not in it together — usually on the same team, mostly putting in the same amount of effort, having similar feelings for one another — it might not be a full-hearted kind of love. If you only see someone when it's convenient for them, if you put in all of the effort and get little in return, if you worry constantly if the other person feels the same, it's time to stop settling and seek out the kind of love you (we all!) deserve. 

 

JOY-STEALING WORK

Work — even the very best kind — is no piece of cake. It's tough, even when you love your job. But if it feels like it's sucking the life out of you, if it feels like it takes everything you've got and gives nothing back, it's time for a change. You might not be able to drastically change your work situation, but you can seek out a similar job in a new place, find a way to transform the work you're doing, or even take a pay cut to work in a more fulfilling environment. Most of us spend a huge chunk of our lives at work so it's definitely not an area of life where settling should be acceptable. 

 

FICKLE FRIENDSHIPS

Every relationship — even the best of friendships — has its ups and downs, but if you're putting in all the work, it's time to consider if it's worth it. Consider whether your friend is asking about your wellbeing, interested in your life, or doing kind things to show their appreciation for you. (And, on the flip side, consider if you're doing these things as a friend!) Relationships of all kinds should include give and take and if you're the only one giving, you're settling for less and should seek companionship elsewhere. 

 

SECOND-RATE STORIES

Life is short, so why settle for second-rate things? This is particularly true when faced with items that have tons of options (like books!). There is an incredible amount of text to be read in this world, so if the book is bad, put it down. Don't waste time on second-rate stories when you could pick up a magical, potentially life-changing work. Same goes for food (if it's bad, send it back), clothing (if it doesn't work, return it), etc. Yes, it can be easier to stick with what's already in your hand, but do you really want to look back a mourn all the time you wasted on second-rate nonsense?

 

DEADEND DREAMS

Consider, for a moment, what a dream life looks like to you. Is that your idea of an ideal scenario or someone else's? It is something that gets you up in the morning, pumped to started your day and move toward that dream? If not, you might be suffering from a case of uninspired dreaming. Reflect on what you really want — and make sure that you're not aiming towards goals that others have set for you or goals that you set for yourself a long time ago that no longer speak to what you want your future to look like. We change, and often our dreams do too. 

 

LACKLUSTER LEISURE

How are you spending your free time? Are you truly enjoying the activities you've deemed as "leisure"? If you are, awesome! Keep at it! But if you're doing something just because it's easy, you've always done it, or it's someone else's idea of a good time, consider exploring new leisure-time activities. In fact, maybe just try doing something different to see if you like it. If you're always watching TV, try going for a walk. If your weekends are spent on a hiking trail, consider a Netflix binge. Try new things to make sure you're not settling for how you spend your friend time! 

 

Life is short is such a cliche, but it's true. Too many of us (myself included!) are settling for things (and people...) because it feels easier than change. You're not alone if, like me, change intimidates you. But do what you can to find the courage to stop settling for less than you deserve. It's rarely easy to let go of what's comforting (even when it's unhealthy), but the sooner you do it, the sooner you'll have the freedom to pursue the things in life that add real value, that make you excited and empowered! 

 

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Wanting v. Having : 5 Ways to Embrace Desire


Positively Present - Wanting Having
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Materialism exists because we get excited about something, want to own it, get it, grow used to it (or even feel let down by it immediately after acquiring it), and then strive again for the "wanting" high by identifying a new thing to covet. The cycle can be endless, and even if you're aware of it, it can be tough to break because wanting something (and striving to make it yours) just feels so darn good sometimes. 

The problem is we often don't pay attention to where in that cycle of want-get-have-want that we actually feel good. Yes, getting a thing you've longed for can feel good to obtain momentarily, but frequently it doesn't feel as good as the actual desiring of it did. And we often (if not always!) return to our previous mental state after we've gotten used to possessing whatever it is we once wanted (see: hedonic treadmill).

Often this happens because the way we think about something we want is different from how we feel about it when we own it. Just think about the last time you got a new phone. The anticipation of it, with it's fresh screen and new features, was thrilling. And the first few days with it might have been exciting, too. But now, even if you use and enjoy it a lot, it's likely just something you own. 

The notion that more stuff won't bring you more happiness isn't anything new (and the rise in the minimalism trend keeps bringing it to the forefront in popular culture). Most of us know this (and some of us even put that idea into to practice by resisting the temptation to buy more and more things in pursuit of that short-lived high!), but we often don't focus on how this wanting vs. having idea applies to non-tangible things we're in pursuit of, things like love, status, wealth, success, etc. 

If you're in pursuit of anything at all, whether it be personal or professional, tangible or intangible, you, too, must face the fact that sometimes (and, in fact, often), the wanting of something is more enjoyable than the possession of it. Even if we experience this again and again — we find a great love, we get the job we desperately wanted, we achieve the goal we've worked on for years and yet still feel the need to desire something new or better or more important — it's hard not to keep pursuing more and more. 

The problem is, if we're always chasing after the next thing, we're rarely (if ever) content with where we are now, which makes it pretty difficult to live positively in the present. But how are we to counteract the desire for desire when it's built into our societies, when we're expected to constantly be seeking? Here are few ways we can embrace the ever-present desire to want what we don't yet have.

 

FOCUS ON EXPERIENCE, NOT POSSESSION

You've certainly heard this before: buy experiences, not things. But this concept need not apply only to material goods. It also applies to the intangible desires so many of us have. Experiencing something, whatever it might be, is often much more valuable than possessing it is. For example, rather than focusing the possession of a person (labeling a new romance, needing reassurance that a partner is "yours," or feeling an ownership over your offspring), what if we focused more on the experiences we have with that individual? Doing so will actually strengthen our bonds or, in some cases, help us to realize that perhaps that isn't a person with whom we want to be closely bonded. Or, let's consider the pursuit of greater career opportunity. What if we focused on the experience of working toward it and valued that more than the actual achievement of a new title? Or, once a new title has been granted, what if we spent more time valuing the experience of a new, higher position rather than considering how we might use it to pursue even more status or wealth? Choosing to focus on experiences rather than possessions (tangible or otherwise) is likely to lead to more contentment. 

 

LET GO OF WHAT YOU DON'T GET

It can be hard to realize sometimes when you're in a state of wanting, but the thing you want comes with baggage you cannot understand until you possess it. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "If a man could have half his wishes, he would double his troubles." (Or, in the words of The Notorious B.I.G., "mo money, mo problems.") Whatever it is you want is going to come with a set of issues that you can't anticipate now. You don't know what you don't know, and sometimes you're often better off not acquiring the things you think you want. I know the "everything happens for a reason" idea is cliche, but I believe in it. You can't foresee what will happen in the future, and I've found that not getting what I want has been a blessing in many cases (and getting what I want has rarely lived up to its hype). If you don't get it, it means it's not meant for you. (Or it's not meant for you right now. Things meant for you have a way of coming when you need them, not necessarily when you want them.)

 

APPRECIATE WHAT YOU DO HAVE

If you're familiar with Positively Present, it's going to be no surprise to see gratitude  — probably one of the most used bits of advice here — in this round-up of tips, but making an effort to recognize and appreciate what you do have (particularly what you once longed for and then obtained) is one of the best ways to counteract the challenging notion of always wanting something else. Things only bring us joy when we're aware of them, which is why we take so much pleasure from wanting. When we want something, we're hyper-focused on it, sometimes consumed by thoughts what life will be like if we have it. Once we've had it for awhile, we don't often spend as much time thinking about it. When you find yourself thinking, "I want..." consider challenging it with the thought, "I have..." 

 

SEEK OUT THE ROOT OF THE WANTING

How much of what you want is what you actually want and how much is someone else's idea of what you should want? It's hard to know for sure — after all, we're all products of the cultures and environments in which we are raised and it can be hard to separate our true desires from what we've been taught — but the more you pay attention to the real reasons for what you want, the more you dig down into the roots of that desire, the more likely you are to realize that what you want is actually based on what you think you're supposed to want. Looking at why you desire what you do (and, just as importantly, what you think will happen if you obtain that thing) will often help you realize that your wants are often rooted in foundations not put in place by you. 

 

VALUE CONTENTMENT OVER HAPPINESS

"The pursuit of happiness" is part of the US Declaration of Independence and, as result, many people here and around the world have come to associate the pursuit of happiness with living life to the fullest. Happiness has been held up as the ultimate goal, something all people should be striving for in whatever way feels right for them. We've come to understand that, while happiness doesn't look the same for everyone, everyone wants to be happy. But, as I've discussed many times before, happiness is a fleeting emotion. It's wonderful, but it doesn't last. Making it your life's goal is setting yourself up for constant disappointment (which often leads to pursuit of the next thing that you think will make you happy). The pursuit of happiness is great for capitalism, but not so great for contentment. Instead of focusing being happy, try striving for contentment. Aim to make the most of what's happening now, to accept what's been and look forward to what will be without setting expectations. 

 

When you're in a state of wanting, it can be difficult to realize this, but it's true: whatever you think you need to be happy — money, fame, love, acceptance, beauty, attention, success, diamonds, children, a house, etc. — won't actually make you happier than you are now, at least not for very long. Realizing this doesn't mean you shouldn't keep pursuing what you want (for what is life if not pursuit?); it only means that you should stop expecting that the having will be greater than the wanting. It means understanding that, even though it seems strange, wanting something can be fulfilling in itself, and not getting what you want doesn't have to mean failure. And, most importantly, it means that, cheesy as it may sound, you'll be able to realize that it is, in fact, a journey towards something has just as much value (if not more!) than the thing itself. 

 

 

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