If physical pain is any measure of being human, anxiety is its greatest competitor. Mental anguish takes many forms: basic insecurity, deep-seeded resentments, low self-image or self-hatred, academic slowness, jealousies, shyness, physical shortcomings, etc. And that does not take into account the latest breaking news of disaster, financial pressures, racial tensions, otraffic, flying, job security and anything else that sharpens the edges of one’s uneasiness and fears.
While worry comes with the territory, anxiety is well beyond that. It can take hold, pinching a nerve in the brain, and create anguish worse than any nightmare. Anxiety attacks may come and go but anyone who has experienced them is left on guard forever against their return.
Although there are many degrees of anxiety, even the slightest attack can throw off the rhythms of a life and lock one into the basement of immobility. Anxiety’s worst face is extreme paranoia, but in this day and age one does not have to be paranoid to find reasons to feel frozen with fear. There is a cruelty in being human when one is unable to get past their worst fears and see the gift of life for what it is, finding there a thread of hope, at least, to help them through.
Platitudes and anxiety are like oil and water when dealing with the stresses cited above. Maybe there is something to be learned from the mother whose teenage daughter asked her to help make her happy. Just knowing her daughter was unhappy tore at the mother’s heart. When the mother suggested that at the end of each day they sit together and share their days’ best moments, the daughter jumped at the idea. In less than a week, both mother and daughter were visibly changed.
Anxiety is often a war one wages against a reality – a self, a life, a world – that is not what one believes it is supposed to be. Many anxious people are frustrated perfectionists. Their perceptions almost always come up short of expectations or demands. For them the best is rarely good enough and their push for perfection becomes a straight-jacket entrapping a spirit meant to be free; like too much starch in the sinews of one’s soul; like solitary confinement in what one already sees as the prison of life.
Because anxiety exists in the mind, there is no simple argument against it or antidote for it. Anti-anxiety medications can help but to date they have not been known to change the way the world is.
The beginning of dealing with anxiety is acceptance, that is, owning and embracing one’s humanness and the realities of living. Acceptance is essential to inner peace. It declares a truce, at least, to a non-winnable war. Life and the world are what they are. A healthy self learns how to manage their way through, sometimes from the anxieties themselves.
A few ways of coping, even in the worst of times, are:
First, ask for help. Put words to anxieties and fears by letting someone know what is going on – a close friend who is a good listener or, especially, a professional counselor or therapist. Getting one’s feelings out and into the open can be the beginning of taking control.
Second, keep a journal – another way of putting feelings into words, getting darkness into the light of reality and dealing with it.
And, third, look for any splinter of light that can begin to expose the best parts of anyone’s being.
It will help to remember when trying to cope that “the only way out is through.” One has to go through what one is going through to get through. But to do so, it is vital to keep moving.