Hey hey, girlfriend!
You are probably reading this because, like me, you experience a lot of anxiety throughout your weeks or days or moments. Sometimes over big things, sometimes over seemingly small things, but it is always present.
What if I told you that you may be doing something to maintain your anxiety? Not the people around you, not your environment, but YOU may be doing something to keep the monster alive.
The other night as I was walking my dog, I was simultaneously sifting through my mind, highlighting all of the work I had failed to complete that day. Immediately, I became anxious and felt guilty for even walking the dog in the first place. There were so many other things that needed to be done. Rushing to finish the walk, I caught a glimpse of the fireflies that danced across the sky. I thought about a time when catching the little bugs was my biggest concern. Laughter would course throughout the yard as my siblings and I would stay up late to catch them. There was nothing more to be done.
The idea came across my mind that maybe I had more in common with the firefly nowadays than I did with the carefree version of myself that used to catch them. We would put the poor bugs into tiny jars, poking small holes for them to breathe. The fireflies were stuck in an unknown place with a limited supply of oxygen and no idea of how to get out. Doesn’t it just sound all too familiar to what life can do to us?
Feeling anxious and a little trapped.
Having enough for survival, but not enough for comfort.
A whole lot of us can connect to that more easily than we can connect to an overwhelming feeling to run carelessly around the back yard.
Let’s face it, anxiety is unavoidable. No matter how many preventative measures you take there will always be something worth worrying about. Certain things in life call for a healthy amount of anxiety, such as giving a speech or singing in front of a large crowd. It would maybe cause for more concern if you didn’t have a single care in the world.
Imagine crossing the street in the middle of a green light, whistling and walking at an average pace. A little worry would serve you well in this instance.
Although anxiety can be warranted, at times it can also be crippling. Anxiety unfolds with the same variability as the people on this planet, looking different for everyone. Many times, we attempt to avoid anxiety altogether. Because of this, we avoid the things that cause our anxiety such as big social events or a certain project that needs to get done. This sounds super great, outsmarting your own anxiety… BUT by avoiding what causes you anxiety, you are actually feeding it.
The Science—knowing your anxiety
As you well know, the entrapment of anxiety does not develop overnight. It is a long process that is the result of many task demands with little reward in the end. People with anxiety typically know the places, people, or activities that will make them more anxious. If you are coping with social anxiety, you may avoid parties.
Anxiety typically reveals itself through retreat from responding, pursuing, and trying. Many of you can relate to wanting to just give up when there is too much on your plate. The thought process is that avoiding what makes you anxious will also help you avoid your anxiety. It’s a solid assumption, but scientifically unsound.
By avoiding or escaping the situation that causes you anxiety, you are unknowingly maintaining it.
Escaping an undesirable task is something that would reinforce anyone, however, when you successfully escape the task you thought would cause you anxiety, you actually increase your tendency to avoid similar future activities (aka you become a recluse and wish you weren’t). This is when anxiety becomes crippling. Soon, you have denied so many people or activities that you feel kind of like that firefly we talked about earlier. You wish to participate but find yourself on the sidelines more often than you’d like. Your habit of avoiding what makes you anxious has made you feel more alone, more anxious, and less joy.
Avoiding may be momentarily appealing, but it is no permanent fix, just a band-aid to your bigger problem.
Rather than opening and closing the same door, you can confidently walk through it.
This doesn’t mean that you need to say yes to every single thing you’ve worked so hard to avoid. Find that balance between giving yourself the space you need and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. The more you stare your anxiety in the face, the more you will begin to conquer. The further you go into the habit of secluding yourself, the harder it will be to crawl out.
You are not meant to be alone. You are meant to form relationships.
You are not meant for failure. You are meant to pursue a passion.
Next time you want to run and hide from something that makes you anxious, step into confidence and out of fear. You are bigger than your anxiety.