Anxiety does not need to rule your life
For some, generalised anxiety seems like a never-ending struggle. For others, phobias that have developed from anxiety, cause limitations to their lives. We should never underestimate the emotional pain that this causes for those enduring these issues. Nor should we forget the fact that with it, anxiety brings insecurities and self-doubt.
Once, one of my clients told me that her agoraphobia (feeling anxious about being in situations that would be difficult to escape from), makes her one of the 'best risk managers' that any organisation can have. There is real truth to that since her anxiety is always trying to 'calculate' the risk to her if she leaves the house. This means that she can see risk much quicker and easier than others, and whilst this has caused her difficulties in her life, she has also built up a set of skills that would be very valuable for organisations looking to reduce their risks - whether reputational or in markets.
There are drawbacks and benefits to anything in life. Anxiety is no different. Those who live with it, see it as an amorphous issue or crisis which feels like they are all-encompassing. These reactions build up an internalised fear of fear itself and one of the ways of taking away the fear is to undertake a self-reflective exercise on the drawbacks and the tangential benefits of anxiety. Looking at how anxiety affects you and what it means to you, is important in taking away the fear and stigma that some people build over time towards 'having anxiety'.
'Being anxious' is a state of mind and body that kept our ancestors alive when there were historical risks at every corner. One can imagine our historical ancestors walking on the savannah in East Africa, diligently watching out for animals and prey that would see them as their next meal. Today, generalised anxiety is viewed through the prism of having no benefits, yet it is an over-active self-defence mechanism that is hard-wired in us, at least in varying degrees.
The key to managing anxiety is to look at it through the lens of self-regulation and containment. Ensuring that emotions are regulated through physical activities, friend networks, support from partners or lovers, or even through hobbies, is the start of the self-regulation process. It is about doing things that make you feel valued, purposeful, connected and part of a wider network. Being 'connected' to other people acts as a natural anxiolytic for many people and once again this harks back to a distant past where connecting, befriending others or being part of a wider family of people provides greater protection against harm.
Allied to self-regulation, containment, and the dissembling of core thoughts through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) not only gives an individual a sense that they are 'more in control' of their life circumstances, but it also helps them to recognise thoughts, beliefs, and actions associated with them. This work goes hand in hand and together, they can develop real long-term positive changes in those who suffer from generalised anxiety, panic attacks, and social phobias.
It is also important to stress that having generalised anxiety does not make someone 'weak'. In fact, some of the most resilient people I have known, have been those who have a history of anxiety that has affected their lives for many years. Their ability to get up and look towards a brighter day, allied with their hopes for a better future far outweighs the resilience of many who don't suffer from such issues. They remain for me, an inspiration to work with and know.
Having anxiety need not be a sentence for a life of hardship. It can be a journey of self-discovery, knowing your body, being compassionate to yourself about any limitations, and celebrating those days when achievements come in the form of small steps. For in those small steps, come the greatest of achievements.