Don’t worry. I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve been told this line. And, I agree, sometimes I really, really should not get worried, but there’s more to it than just that.
Actually, the right answer for How are you? should be, in my case, Anxious. Because I’m anxious a lot, and this got me into a lot of things. You see, the world we live in makes anxiety seem normal, but it’s not. It’s a trap. Anxiety is not a normal response, and if it is, then you’re living in the wrong environment.
Because, if we’re honest with ourselves, anxiety is rooted in fear. We’re scared of things, and we’re mostly scared of things we can’t control. Anxiety is the fear that something bad could happen. We don’t know why, we don’t know when. We only know that it is possible. That it is around the corner.
If I’d have to use a metaphor, I’d say that anxiety is that petty chick who comes at the party only to ruin it. Anxiety is, as much as we hate it, a thief. It steals our ability of enjoying the good we are living now, making us think that we are going to pay for that joy later, when the bad will strike.
While trying to get in a better mental state, recovering after emotional traumas, I’ve got to acknowledge all the things that I was doing and that were signs of my anxiety. People talk about being anxious around us all the time. Many times we have anxiety issues ourselves. But how many of us have the knowledge of the anxiety inducing behaviors as being such? Here’s a little bit about the behaviors which are signaling anxiety issues, that I thought would be helpful to share with you.
- Criticizing my every movement
Anxiety does not come alone. It comes with her best friend, overthinking. And they have learned to play nice with perfectionism, so here’s the big triad.. As an anxious person, one tends to be overly critical with themselves. And this is how the joy and good mood are stolen away from you. By overthinking and criticizing yourself constantly, for the smallest thing, throwing shade at your own progress.
- Thinking that I have to be perfect to avoid judgement
Remember that wild, wild mix of anxiety, perfectionism and overthinking? That’s also responsible for another self-sabotaging belief: that you have to be perfect, so that others won’t judge you. Here comes the thing: you don’t owe anything to anyone. The imperative of perfection is one of the most common signs of anxiety, but this doesn’t mean that you have to fall for it. Keep in mind that perfection is nothing but a lie, and enjoy every little thing that makes you smile.
- Resenting myself for not living up to everyone’s standards
The whole thing about anxiety is that it often makes you feel like your best is never good enough, that the ones you care about feel like you’re not that great. Which might lead to the belief that, in order to be loved, you have to meet the standards of all those people you love. This is not only harmful, as it brings a huge amount of pressure, but is definitely unrealistic. Most of the time, those people can’t fully live up to their standards themselves, and trying to meet them is nothing but a vicious circle. Conditioned love is not love, and the only standards you should make reality are your own. Regardless of what anxiety tries to tell you.
- Believing that everyone is judging me
Well, this is a bit more complex, as it involves the belief that something is bad. And, even if sometimes it really is, most of the times, it is not. People judge people all the time, and this happens for many reasons. Just think about it. A compliment is as much of a judgement as an insult is. The good part is, however, that other people’s judgement is not a mirror of your personality and worth. You can be as much of the person that you feel like as you want, people will judge you either way. Regardless of how much you’d like to have the certainty that you make a good impression, this has nothing to do with your real self. But it is not an excuse for not being a decent human being either.
- Worrying about my word choice I used while interacting with people
This tends to happen, from my experience, because we’re struggling with making good impressions. We want to have a good image, not offend anyone, and often enough this makes it harder to freely express ourselves. We tend to pay some extra attention to the way we say things, so that what we say would, ideally, bother no one. The truth is that there is no such thing. No matter how carefully we will choose our words, there will always be that someone who’s going to be bothered about what we say and how we do it.
- Thinking that everyone could see inside my head
This is a common idea, that people can read our minds. Or, anyways, at least our emotions. I’ve had to face this countless times, the thought that people will read my mind through my tone of voice, my facial expressions or my choice of words. This brought, of course, some added pressure and some added social anxiety, as I’ve always hated being misunderstood or, even worse, exposed. The news is, however, that a few people, even those who know us really well, will be able to do this. Actually, it happened to me that some things that in my mind were already really, really obvious, to be unknown by those people I thought saw them clearly. This remains one of the main reasons why I encourage people to be honest, as no one could read minds.
- Feeling unable to or too afraid to speak up
Oh, well. This is a huge part of the typically anxious discourse, also known as If everyone will like me, then I will have nothing to fear. There were times in my life when only the thought of speaking up my mind made me want to hide under a rock. Growing up, I discovered two things: that this is called social anxiety, and that the world won’t fall apart if I say what I think.
- Fearing that I could come off as stupid
And that’s another “pretty” side of being anxious. The one where you doubt yourself so much, that you keep digging for new things. News, books, movies, you’re in a continuous rush to be up to date on the hottest topics, so you can entertain a smart conversation. Stop. No, seriously. Stop wasting time and energy documenting on subjects you don’t care about, just because anyone else seems to. You’re not stupid, you just have different interests, and that is perfectly fine.
- Feeling that I have to overachieve, be the best at everything and know everything to be considered intelligent
This brings, by far, the biggest amount of anxiety. The constant pressure of the thought that, in order to be seen in a good way by others, you have to have everything together, all the time. Career, education, relationship, friendships, hobbies, everything. Otherwise you’ll be dismissed, as not being good enough for the people you love. Pause for five seconds, acknowledge that no one has it all together, all the time. Some areas of our lives make slower progress than the others, but that is progress as well. Take things one day at a time, and tell that inner voice to shut up. You’re only human, after all, just like everyone else.
- Nail biting and skin-picking
Sometimes, our anxiety becomes visible for others around us via some physical signs. These are the most common and, for some people, the most annoying. I am guilty of doing them myself, and even if I haven’t tried it yet, I know that there is nail polish specially made for getting rid of these habits.
- Avoiding eye-contact
Having social anxiety will make eye-contact appear as a risky move, especially when it comes to meeting new people. And I can totally understand. It must be terrifying to look into someone’s eyes and think about all the ways that they could be judging you, or about every single scenario that could work out wrong. It happened to me as well, countless times, and even if keeping up with making eye-contact helped me be more comfortable with it, there are still days when I’d look anywhere else.
These are the main ways in which we are robbed of the joy and goodness of the moment. By falling for all the fears and the what could go wrong scenarios. But living with anxiety means that I have also found some tricks to decrease its impact on me. Here are a few of them.
- Avoid the news channels
I have to admit, giving up on watching TV News was one of the greatest decisions I have made recently. It didn’t only save me time, but it also made me less anxious. This happens because news are usually presented in a manner that makes the world appear as a more frightening place than it really is, fueling one’s anxious scenarios.
- Do things manually
Even if we talk about writing, painting, drawing, cooking or any other craft, use your hands. You could just be painting your nails in a bright shade, and it’s already enough! When I feel anxious, my go-to move is, usually, cleaning up the kitchen, but whatever you feel it’d be helpful works. Just use your hands, so your brain won’t be distracted and the anxious thoughts will, eventually, vanish away.
Yes, yes, that simple. Breathe. Inhale, count to 10, exhale. Repeat this as many times as you need. Everything’s going to be ok. You’re safe.
- Have a routine
Anxiety is all about the lack of certitudes, so work on minimizing that as much as you can. Eat at the same hours, wake up and fall asleep at the same hours, keep a diary to help you have a better view on your days.
- Spend more time with yourself
Question yourself and your anxiety. Learn about what triggers it, why is it manifesting the ways it does, discover your own ways of making it have a minimal impact on your life.
- Be socially selective
And by that I mean Cut people off. Do you know those people that are always worried about anything and everything? Exactly. Your life is way better without them constantly around you. Cut them off, or at least talk to them as rarely as possible.
This is the summary of my journey across the Anxious Land, a journey far from its ending. What I’ve learned about it, and about any other mental condition, is that it doesn’t heal. Yes, it will disappear for a while. Yes, it will get better. But it won’t last forever. There will also be periods when it will return and when you’ll feel weak. It’s ok, we’re all humans. Seek help if you feel like it is needed, but never forget that you are worth more than your anxiety tells you, and that there’s a difference, a huge one, between fear, the real, legitimate fear, and anxiety. And the difference is that fear comes as a message of warning, while anxiety comes as a thief, trying to steal your smile. Don’t let it, you’re better than that.