by Donald Kern, MFT
Thoughts on Anxiety
verweight and uncoordinated as a child, I was the last picked for sports teams. I brooded over perceived slights, my scattered thinking interfering with my mental health. Anxiety is not about reality as much as it is a reaction to it. There seems to be no logic to this mindset. My nerves, stripped of any protection, lie bare, raw and bleeding. Imagining thoughtful conversations with others, I lived in my head. Fearful I might set someone off if I were to, bravely, follow through with my anxious thoughts, I stuffed my feelings, stifled my spirit and lived with fear.
Adolescence brought new concerns and stressÖwas I liked? Behind an emerging desire for approval, I created a persona of rebel and free thinker. It could not hide insecurity. Girls became friends with, very rarely, romantic overtones. I felt at odds with ever increasing cravings for approval, affection and drive.
Itís confusing. Do I push ahead despite my self loathing? Do I ignore the niggling doubt in my gut? Is my fate sealed by an attitude which sees me as essentially flawed? I am momentarily immobilized.
The Army put a stop to all this. Now I had good reasons to be anxious. I could be sent into combat and die. I learned to live with a baseball-size knot of anxiety in my stomachÖI could function on a day to day basis but at what cost to my sense of
wellbeing? Still, it was a valuable learning experience. It built an ability to function under stress. And it was an anxiety that was appropriate. Yes, I could be sent into combat. Yes, I really could get killed. No longer a vicarious observer, I was a participant in life.
What do others make of me? When my customary good cheer gives way to doom and doubt, what are my family, friends and coworkers to think? My perspective has shifted. Can friendships long endure when faced with a wall of blank stares and obscure meaning?
Will it ever end? No one wants to be around me, I tell myself. Do I dare report my anxious state of mind? Will others understand? I am more transparent then I would like to be. As if a pebble in a shoe, my anxiety rubs into a soreness, a blister, its origin unknown, its cure equally uncertain. My anxiety would have me believe I am broken.
Slowly, my emerging creative temperament evolves. I am capable of independent ideas and follow through. Still, I donít convey any of this transformation to others. It is too scary to articulate or to trust. To hear my own voice in conversation is to drown. Mangled verbiage is the net result of my speaking. Nervous intimidation befalls my quivering voice and trembling hand.
Friends, clients and colleagues come to mind with their reports of phobic fear, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, cold and hot flashes, sweats and muscle weakness. I am not alone. Assumed dysfunction of heart, lungs, musculature and mind invade vigor and well being. Anxiety is everywhere at once or imminent in a moment. Central to it all is fear and loss of control.
There are things that work, treatments to follow. Focusing on breathing, the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation can reduce the grip of anxiousness. Snapping a rubber band put around a wrist brings us out of our mental preoccupation and into conscious awareness. Change your behavior through behavioral techniques, essentially creating a new habit over an old one. Think differently by guiding your mind to more positive thoughts which supplant the negative. Sometimes a prescription for anti-anxiety medication is helpful. You come away with a variety of tools for relief.
Despite the anxious moments, the door to my life stands before me and I am peaking through the keyhole at what the view on the other side might foretell. It is there I encounter fellow travelers, those who suffer no longer alone. We all hurt from anxiety at one time or another. Who hasnít a bruise or an anxious thought? Who hasnít, at times, been afraid? At the end of it, life lies enriched by hope.