Living in a World of Anxiety

Based on my observations, so many people are beginning to notice that anxiety is common, but anxiety is not new. There are hundreds of reasons why it seems prevalent now. For one, it’s being discussed a lot more. Because it’s discussed openly, it becomes “normalized” rather than just a disorder to be quietly fixed or dealt with privately. Another reason is because of erupting global events/changes that have impacted each of us in some way and surfaced truths about uncertainty. And of course there’s the entity that is social media.

So now that it’s here, and everyone knows that it’s here, what do we do with it?!

How the public understands anxiety 

I don’t want to get into too much clinical analysis of anxiety because I want the understanding of it here to remain personal and casual. While it’s a great base for technicality, I’d rather leave it to the clinical professionals. Besides, courses in Psychological Disorders basically come with a disclaimer about the possibility of diagnosing yourself with every mental or emotional illness in the book or else fearing its onset. This post is not a replacement for clinical texts from which diagnoses can be made, therefore the intended outcome of reading it is not to adopt a diagnosis nor fear it coming. 

So we know anxiety is a feeling of fear that is uncomfortable and disruptive. It tends to be fueled by thoughts whether or not we are aware of them. It is closely related to control. I’ve seen anxiety depicted as a fixation on the future while depression is fixated on the past. Then it’s usually followed by a supposedly motivational/inspirational tip to be in the moment. I find this to be oversimplifying. 

Personally, my anxiety also included fixations on past interactions and discomfort in the present moment with hyper self-awareness. A solid chunk of the helplessness and hopelessness of my depression was because I struggled to envision the future. I think these experiences are much less linear than we give them credit. The point is, even with memes and videos of people depicting their specific anxiety scenarios we might relate to, it’s still too easy generalize. When we generalize we assume there is a one-size-fits-all solution. 

The expectation of a clear path to the solution and for the solution to work for you because it appears to work for everybody else who appear to feel the same way leaves you vulnerable when it doesn’t work. I’m not saying don’t believe any mental health tips you see. I’m saying that because we feel our experiences uniquely, we need to be open to multiple ways of sustaining our wellbeing. We have to remember anxiety is a lens that frames our reality. We’re constantly creating illusions.

Anxiety Experience

Anxiety tends to flare up with unpredictability, unknowns, and unexpected. So many people stay rooted in the comforts of their routines and what they feel they can control suppressing the fact that our existence is chaos. It’s a good thing to be able to feel contentment and stability however we can, but if we are tethered to our comforts we become too fragile and ill-equipped to handle any kind of discomfort.  

From my own experience, learning to be more flexible has decreased my anxiety tremendously. I wouldn’t say it’s the “cure,” and it involves a lot of time and self-awareness. So many other factors contributed as well. My first anxiety attack was in kindergarten waiting in line to go to gym class on Valentine’s Day. I don’t know why it happened then; nothing was out of the ordinary, and I liked gym class. It’s such a vivid memory of the onset of feelings I’d have all my life. 

Since then I felt a nearly constant sense of nervousness that would sporadically escalate with particular triggers. The anxiety was really disruptive from middle school, and I was often physically sick because my immune system couldn’t withstand the constant stress state. It also took so much energy to keep it to myself. Talking to friends about personal issues at my small school meant people would talk about you. 

The legend of the Weeping Man (or three stacked here): Rub his back and he will weep for your worries. I carried a pocket-size one of these with me throughout elementary school. 🙂

Anxiety is expressed is countless ways. Sometimes it lasts for one developmental stage of your life, or sometimes it carries on longer. It felt like a part of my identity. Over time I noticed that while some of the same feelings would be there, the experience would present differently as I developed. I began to learn how it was benefitting me. For example, in moderation it motivated me, enhanced my organization skills, and has made me deeply empathetic.    

When I talk about helping anxiety by being flexible and practicing being outside of your comfort zone, I say it after once feeling like every waking moment was uncomfortable. Technically, all that practice wasn’t settling my anxiety. Flexibility has been more beneficial for isolated anxiety attacks and generally keeping negative, alarming thoughts at bay. 

For the last few years, after trying and working with various therapeutic techniques, I began to notice that anxiety wasn’t an every day, every moment experience for me anymore. Tracing back to exactly when this shift happened, it was about midway through my shamanic practitioner training. This was also around the time when I started to let people in. Again, not a solution or cure, but somehow I began to experience life and the world differently, more fluently.  

Living with overwhelming feelings of over-stimulation and fear can feel lonely. Be sure to seek support when needed, talk to others, and celebrate the moments where focus switches to peace, gratitude, and joy. Most of Live Fluently’s posts are written about finding deeper connection because it is through introspection and connection that we can live more fluently.

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