Anxiety can feel like being a deer in the headlights of oncoming traffic in the middle of a congested highway.
The headlights are bright and expand in your vision, blossoming out to make big blurry stars. The constant flow of movement leaves you frozen and simultaneously shaking on the inside.
Four lanes to your left, an array of colors and lights chase after another, cars and trucks and things with loud screeching tires going way too fast and too close.
Up ahead are four lanes with eight sets of glowing eyes staring at you, waiting — grills like teeth snarling in time with your thrumming heartbeat. You can't seem to get your legs to move, your breaths come in shallow, and all your senses are on high alert.
The longer you stand there, inches from the giant metal boxes, the more of them line up, clustering forward and revving up to make the weight on your chest nearly unbearable. It's all too much. The flashing blurred lights, the sounds attached to steady, unrhythmic movement, leaves you paralyzed and overwhelmed wondering how you even got here- you're a deer for Pete's sake.
And that's how the deer dies.
I don't write this to you as a medical know-it-all who's conquered life's struggles and is living her perfect life with her boyfriend Collin in Barbados.
Nope, I come to you as someone who's afraid of heavy traffic, busy stores, one lane roads in the city, and sometimes, I'm too anxious to leave my house. I'd blame it on my being a writer, but I'm a pretty lousy writer to begin with, so that's out the window.
Anxiety can also make you feel like a psychopath. I know I'm not the only one who straightens my bathroom soap and lotions to stand in a perfect row.
I'm not the only one who washes their hands repeatedly and cringes at the thought of door knobs. There are others just like me, who would rather go the long way down the road than try the shorter route because of their anxiety.
All of us are bound up balls of energy, shaking and quaking and wishing we could be free. We build safe spots in our lives; places we go and hide from the world in, like a deer in a thicket bush.
If you asked a deer why it was scared, it couldn't say a word about it, or anything for that matter, and people with anxiety often are no different. We don't know why. We're just suddenly standing in the middle of eight lanes of traffic and freaking out, and just like the deer, we usually look perfectly still on the outside. The only thing that gives us away is the frantic tick of our eyes, black and darting.
The general sense of being overwhelmed makes you want to be in control of the things in your life that you CAN handle, and so you do handle them. You might even handle them a little too well, organizing your canned food alphabetically or buying six months of fabric softener because you don't want to run out.
Your anxiety might even turn into a form of OCD, spending all your time overthinking the time delay on the red lights or counting how many people are wearing watches on the bus. (Who wears watches anymore?)
You may become so twitchy you start configuring how many hands have touched a door handle vs. how often it's cleaned, what the likelihood is of it being cleaned recently vs. the probability of infectious germs and bacteria being on the 3-inch grip handle.
Quite frankly, having anxiety is also exhausting. Always being "on" like a deer in the headlights does take its toll on you. Maybe that's why it's so easy to slip into depression when we let every car on the highway hit us instead of just changing our focus and moving.
After a while, one set of headlights mid-as-well be 8, one trip out mid-as-well be a world-shaking undertaking, and of course, all that requires copious amounts of planning and preparing. The OCD says PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE! Get the map, get the disinfectant. The Anxiety says MOVE, NO DON'T MOVE. GO! STAY STILL!
The depression says, "Why go anywhere at all?"
You can waste all your time preparing until you're too exhausted to do that which you need to do. You can be utterly undecided until you can't do that which you want to do. You can even give up entirely and decide you can't do any or neither or all- so you do nothing and inwardly despise yourself for it.
This is anxiety. It can be a day by day or minute by minute battle. Perpetually staring at and cowering to the oncoming traffic in your life- so I'd like to do a little exercise together- just me and you- here and now, while we're together.
Are You Ready?
I want you to re-imagine that congested eight-lane highway, really see the winding highway and sky above. Picture all those cars lined up in front of you honking and waiting.
Now I want you to focus on just one vehicle, the vehicle directly in front of you. Is it a car, truck, or SUV? What color is it? Are the headlights foggy or brightly shining in your eyes? Is a man or a woman driving it? Are the tires new or worn away? Are you wearing sneakers or boots?
Did you see what we did there? We zoomed in, didn't we? We went from focusing on the hammering traffic to the smaller details, and when we did so, I'd venture that your stress levels dropped too.
This same simple method works in crowded places or overwhelming situations for people with anxiety, and it works for me too- remember, I'm not living my perfect life in Barbados.
Anxiety feeds on "too muchness" (a serious medical term), so the more you focus on the 28 cars in front of you, the more your anxiety grows. But you can turn that on its head by going to back to the basics and focusing on the simplicity of one thing instead of everything, just like we did in our exercise together.
As a general rule of thumb, I tend to oversleep, yell at myself in the shower and make promises in the mirror before breakfast even starts. After that, I can be found staring out a window thinking about the horrendous piles of work I have to do. Usually, I feel very pressured as if I have to do all of it right now or the house will burn down, and I can totally spiral downward into a nervous panic that turns into laying stone still on my bed with blankets up to my chin.
To avoid this complete insanity, I've learned to put my anxiety to good use and started talking to myself, sort of.
Make A List
So your brain tells you that you have 28 things to do immediately, and by the time you're done reading this sentence, you'll be late.
Since I've already stepped in front of traffic, since I'm already completely crazy, I mid -as-well take it all the way and have a little talk with myself.
"Oh, ya, you say I have a ton to do, and I'm already late doing it?"
"Absolutely, remember that thing you were supposed to do yesterday and didn't? Now you're late. You suck. Plus, you were supposed to call whatsits this morning, and half your day is already wasted. Don't you feel terrible? How do you even live with yourse-"
"Okay anxiety, I hear ya. So here's what I'm gonna do...." and I whip out a paper and pencil and poke it into anxiety's face. "Hit me. What do I need to do?"
I allow anxiety to raddle off everything I need to do, want to do, forgot to do, might do, and am thinking about doing. And I write it all down- and this is where the magic happens. I may realize I only have two things that are time-sensitive, that I only have ten things to do today, and that ultimately, I was freaking out about nothing.
I get the chance to use my OCD skills in list making. I have the opportunity to realize much of my anxiety was self-produced. Best of all, I get to apply all my worry to one task at a time. Anxiety never has a thing to say after we get into the details and focus on just one task at a time.
Writing a list of what I need to do helps me realize it's not as bad as it feels and it helps me accomplish more by focusing on just one item at a time. Why multitask when you can put all your energy into one project? You don't have to stretch yourself thin, did you know that? You actually don't have to do everything, shocking, I know.
Listing out your tasks, whatever they are, and checking them off as you complete them will also give you a feeling of gratification and achievement.
Personally, I recommend a highlighter. There's nothing more satisfying that swiping gold across the page when you've finished a task. I'm still working on the stress of uneven highlight marks, but that's another article. It's not about the line of the gold; it's about what it holds- at least that's my mantra.
The goal ISNT to check off everything on your list. That's impossible, and you don't have a time turner, unless you DO, in which case, can you time turn me back to 1996 when I wore a NIN t-shirt on my first date?
The real goal is to get all the worries out of your head, onto paper and a place where you can visually SEE what you have in front of you vs. what you're afraid is in front of you.
That mountain from far away could just be a molehill when you get up close. Instead of thinking about the infinite amount of things you have to do, you can be practical and work on one at a time like a sane person. Shocking, I know.
The day that list is empty should be the day you die. It's an ongoing diary of your day, of your life; a confirmation of what you've done and hope to still do- and it gets the traffic jam out of your head.
You'll be able to see the pasture on your right and jump back onto the grass and away from the 38 vehicles now zooming on, one car at a time. You'll see it's not one whole movement screaming around you- it's many small ones, all on their own routes, but most of it's just noise. Some of it you need to deal with, some you can let pass.
But you don't have to be overwhelmed by the weight of the world. The world will still be here tomorrow, and so will your list.
And that's how the deer lives.
Please leave a comment below, I'd love your feedback!
Hope is not easily defined, but impossible to embrace without faith. The more we search for meaning in what seems hopeless; we realize that our "hopelessness" is a state of mind, not a reality.
- Carol Bright
No matter how bad things get, you always have a choice. Choice is a God-given gift that you can employ at any moment of your life. We have choice because we have free will; an even greater gift.
When I'm mediating by my stream of consciousness, I have the choice of picking up my despair or allowing it to keep going. I may notice it, but I don't have to harbor that emotion.
It's easier said than done and even as I've been writing this Series on Love, I've heard my voice bounce off of the bedroom walls. "…Sure I'll go stand behind some table at the grocery store so people can walk by me and ignore me, cause that's what's gonna happen. Nobody ever buys anything from me anyway! Nobody wants what I have to offer. It's stupid."
Choice is a funny thing. When I make that sort of declaration I'm viewing the world through fear and then giving it hold over my future. You can just hear the defeat in my voice in the last two words. "It's stupid."
In this moment I have a choice to make on who I'm going to be- the woman who's afraid of everything or the woman who's afraid and does it anyway. I have the power of choice on how I'm going to respond in any given situation and so do you. You don't have control over everything that happens to you, but you have power over how you respond to it.
When you speak with low self-esteem it stems from your own fear. But, with the gift of choice, you can outsmart even the worst of what fear's got to dish out.
Hope is the answer. Hope is the result of faith, and faith the result of love. If you can love, you can have faith in the future and the hope which transcends all fear. It's fighting darkness with light and it all starts with choice.
If you choose to focus your thoughts on hope then you'll be hopeful. Seems a bit too simple right? Where ever your thoughts go, so will your actions. If I think people will laugh at me or throw tomatoes me, I'd probably end up hiding in my closet eating Nutella from the jar. But, if instead, I combat my fear with hope, I may just get enough courage to say hi to strangers and maybe, just maybe, make a sale.
"It's never worked in the past and I look awful; it'll be a disaster!"
"Everyone leaves in the end, I'll always be alone."
"No matter what I've done, it's never been good enough. What's the point?"
Some other examples:
"When I'm feeling unloved I want to go find people to share my love with."
"When I'm afraid of failure I want to remember failure's okay as long as I don't quit. "
"When I'm scared of the outcome I want to be at peace with myself."
One version speaks from fear while the other from love and we have the choice to decide. If you ask me, that's a pretty powerful gift- to decide who we will be.
Try the "When I'm ___, I want to ___." rule with your own fears to see how this equation stacks up against what fear uses. Don't let anybody talk you out of becoming who you want to be- even if it's you.
Anybody who has ever struggled to plant his feet onto the floor in the morning knows that life can be hard; it can be stressful; it can be overwhelming. But each of those negative, less than optimal feelings immediately takes a back seat to the inspirational power of hope.
- Shawn L. Anderson
Not too long ago and not too far away …
On your way to slay a demon you must travel through lands like Denial, Realization, and the Hills of Failure (which feels like you're going up, until the hill slopes and you tumble head down again).
But the most difficult trial that you'll find is in the land of Negative Self Talk. Many have tried to pass through, but most stay behind, drawn in by the self-talk radio that never stops its whine.
Great warriors with big mouths and prideful hearts tell you tales of overcoming that self-talk with your own versions of positive speak. They'll tell you to just aim your affirmations confidently at the sky.
Champions tell you to block out the repeat of "No one loves you" blaring from the speakers by covering your ears and covering your peepers.
Soldiers will tell you to fight that self-talk radio and go into battle, crying all for one, one for all, as you go.
But they are wrong.
The warriors, the champions, and soldiers are all woefully mistaken and get lost somewhere between the land of Negative Self Talk and the Hills of Failure, never making it to their final destination.
I'm neither a champion or a solider, but I've traveled to the land of Self Talk and took the advice of others who went before me. My journey led me to silence where I heard "No one cares about you" and "Nothing matters anyway."
When I fought as the warrior and aimed my positive words high ("I'm worthy of love"), the self-talk radio only blared back louder
"No. You're. Not."
When I fought as a champion and tried to blot out the sounds of my fear, I realized the radio was playing them from within. No matter how much I covered my ears or covered my eyes, the words of despair grew louder from inside.
So I fought like the solider and I shouted a battle cry. "I'M NOT A FAILURE!!!" but the words only died on my lips, without the self confidence to carry them further.
Thinking all hope was lost and that I would never slay my demons, I laid my body down and allowed the sounds of my past failures to play on repeat for far too long. The longer I laid there, the more fear in me came as love was pushed out, I watched it drain away.
How did I survive to tell you this tale of fear and love and the self-talk radio?
Well, see there's one thing that fear doesn't want you to know. There's a secret it keeps way down below, where most people won't travel, can't get to, or go.
For you see dear reader, this is your land and your home- what you've built from your heart and soul. If fear is what you've built then fear is what you'll get.
If indeed, you create a playlist of your worst fears and replay them over and over, who turned on that radio?
Who found the station of self-deprecation?
Why, it was you dear reader who chose this destination.
Because Fear counts on one thing and one thing only, that you'll think you're not in control of your own country, that you are bound to wonder the endless earth through Hills of Failure and even worse.
But Love told me the secret to cure the self-talk radio, to silence the negative words that replay in my head.
"We are builders of our worlds. We are the creators of our lands. We are the designers of what we wish to be."
Then Love smiled and looked upon me.
"You can not lie to yourself to end the self-talk, nor can you fight it. You can not free yourself by trapping yourself."
If you wish to be free of the sounds of self-hate, the answer is quite simple.
If you're trying to make it through the Land of Negative Self Talk, there is but one solution.
It's your radio.
Change the station.
Linda Lavender writes articles to help folks with Auto Immune Disease, Depression, Anxiety and other health related illnesses.