Anxiety: Fighting the Fear Enemy
As I face daily anxiety regarding the many therapy appointments I’ll need to drive my daughter to in the coming weeks, I’m reminded to feel deep appreciation for the amazing things I’ve done and seen in my life.
Count Your Blessings
If a place like Cortona, Italy exists in this world — and I have been blessed to see it, let my anxieties pale to that reality. In my wildest dreams, the farthest corners of my mind, I never thought I would visit Italy.
Life is full of surprises. Who knew I’d end up divorced after two decades of marriage, meet the man of my dreams on the dance floor, and go on a three week honeymoon to Europe!?
I’ve stood in a field of sunflowers in central Tuscany.
For five glorious mornings, we had breakfast in the rooftop lemon garden of the lovely Hotel Marina in Cinque Terre.
And I had the best dinner of my life at Ristorante Tempero in Cortona — complete with Chianti-bottle candle holders with rainbows of melting wax pouring over their edges for over a decade.
I never imagined I’d sit on a Swiss Air flight with my beloved Swiss husband while gracious hosts with enchanting accents offered small bottles of Free wine.
You’re even allowed another with the delicious European food tray if you like. There was never a doubt in my mind that I needed to compare the red with the white.
The luxuries that I experienced on my honeymoon a few years ago — a 22-day trip that still blows my mind — are a dream that barely surface reality when I gaze at the carefully strung pictures I’ve pinned to my bedroom wall.
I’m convinced that most of us who fight this constant anxiety battle will win, more often than not, with daily reminders of what’s good. And with regular gratitude for the special things in life — both big and small.
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Anxiety Triggers Come in Many Forms
Driving happens to be my primary source of anxiety in this season of life. After having overcome a 12-year freeway driving phobia several years ago, nothing could be more disappointing than having this old demon resurface with such a vengeance.
Driving anxieties are common, but there are also social anxieties, situational anxieties (like elevators or heights), health anxieties and hundreds more. You can also have one dominant type and several smaller ones to contend with.
Triggers that set off our deepest anxieties are as varied as our life experiences. They can be rooted in childhood, a smell, a trauma, a fear, or any number of seemingly unrelated incidents.
Just three years ago, I was able to drive mountain roads, busy freeways to Denver and in unfamiliar cities, as well as 1200-mile excursions across the country to visit my parents each summer.
That came to a crashing halt on a trip to Kauai (almost 3 years ago) while driving up a steep cliffside to see Waimea Canyon with my four daughters. This was our last girls’ trip together before I was to be remarried, and it was magical.
I still don’t understand what triggered my old dragon-sized fear, but it came like a thief and stole my joy and confidence in one fell swoop. My daughter had to take over the driving to get us down the canyon to sea level.
I have some good theories about what happened that day — I’m sure it’s a mixture of them. An elixir of worry, pain, and feeling inadequate. Perhaps I suddenly realized that I was finally strong enough to drive all four of my girls confidently up a canyon.
Dwelling on False Emotions
When you’ve grappled with anxiety and panic for many years, you know that a quick thought can be a trigger. Allowing the mind to begin thinking and dwelling on an old uncomfortable emotion, or the possibility that you’ve conquered it, can debilitate you in seconds.
My biggest trigger that day may have been a strong heart intuition that one of my girls was not okay — deeply not okay. That thought settled like cement somewhere in the recesses of my mind for the rest of the trip.
She died on the third day after we were home.
She’s been gone over three years now. The black hole that formed in my universe simply lends itself to fear and anxiety when I think too much. Even when I’m not conscious of it, my fight or flight center is thinking and running in the background.
If you’ve lost someone (especially a child), the anxiety can be pervasive and come out of nowhere. It likes to tell us that our other children or loved ones are not safe.
Anxiety can feed us a constant stream of lies that give us the impression that life will never be safe; we must always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.
These are false emotions that fit my counselor’s description of “catastrophic thinking”. And if you’re caught up in it, it’s awfully hard to break the cycle.
The good news is that it CAN be broken — with a lot of hard work and tools that ward off habitual negative thoughts. One great tool is talking to someone!
Talk About Your Anxiety: Don’t Keep it Hidden
If you’re a fellow anxiety warrior, you may know that it helps to talk about it. The dreaded black cloud of fear that anxiety cloaks itself in is best dealt with head on.
Keeping it to yourself, not admitting these fears to another trusted person, and not asking for support, is simply asking for more misery. You may need to practice talking about this stuff, but it can release a lot of pressure and bring your anxiety levels down significantly.
So, today I’m writing about it — and I also try to text a friend or two before my dreaded drives to ask for support and encouragement. I talk about it openly with my daughter as we head out to the freeway ramp. And she often asks how I’m doing when we go somewhere.
These things all help. It’s the small stuff — like getting a text back from your youngest who’s away at college that says:
“I am so so dang proud of you! You will conquer this! It doesn’t control you! … Don’t listen to the lies; you are capable. You are strong and capable.”
You are strong and capable — we all are. When others mirror back to you what they KNOW to be true about you, LISTEN! That is one of the best tools you can use to fight the deceptive messages that feed anxiety.
Calming Yourself From the Heart: There is Hope
I’m working my way through a small book from the HeartMath™ Institute that’s proving to be quite transformational. The focus is on listening to heart rhythms and wisdom as opposed to our minds that often run wild with imaginations and worst-case-scenarios.
These methods are somewhat new to me, and they are meant to transform stress and anxiety. They teach you to center yourself in your heart energy rather than those rapid-response thoughts and feelings that stem from current and old triggers.
I say somewhat new to me because I did attend a workshop shortly after my daughter died that was led by a certified HeartMath™ instructor. It was a great introduction to lowering stress and building resilience. Click Here to read my stress relief post.
The HeartMath™ Transforming Stress book was something I read shortly after that workshop. If you have stress that compounds your anxiety, I highly recommend adding this book to your tool chest!
As I work through the Transforming Anxiety book and practice the techniques, I’ll post my progress so you can be encouraged that there ARE effective ways to combat the anxiety demon.
It’s a process for sure — but don’t give up — even if you’ve struggled with moderate or severe anxiety difficulties for a while. There are many beneficial techniques out there to help. You simply have to find the ones that are most helpful for your situation and personality.
By sharing these anxiety issues with you, my hope is that you’ll know you aren’t alone and you’ll find valuable tools to restore peace and calm to your mind and body. Remember to stay connected to others who love and support you.
Always seek out professional help and/or counseling if you need that extra support or you’re feeling overwhelmed or tempted to harm yourself.
Let me know in the comments about any great techniques you’ve found to fight anxiety so we can help support each other!
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