Let’s talk about fear and anxiety (the leading mental health problem globally), and the toll they take on us mentally, physically and emotionally. The more we can collectively talk about mental health, the more awareness we can encourage as we help one another on our journeys to healing.
My favourite definition for anxiety comes from Psychology Today: “Anxiety is both a mental and physical state of negative expectation.” To certain degrees it can help to keep us alert, but the more we ruminate over negative thoughts responses and anticipated negative outcomes, the more plaguing it can become. Born of uncertainty, we fall into habit-loops of worry that when out of control can become an illness.
As is the case with trauma – I used to have a hard time considering that my experiences might be traumatic if they were not on a grand scale – we often struggle to recognise the causes for anxiety when they seem trivial to us. It’s not necessarily about what happens to us, but what happens within us. I recently shared on instagram and in our community WhatsApp an image detailing things we might not associate with anxiety, including:
- Feeling unable & too afraid to speak up
- Not wanting to appear stupid
- The need to overachieve and be the best at everything
- Worrying about how people interpret the things we do/say
- Resenting ourselves for not living up to other people’s standards
- Chronic self-criticism
- Always feeling judged by others
- Thinking we need to be perfect to avoid judgement
I, for one, have experienced all of these at some point – and it’s exhausting. When I was in my early 20’s I started to get panic attacks in the middle of work for which I was prescribed a medication that would essentially numb and knock me out, and I knew things had to change – though it would still take me several years to fully embark on my path to healing.
The list above is tied to people pleasing tendencies, perfectionism and low self-esteem, all of which ultimately are fear based responses to feeling like we are not enough. We become easily overwhelmed by our emotions – which many times stems from our inability to fully process what we are feeling or from having learned to invalidate and disregard our emotional experiences. We find safety in avoidance. But when we hide ourselves and deny our feelings for fear of being seen as we see ourselves, this avoidance only helps to fuel anxiety and fan the flame of self hatred.
You see, the trouble is that our fears, when regularly entertained, give rise to self fulfilling prophecies and encourage us to sabotage ourselves when progress and the possibility of “success” clash with our beliefs of our own personal worthiness. Whatever you believe and seek to find, chances are you will. In the words of Henry Ford, whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.
I’ve heard it said that love is the absence of judgement, and I’ve shared in a previous blog post that we can start to shift our judgmental ways by becoming curious instead. The more we can bring a higher level of consciousness to what we are experiencing, the more we can start to dissolve the false stories we convinced ourselves of for so long that no longer serve us. When we learn to see, we can learn to accept, and when we learn to accept, we can learn to let go.
The burden of uncertainty weighs on us all, but what makes the difference is how we get from inaction (paralyzed by our thoughts) to in-action (facing our fears). Get to know the root causes of your inaction and then challenge your overthinking mind by going for it: When in doubt, ask. When motivated, do. When inspired, begin. When unsure, come back to your why and decide. If things aren’t working, change. If you are waiting for something to be perfect, for you to know more, for the right moment, stop. And don’t mistake being busy with taking action – a flurry of activity doesn’t always mean you are doing anything beyond overwhelming yourself. We can learn to modify our process the moment we find ourselves falling into the cyclical trap of overthinking.
I know a lot of this is easier said than done, and there is no quick fix when it comes to our mental health. But there is also no greater thing for us to work on. Your quality of life matters. YOU matter. And you are not alone.