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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Keeping Mentally Fit: Advice from 1952 (!)

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How I came across the video Keeping Mentally Fit I'm not quite sure — pretty sure it's a combination of my own YouTube content and Safiya Nygaard's decades videos — but when I first saw the video in my recommended feed, I naively expected it to be filled with such out-of-touch advice that it would be laughable to those interested in self-help today. While some of my 1950s-era expectations were certainly met (blatant racism, overt sexism, and a bizarre understanding of mental health treatment — 2 out of 40 high school graduates could expect to someday spend time in a mental institution???), I was surprised by how relevant the advice actually was. 

While advice for living well has been part of human culture for centuries, it's booming growth in the late 20th century (and my own personal and professional focus on it) often makes me forget that, though it may not have always been as popular of an industry, self-help advice isn't new. And looking back at what was advised in the past not only gives us insight into how previous eras viewed self-help, but it also provides an interesting perspective of evergreen tactics for living life well. 

This particular video focuses on four key elements for acquiring, maintaining, and improving mental health: expressing emotions naturally, respecting yourself, respecting others, and solving problems as they arise. While these tips seem simple and, perhaps, obvious, I think it's worth exploring each one a little bit because often it's the simple, timeless advice that's the most taken for granted. 

 

EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS

Expressing your emotions was not at all what I expected to hear when I first started watching the video. There's so much talk in today's culture about how we all need to open up more about mental health issues, how we need to talk about more how we feel, that I was honestly quite surprised to see this advice being heralded back in 1952. 

Most of us know that bottling up negative emotions is bad. We might also know that, when not expressed in a healthy way, bottled up emotions tend to come out in unexpected (and often unpleasant) ways. But this portion of the video also touched on how important it is to express positive emotions as well. It touched on facing and expressing not only feelings of pain, but also on sharing positive feelings, like love, as well. Additionally, it touched on expressing emotions with consideration for others, which is something we all can benefit from taking to heart. 

This segment also highlighted the important notion of talking about feelings with a professional or trusted friend. The more you talk about your problems (particularly with a professional), the easier they are to solve. Expressing emotions can be really tough sometimes, but it's one of the best pieces of self-help advice out there, even all of these decades later! 

 

RESPECT YOURSELF

Next up, the video dives into one of my personal favorite topics — self-love. While that specific term has only risen to popularity in recent decades, the concept has apparently been of value for some time in the self-help space. I was particularly pleased to see how the video addressed the topic of perfectionism. Aiming for perfection is a struggle for a lot of people and learning not to be so hard on yourself (remember: you're human!) is such a positive message to master. 

There's often a struggle between the need to improve (the underlying, guiding force of a self-help video) and the desire to respect the self as is. The video addresses this, reminding viewers that it's great if you want to improve, but that doesn't mean you can't accept (and respect!) yourself just as you are right now. 

As someone who has a very stereotypical idea of what life was like in the 1950s — perfect little families living in colorful houses behind white picket fences, a notion I know is not based on reality but I can't help but see in my head when I think of that decade — I was thrilled to see that the issue of perfectionism was tackled. No matter what the era (or the situation), no one's life is perfect and striving for perfection often gets in the way of lasting self-improvement. 

 

CULTIVATE POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS

In this segment of the film, the advice focused on getting along with others, having fun, and being part of the group. While this certainly isn't bad advice, it was a bit tricky for me to fully embrace in today's culture because I think we're realizing more and more that you don't have to have a large group of friends or fit in with the current trends to have a fulfilling, enjoyable life. Of course, surrounding yourself with positive people who enrich your life is always good advice but it's not always an easy thing to control, depending on one's circumstances and disposition. 

Today, I think we have a better understanding of the idea that different people crave different levels of social interaction. Joining a club, as recommended in the video, won't work for everyone. That being said, even if you're an introvert and prefer time spent alone, that doesn't mean you can't gain something positive from socializing (perhaps one-on-one if that's more your style). 

"There's no room for bashfulness in good mental health," something said in the video, isn't advice I'd agree with, but I do think the underlying point — that positive relationships have a big impact on mental health — rings true. Spending time with the right people is important for keeping mentally fit. 

Likewise, being a positive person in the lives of others is equally as important. As the video suggests, it's important not to expect others to be perfect, to let them go their own way sometimes, and to cultivate give-and-take in relationships. It's also important not to dislike or distrust people who are different from you (this point certainly wasn't showcased in the video — everyone looked pretty much the same! — but the words are just as important today as they were then). 

 

DON'T AVOID PROBLEMS

As someone who does a great deal of avoidance — I'm writing this post, in fact, because I sat down at my computer to do something that really needs to be done and instead of doing it, I've chosen to do this instead. Awesome. — I was so glad this was one of the four topics tackled in this video. Combatting a problem as soon as it comes up, rather than avoiding it as many of us are prone to do, is such obvious but important advice. 

The video reminds us that, when we avoid the things we don't want to do, the problem becomes three-fold: we worry about facing it for however long we're avoiding it; we deal with the struggle of actually conquering it; and we may fret over it after the fact, wondering if things might have been different had we handled it promptly.

Of course, depending on the problem, it's not always easy to face, but the video really made me think about what life would be like if, when a problem comes up, I chose to face it right away with the three words they mentioned in mind: calmly, reasonably, and honestly. It seems, at first glance, that it would be difficult to do, but is it really more difficult than avoiding the problem and still having to deal with it later? 

 

Though some of this mid-century advice might be a bit obvious, I'm glad I came across this video. It not only inspired me to pause and think about all four of these tips — each one really deserving of some attention — but it also opened my eyes to the fact that so much of what we talk about in the self-help space isn't new and, no matter what the decade, humans have always been working to improve their mental lives. 

What do you think of this advice and, if you watched it, the video? Let me know in the comments section below! 

 

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