HANDLE WITH CARE | Answering Anxiety
My anxiety is a funny little thing.
On the one hand, it is not fun to be in a state of hyperthinking, hyperanalyzing, hyperprojecting a future that by laws of nature has not arrived yet.
On the other, it’s also fun to be in a state of getting flooded by ideas, insights and inspiration. When I’m anxious, everything is ON, body and brain. I get going, and doing. Not all of it is good, not all of it is graceful.
The ungraceful part: When it gets borderline bearable and fluttered feelings turn into real grown-ass fear, I desperately wish to feel at ease. You know, tap into this all too lovely feeling of trusting that life has my back, it’s all going to be okay and when the lights go on, I will wake from this strange dream, laughing, no longer feeling estranged at all.
The times I don’t feel anxious are few. Contrary to common advice, calm, serene environments are no guarantee to cure my hyper vigilance. I have had some of my most intense anxious outbursts (or better yet, “inbursts”) at post-card like white sandy beaches alongside the perfect pale-pink sunsets.
Places I feel least anxious: Airports, airplanes. Coffeeshops. Walking through cities.
Interestingly, wandering around in urban spaces with lots of busy business produces a relaxing quality when sitting in a mountain cabin, for instance, will give me cabin-fever within approximately five minutes post-arrival.
My anxiety is not (very) visible to the naked eye - I don’t get panic attacks, have no unusually high release of bodily fluids (sweat, tears), and if you don’t know me (well), you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m anything but calm.
Which is a double-edged sword: for one, this sees my inner claustrophobia peak because I cannot show you how I truly feel, and for another because you (the poor human dealing with me) have zero clue why I may all of a sudden act irrational, and in worst case (when I shut down) come off selfish, when really what I’m doing is holding onto dear life. (meaning: my nervous system is in fight or flight mode - the one responsible for survival and making you run from the imaginary tiger)
I’m not alone:
The sheer number of articles, books and research on status anxiety denotes what we know to be true, albeit (we’re) not as outspoken as we should be (or maybe not?). Anxiety is real, and the closer we move the needle to the self-proclaimed epicenters of our western bubble(s) the more we get to feel its allure. Allure and anxiety? Yes, of course - our grappling with life is in part induced by the promise of self-actualization, full-potential-realization and what have you.
We’re not anxious because of the tiger, but because we want to live up to that promise.
When I look around me, when I’m not high-speed spinning in my own head so much that it fogs my view, I notice that the person standing in line in front of me at the coffee shop, (like Bieber whom I’ve met randomly), is just as fretted as I am. I can spot the poised stance, a slightly forward leaning upper body, resembling a sprinter who is awaiting his/her ‘ready, steady - GO’.
The ‘GO’ however, never comes, and we’ll stay in this eager anticipation, or it comes and we sprint, but as we all know, life requires some sprinting, most of it is a marathon though; and sprinting over long periods is not just exhausting, but humanly impossible.
I have some un-anxious moments. They tend to occur when I’m rendered choice-less - hence the airplane; I literally cannot go or do as I please. Being left with no choice is what I hate (a word I do not use lightly), I fight with all my might for freedom of choice, and, will go at lengths to avoid making one.
Which reveals another shade of my anxiety: I do want to make the right choice, and be sure that it is right - right now,
and for the next 10 years or so,
you see the lunacy of it all?
When there is no more option,
all I can do is watch myself come undone, and
Make-peace feels like one of these yin yoga-poses where for a moment you forget about the world, and your body is your own, you feel a deep privacy, an autonomy that for once is not tinged by a feeling of aloneness (another shade of anxiety), and sort of okay with everything. It’s not a high elated happiness, but rather a feeling of (sweet) relief. I imagine how it must feel to approach life from this vantage point.
Must be really nice,
and also not normal,
for me at least.
Here’s my ludicrous idea: in a world that is as always ON as ours - wouldn’t it be super strange to be super calm? Isn’t it more human(e) if we’d accept, that a side-effect of our lighting speed changing realities, and possibilities we have created and made available to ourselves would increase an urgency, a feeling of “there is more to do/be/see”?
Because of course,
And at a point in time where uneasy thread lines emerge as soon as we look behind the curtain of our curated content: mind-boggling injustice and racism, mental and physical challenges on the rise, environmental break-downs, political meltdowns, fiscal uncertainty …. I think (and I thought a lot about this...),
Anxiety IS an appropriate response —
after all, how do you ID solid ground when everything and everyone feels like quicksand?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, yet I find the rise of anxiety-relief geared product rather questionable. Two things that are problematic, imo: labeling anxiety as a problem keeps us trapped in anxious worrying (‘there’s something wrong with me’), and secondly it suggests an out with product, when the only way out,
is in (ward).
Sound cryptic? Let me explain:
Anxiety is losing touch with center, with where we are right now. It’s too many things at once. Outward grasping feeds anxiety because it adds to an already overstimulated state of being. So the answer must not be more, but less. Remove, reduce - simplify. (No Marie Kondo please - her approach will induce instant anxiety in any non-Japanese westerner)
Anxiety is a force, and like any force - must be handled with care. Fighting it, is the opposite of that. The dog who barks really loud because he is scared is not going to be a better behaved dog if your throw stones at him.
Anxiety is an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with our (true) selves. This is the graceful part: it guides us towards coming in close (again), being ourselves vs playing ourselves. Like many so-called “weaknesses” our anxious m-o can be translated into a beneficial thing: Unboxed from marketing/media/medication, Anxiety-accepted functions as a source of creativity, a detector for inauthenticity, and in such helps (us) to ID solid ground, and solid people and, invites them in.
When we show up real, place ourselves on equal footing with another human being, in that minute, there is humanity and in that, there is unity. (sharing is caring, indeed)
What could be more anxiety relieving?
PRACTICAL IDEAS ON HANDLING ANXIETY (WITH CARE)
RELEASE | As you read (listen to) this: asks yourself - where is my body? Am I clenching my jaw/butt, tensioning my calves, my feet, my shoulders? (All spots where anxiety hides). If so, release.
REMOVE | Breathe. No news here. But instead of forcing because you’ve been told only deep breathing is good/works: breathe normally and notice that you’re breathing.
SIMPLIFY | Speak to strangers: yes, sounds counterintuitive but strangers will make you forget about your anxious thinks and pull you back into the moment (whereas friends/colleagues/partners) usually pose trigger qualities (sorry) - thanks to all the baristas, subway, Whole Foods market line strangers who saved my anxious a**countless times.
“…the origin of thinking is some perplexity, confusion, or doubt.” John Dewey “ What is thought?”