Guest Post By: Sarah Fader
Anxiety is something I’ve lived with for some time. We’ve known each other since I was teenager. I do not wish chronic anxiety upon my worst nemesis. It’s the most overwhelming terrifying thing to deal with. It makes you second-guess yourself, it forces you to think two, three, four times about what you did wrong. Maybe you did absolutely nothing wrong, but anxiety doesn’t care one bit about that. It wants me to think I did something terrible and the person I did it to will be extremely angry with me.
I don’t want to see myself as a “bad person.” When I have those thoughts, I make sure to stop and reality-test them. I am a kind person, a compassionate human being who wants the best for the loved ones in my life. Yes, sometimes other people’s actions do hurt me, but I have learned to express myself when I feel hurt by another person’s actions. I don’t want to feel like I am a fundamentally “bad person.” So I do my best to put my inner critic in a box in the closet and leave it there. Despite my efforts to control and contain my inner critic, it sneaks out and makes itself known. I’m not defeated though, fighting my inner critic will most likely be a life long challenge, and one that I am up to.
Anxiety is a loud thing. It doesn’t want to listen to anybody, especially a rational human being. Anxiety believes there is consistent danger and it wants to distract you from speaking about what’s actually important and pertinent. For example, I might have a thought that is beautiful and relevant to my life. Yet, anxiety decides that that thought is not important, and I should be paranoid about the stranger who gave me a funny look on the train. In reality, the stranger who gave me a funny look on the train may have may have nothing to do with me. Maybe their face contorts in a funny way for a different reason. Perhaps they have an uncontrollable tic, a neurological disorder. Maybe this person smelled something funny or perhaps she was giving the stink eye to another passenger.
But it doesn’t matter. Anxiety needs to take a seat so that I focus on what I’m feeling underneath these pervasive anxious thoughts. Anxiety is the ultimate distractor from what we are actually thinking and feeling. It’s like a mental cloak that wants to stifle you from having legitimate pertinent feelings that are applicable to your life. The best thing to do when you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety’s grasp is to practice mindfulness. Take a deep breath and look around the room. Name five things that see or smell. Once you do this grounding exercise, you are better able to uncover what’s actually bothering you, rather than what anxiety is attempting to distract you with.
Don’t let anxiety win
Anxiety wants you to pay attention to it like a toddler who is throwing a massive tantrum. What would you do as a parent if you toddler was having a melt down? You would ignore them, and that’s what we need to do when anxiety peaks it’s annoying head out of the sand.
Whatever anxiety throws at you, remember that you are better than that. You have the tools to tell anxiety to wait in the waiting room of your life and have a seat.
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The NY Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.