The experience of worrying is just part of being human – some of us are Olympic worriers while others simply dabble for a good cause only. Often the more responsibilities and expectations we gather, the more potential there is to fear something will “go wrong”.
Our genetics and relationships can also try to dictate the level to which we experience worry, but similar to many other diseases, it can be successfully managed.
Anxiety occurs when worrying gets to a level of distress and dysfunction that we have great difficulty letting go of fear and finding joy in daily life. Self-care practices often guide us to fortify ourselves so we can better handle stress and anxious thoughts. For example, many people have found comfort in starting their day with yoga or another form of exercise that helps keep anxious thoughts in their place and releases physical tension. Others find joy and relaxation in listening to music or watching shows that take them away from their worries.
Taking breaks is essential to our mental and physical well-being…but when we try to over-escape or avoid the reality of our lives it can actually feed and worsen anxiety. Avoidant coping can take on many forms, but the consistent theme or formula is this: stressful trigger = negative thought and physical response = feeling overwhelmed = avoid activity and/or thoughts that involve the trigger. Many of us have been there. Maybe it’s the presentation or project that is coming up in a week and it is really stressful in terms of fears of failure which leads to avoidant behavior such as procrastination. Before you know it the time originally put aside to complete the work is replaced with a marathon of TV shows. Or, maybe we are petrified of flying and/or swimming and our families are expecting us to do both this summer. A hallmark of avoidant coping is when we are putting more effort and thought into how to avoid these activities then really going for it.
The key is to find balance between facing issues that are creating anxiety for us and building up the strength to confront and live through our fears. The longer we stay in a safe cocoon of avoidance, the more difficult it is to spread our wings and really live.
I had the privilege of going for a run with a wonderful person this week. Her story illustrates the power of facing ones fears instead of going into complete avoidance mode. After battling through so many barriers she reached her goal of becoming a police officer in a supervisory role only to have her character terribly slandered in a media frenzy that lasted for months. Many of her worst fears were coming true and she began experiencing symptoms of panic and claustrophobia. Her high stress level manifested in severe skin irritations and she felt like avoiding almost everyone. In response to my question of how did she cope – how did she get through this? She responded that she made a decision to keep living and keep moving forward one day at a time. She kept up her running to de-stress, she tried to spend time with supportive people, and she kept going to work. Continuing to establish as much normalcy in her life was helpful, but some folks need to take some time off work when faced with a crisis to re-build their mental and physical strength. I feel privileged to know this woman and so many clients who are dealing with problems because such courage to live life fully despite stress and anxiety is my definition of success in this world.
Please check out a great anxiety education and management resource at www.anxietybc.com and give me a call at 499-0592 to set up an appointment if you require some support and guidance in confronting and working through anxiety or other stress-related problems.