The thing most people don’t realize about dealing with anxiety is that it does not always present itself as anxiety. There are many different ways this feeling arises and shows itself in the life of someone who struggles with these negative, fearful thoughts.
Here are a few ways in which my anxiety often presents itself in my life. Mind you, this is not written as a way of excusing any behaviors as “because of my anxiety,” but rather to possibly shed light on why some people who struggle with anxiety may sometimes seem like Jekyll and Hyde.
Yes, this is the one I regret the most in my life. Getting angry with people is something I work very hard to keep in check. When I was younger, I had a real issue with anger. I could be the nicest guy on the planet but then suddenly fly into a rage that seemed to be out of nowhere. It never got so bad that I ever hurt anyone or did anything really stupid (although I did hurt myself a few times trying to exercise the angry away). Mostly, I would simply find myself so angry that I would say something hurtful to someone I cared about. Now that I’ve learned to recognize this in myself, I do my best to get in front of this reaction to anxiety in two ways – by staying active and by practicing meditation. If I can’t ‘zen’ my way out of anger, I will sweat my way out.
Everyone at times can experience feeling a bit blue, but anxiety and depression share a special bond. When you find yourself worried about everything, it can make you feel very depressed about the future of things in your life. Knowing something isn’t right but not knowing what it is or how to fix it can bring even the most optimistic person down. Anxiety can feel like a dark cloud following you around 24/7. When I found myself in this state, I would often find myself watching depressing movies or listening to dark, dreary music. There was something strangely comforting about giving into the darkness. But what I’ve learned is that while facing your pain is part of overcoming it, when the pain isn’t specific, wallowing in it just makes it worse. Today, I will turn to a funny movie or upbeat music to break me out of my funk. Mindless humor is the best medicine for anxiety-induced melancholy.
Nothing gets me more frustrated than feeling anxious. It is often my go-to response when I feel fearful. This is because I feel out of control. My inability to control my fear magnifies my inability to control everything else in my life. Suddenly, every little thing seems as if it was put on this earth specifically to keep me from doing what I want to do. This is especially challenging when you have children. Kids run on their own schedules and have their own wants. Just this morning, I got up with the intention of meditating before anyone else was awake. Not two minutes into my meditation my three-year-old was awake… at 5:00 am! Needless to say, from that moment on it felt like his personal mission to keep me from doing anything productive with my morning. The only way I’ve found to manage this is to simply express how you feel and give in to the reality that you can’t control others – especially toddlers!
Yup. That odd person at a party that seems like they don’t want to be there or don’t want to hold a conversation with you. It might not be that they are rude or stuck up… but that they are anxious. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to enjoy myself at a gathering or event, only to cower in the corner and act totally antisocial. The second someone would approach me to talk, I’d find some excuse to get away. This behavior had nothing to do with the person not being interesting or my lack of desire to connect. It’s just that, at the moment they approached, I would become flooded with ‘what if’ thoughts that would become so loud, I would struggle to focus on what the person was saying. I’m sure I seemed cold or closed off, but in truth, I was simply overwhelmed with fear. And as soon as I retreated, that feeling of fear would quickly be replaced with embarrassment and frustration at my inability to just “be normal”. But the truth is, feeling uncomfortable when meeting new people for the first time IS normal. The challenge is learning to face that fear rather than running from it. Developing that skill and becoming more comfortable with that uncomfortable feeling has made all the difference in my life.
So the next time someone seems a bit off to you, remember to be patient and kind. They may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. And if you are the one fighting that battle, remember to be patient and kind to yourself.