The days are lengthening, and despite the -10 degree wind chill and the 4 feet of snow piled up outside, I feel spring coming. I just know it’s there. Although I look forward to seeing the color green on the ground again, I find myself confronted by my old friend: anxiety. This is the spring during which we will finally purchase a home for our family. I have laid the financial groundwork throughout the winter and we will be meeting next week with the bank to begin the loan process, right on time for the schedule that we set last fall. We have started touring some of the houses in our area, and my husband is diligently working toward completing the broker-licensing process with the state.
So why on earth am I anxious? I asked myself that, because my rational mind knows that life is going so well for all of us and I have no reason to fear or to be unhappy.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder some years ago, and I’ve kind of dismissed what that diagnosis means because I don’t feel anxious most of the time because of exercise and medication. I ran across an infographic last night, and realized why I can’t quite shake the anxiety. It is part of who I am, like it or not. It is a reflection of my genetics and upbringing (although I do not disparage my parents in any way– they did a fantastic job!) as well as many adult years of disappointments, setbacks, and shattered dreams.
It is part of what keeps me human. It also is part of why I am a card-carrying overachiever and sometimes develop friendships that aren’t the healthiest for me. As much as I would like my logical, powerful brain to dismiss the anxieties, which are truly irrational, logic cannot defeat brain chemistry. It can only slow down the process and allow me to use other coping mechanisms — when I have the presence of mind to think around the fear, which is not always the case.
In one of the blogs that I follow, I found a story by Thích Nhât Hanh, one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, that described anxiety as a galloping horse. The story resonated with me because now, even though one of our long-held dreams is about to come to fruition, I am really frightened that something will happen to derail us. Logically, I know that everything is in motion. I have done all I must to prepare, and my husband is doing his part of the task.
So what’s the takeaway here? I think that anxiety is a product of both genetics and experience (the old nature/nurture debate) and that once the brain has enough of both pieces, the disorder manifests. Once it’s there, all a person can do is:
- Treat it like any other chronic disease and follow the directions of a medical professional (or in my case, a team of them).
- Be gentle with yourself and realize that the disorder is not something you brought on yourself. You didn’t one day wake up and say, “Hmm…I think I want an anxiety disorder.” No one wants a chronic ailment — at least no sane person I’ve ever met.
- Realize that when the anxiety attacks come (and they will), they are only temporary and will end. Your brain, specifically the amygdala, is hijacking your reason and eventually it will stop so you can become the rational person that you know you are.
- Allow yourself the space to be human and set boundaries so that you can cope with the disorder without compromising any part of your life that you value. In other words, allow yourself to take breaks when you need them, like reading a good trashy novel when everything seems too heavy to handle.
- Finally, know that you are not alone. This is a common disorder, and I think it’s partially a product of our modern world and the demands for instant gratification and communication that have become ubiquitous.
As for me and my process, I’m going to breathe, get another cup of coffee and get some exercise for the morning to establish my tried-and-true coping strategies. And focus on the good outcome — my family and I moving into our own home — that we all need.
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