I have periods in my life, stretches of time, where things feel more chaotic and disorganized than usual. Where I am right on the edge of “overwhelmed”. I think of a few specific times where it felt like I couldn’t keep up or pay enough attention to the different balls I was trying to keep in the air. After a recent stretch of that time, I finally pulled the trigger and went to a doctor to get some guidance. I had a suspicion but I wanted to leave it to the professionals.
“Anxiety issues, stemming from perfectionism”
It fit. It really did. I just didn’t buy it. I didn’t feel stressed out. I didn’t feel anxious. It simply felt like I wasn’t keeping up with stuff.
But the longer I wore it, the more I saw the truth of it.
Turns out the reason I couldn’t keep up or pay attention to everything in my life wasn’t because I had too little attention. It was because I have too many “voices” (self expectations, others’ expectations, ‘what ifs’, etc) telling me what to do. So now I’m on a journey to start “quieting” those voices.
First of all, let me be clear that the doctor didn’t say ‘anxiety disorder’ or severe anxiety. I know people who have much more severe issues than I do, and I don’t want to ‘water down’ their situation by letting you think that all anxiety is the same. Mine is stemming from poorly managed coping skills, and not a physiological issue or traumatic experience. I recognize that what I’m talking about is much more common and easy to manage than some people’s experiences with anxiety.
Name it – One of the reasons why ‘Jaws’ is such a terrifying movie is because you don’t see the shark for a majority of the movie. That absence of an image made your brain fill in the gaps, and we did it with the most terrifying version of a shark we could imagine.
There is something powerful about knowing what you’re dealing with. Once I left the doctors office, I felt an odd shift emotionally. I could feel a general weight get lifted off my chest. I didn’t have “it” under control, but I knew what “it” was, which made it manageable.
For me, I needed to identify where the stress was coming from. In my case, a majority of it was coming from things that are good for me (getting married, professional growth/development, etc). But I still needed to accept the fact that with each thing, I felt the expectations rise in my life.
Each of us is going to deal with stress, fear, and worry in our lives. Ignoring that isn’t going to make it any easier. You’ve got to own the issue/concern for what it really is and not what you want it to be.
Turn down the noise – Recently at a conference, I experienced a great example of stress and being overwhelmed. The speaker explained the average stress and strain of life by listing different things that make us feel overwhelmed, while playing some ‘white noise’. With each category (family, work, etc.) the white noise got louder and louder, until you could barely hear him. It was distracting, but we were getting used to it.
Stress and anxiety are a lot like white noise. As things happen, the volume rises. And if you’re not careful to turn down the volume (destress/relax from time to time), you’ll eventually begin to believe that “volume” is the way life is now. You’ll let you’re general level of stress raise, and make it easier and easier to feel overwhelmed.
Once I heard ‘anxiety’, I made some immediate changes to my daily life. I cut back on the caffeine I consume each day and began running regularly (4-5/week), both things I knew would help burn off excess energy causing me to worry.
Whatever the issue you may be facing, you need to be willing to make some changes in order to face them. Some of you may need medication to balance out long enough to learn healthy coping skills. Some of you may not. There are a number of factors that play into your situation. Whatever the case may be, you need to turn down the noise in your life.
Accept help – With all of the information that’s out there, it’s tempting to feel like you can manage this on your own. Just Google ‘tips for dealing with stress’ and boom, you’re good. And to be honest, there are a lot of good tips you can find online. But none of them will resolve the issue by themselves. Odds are you didn’t get stressed out by yourself – work, family, friends, and other things all played a role. You didn’t do this all to yourself, and so you shouldn’t expect to resolve it yourself. Get some help for it.
Maybe that means telling a small group of friends. Maybe it means talking to a therapist. Maybe it means medication and all of those things.
You can try to figure it out on your own. But there are experts for a reason.
Life happens. It’s messy and complicated. We all get stressed out from time to time. It’s important to learn how you handle it.
I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.