Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I am a person prone to anxiety, to worry, and to paranoia. It runs in my family - particularly in the women on my mother's side. It's something I will probably always have to work on, because I have very high expectations of myself and am very critical of myself, and since I am also naturally a fairly low-energy, low-key person, I feel a great need to consume caffeine in order to be productive and energetic, which is the worst thing an anxiety-prone person can do. Finding a drug (or something else) that would allow me to be more alert, but which doesn't cause anxiety, (and which I could use on a regular basis) is a dream of mine.

In the meantime, I was thinking today about my anxiety and what I think might be some of the best advice I have ever received related to alleviating it. For people who are anxious, one of the hardest things to do (in my experience) is to keep things simple. We tend to overthink things and dwell on the negative. Thus, the following advice was much needed and extremely helpful to me perhaps partly just for it's lack of complexity. It came from a therapist I saw in Syracuse, who is a wonderful man I have much respect for. I don't recall exactly what I was talking about with him at the time, but I do remember that I was overwhelmed by some difficult decisions I was trying to make and by incessant negative thinking. I don't recall precisely all of what he said, but mostly just that he thought it would be helpful for me to breathe more deeply, to live in the moment, and to simplify my thoughts. I do remember clearly that he said,

"All you really need to do is just be loving and take care of yourself."

For months after the appointment, that phrase became a mantra for me. I would become anxious. I would be thinking too much. The thoughts were incessant, annoying, intense, critical, worrisome, leaving me paralyzed in a prison of self-pity and loathing...

What am I doing? Where am I going? What should I do? Why aren't I more attractive/lovable/talented/intelligent/successful/etc.etc.etc.? What if x,y,z happens? What if I never accomplish m,n,o,p?

But, then I would think of it:

"Just BE LOVING and TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. That's *all* you need to do. It's ok. Everything is exactly as it should be."

And, suddenly I would relax. Suddenly, I would see the people around me as just humans, as flawed as I am -- not better or worse. I would appreciate them for all of their goodness and respect them for all of their struggles. And, I would think to myself,

"What do I really need to feel better right now?"

And then,

"How can I be more loving?"

It can be *so* helpful to simplify things. Most of the time I find it almost impossible to take life one step/one moment/one day at a time. I get overwhelmed thinking about everything at once. I get way ahead of myself in my thoughts and then make no progress at all because I can't see clearly where I am. I don't acknowledge what I am really doing with my time and energy -- the ways in which I *am* giving my heart and soul, the ways in which I *am* trying my best and doing a good job. I have a tendency to focus just on what I lack, on what I am not good at, on the ways in which I am failing. I have no concept at all of what the next step should be. I feel like I am in the midst of a tornado. It would be better to just hold on.

When I ask myself what I really need to feel better -- what I need to do to take care of myself, the answer is inevitably simple. It is often something related to my physical comfort, like adjusting how I am sitting, going for a walk, stretching, drinking tea or water, or taking a hot bath. Sometimes, I need to take care of my emotional well-being by reaching out to a friend or writing or talking through my feelings. Sometimes, I really, really just need to sing or listen to music.

And, it's only then, once I've taken care of my own needs, that I am really able to give anything of substance to another person (to people, to the world) -- to really be loving. And, perhaps this all means that love is the cure for anxiety and that anxiety indicates the absence of love. I don't know.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

- Rumi


Steph said...

Oh, I relate to this so, so, so much. I think those of us who are anxiety-prone tend to have really big problems with unresolved situations. Which sucks, because most things are unresolved. The world is one big lab of the unresolved. That's where faith and surrender have to come into it, I guess. I always fear the unexpected, forgetting how often the unexpected has been a gift in my life. I think long-term anxiety, unchecked, makes us terrible pessimists--I suppose that's why it's so closely linked with depression. One thing I've realized about pessimism is that the world gives you a pretty constant feed of evidence to keep it going--if you're at all prone to it, you don't have to work hard to be a pessimist. You have to deliberately circumvent it. Your therapist's advice about love and self-care is real wisdom.

(I hate the caffeine dilemma. Hate it. SO feel your pain.)

Andre said...

"Anxiety indicates the absence of love." Wow.

I am so thankful for this post! Please don't stop gleaning wisdom from what challenges you. What a great teacher you have been to me over the years.