Anxiety and the anxious mind

Anxiety is like having a swarm of butterflies trapped in your chest; it’s uncomfortable and you’re unable to focus on anything else. 

There’s varying levels of anxiety depending on the day and the circumstance, but we all have anxiety.

It’s the fight or flight response in reaction to an event, it could be an interview or a date or even leaving your house. Whatever form it takes, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and anyone who tells you they don’t have anxiety is lying, they just might not be tormented by it.

Anxious thoughts can often be confused with overthinking, but it’s not the same.

Overthinking is intentional, it’s thinking something through or thinking obsessively about something e.g. what I’m going to have for dinner. I should probably spend less time thinking about it, but yanoo, I want a good dinner.

Anxiety is being on a high-speed train that you don’t remember boarding that whizzes through different stations that you don’t like and would avoid, if you knew how.

Sometimes there’s a clear cause, or trigger – you know what it is and you can diffuse the anxiety as, well, you know where it came from.

But anxiety is also having a physical reaction to something and not knowing why. In a panic attack the panic sets in from either the situation you’re in or a build up of things that you weren’t even aware were piling up against you.

As with all mental illnesses the fact that they cannot fully be seen, means they’re harder to treat. No two cures work the same for two people. Meditation is great for some people, but irrelevant to others. 

Part of mental health is very physical side effects. 

The problem is anxiety is like a funnel; when you start to feel anxious all your thoughts enter the funnel and are warped by it’s shape, so what comes out are esssentially extremely heightened thoughts shaped by fear.

When someone experiences anxiety, the worst thing you can do is tell them not to be anxious – it doesn’t help. It’s not their fault the feel this way, read more about blame here.

Every thought is being pulled down through the funnel by itself. I mean why would anyone do what anxiety does intentionally to themselves? The answer is they wouldn’t and they don’t.

Focusing on your senses helps – what’s real and physical. Music, the sound of the leaves in the breeze, how your feet feel on the carpet, the smell of cooling coffee. It brings you back out of your anxious mind and into that moment. 

That doesn’t mean that your anxiety isn’t real, it just means that those thoughts might not be true. 

Anxiety in a lot ways is similar to creativity as you imagine plausible scenarios in your head, but they usually aren’t true.

I don’t particularly like talking about anxiety as it makes me feel anxious. Anxiety is uncomfortable to sit with and I’m very good at knowing when I’m anxious. There’s a tightness in my chest and a fizzy feeling in my stomach that makes me want to stretch down to my toes and let the blood rush to my head again (this does actually help me).

An excellent book about anxiety and depression is Dr Russ Harris’ The Confidence Gap that gives techniques on how to unhook yourself from anxious thoughts. The key is knowing that you’ve been hooked on an anxious thought and have funnelled thoughts.

It becomes easier to do overtime, it might even be that you notice your physical signs of anxiety, before the internal thoughts.

The problem I have with anxiety is that 90% of the time you gain nothing from it. 

The thoughts don’t come true, aren’t real and they’ve only hurt you. 

Anxiety isn’t kind (no mental illness is) which is also a major issue.

Anxiety makes you question what you believe about yourself and others and it begins to torment you with every bad possible outcome or happening. You feel that you aren’t good enough for yourself or for someone else and it begins to chip away at your self-belief and that translates into your actions. 

Anxiety is hard to explain and often if people don’t have anxiety then they’ll comment that your thoughts are irrational or stupid, when actually they stem from some event or conversation that has made you afraid. 

It frustrates me as being anxious feels like wasted time, as it’s dwelling on essentially nothing real. I’ve lost time to things that didn’t exist, but I’m a writer so I guess that happens a lot anyway.

“The real troubles in life are things that never crossed your worried mind.” – Baz Lurhman

I love this Baz Lurhman quote. It sums up how I feel about anxiety so well.

You can worry about so many different things, but it’s unlikely you ever see what’s coming next. For instance, who was worried seven months ago that there would be a global pandemic in 2020? I certainly wasn’t.

I don’t like being anxious; I get warmer, uncomfortable and on edge. Then I want to run or fight. 

Anxiety is useful in small doses and it’s essential for survival. But anxious thoughts on a regular basis lead to having an anxious mindset which can be debilitating in both a mental and physical way. 

For instance, I had awful anxiety in the aftermath of my Dad passing that I’d get a call to say my Mum or brother had been hurt, that we’d have to go to the hospital and that everything would change.

I was on high alert that something could go wrong at any moment, that I could lose someone else in the blink of an eye and that anxiety took a long long time to pass. 

Thankfully, I don’t really have that anymore. It comes back now and again, but it’s brief and easily resolved. But anxiety can be paralysing if you believe your anxious thoughts or if someone reinforces them to you.

I find it fascinating but also terrifying. 

Do you struggle with anxiety?

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