I was recently at an event at a high school and I overheard a woman talking to another about how she overcame her situational anxiety of flying. I was so happy to hear this, however, upon hearing more she went into a roll call of how she sets herself up for the flight, what she brings to help her with flying and what she does if she becomes a bit nervous during the flight.
I am so glad she is able to cope on the airplane and that she is able to now fly with less fear. However, diversions and routines are not the cure. It is really just high functioning anxiety.
You see, she is under the impression that controlling the fear is the cure. And she is doing anything possible in order for that fear to not rise and be there. The answer always for anxiety is letting go of control. Imagine it this way, a metaphor I speak with my clients often about. Imagine if you are in a tug-o-war with your fears, whatever they may be. You are on one side pulling with all your strength. Your fears are on the other side, also pulling with all of its strength. The problem is the more you pull on the rope, the stronger the fear becomes. There is no winning. You will never pull the fear to you and control it completely. And that is what this woman is attempting to do. She is luring the fear into a battle in which she believes she can outsmart it. Unfortunately, it is still there, lurking for a slight misstep, and when it happens, she will be back where she began. She will panic, scrambling, trying to find another method to subside the fears. The brain sees her attempt to control as impending danger and the job of this part of the brain to try to protect you, so it is going to do anything it can to warn you every time this situation comes up. The true win is to drop the rope. Yep. Let go, Then there is no battle. You have won. Let fear be there, taunting you. You will feel uncomfortable. And your adrenaline will rise, and you may even feel panic. That is good. Because this permission for yourself to feel is the beginning of its demise. As you allow all the feelings to rise up without the need for anything else but you accepting you, the fear will begin to rescind. Your brain will note that there is not an emergency. As you practice this again and again, the warning bells that used to go off in your head telling you there is danger, will no longer be there. It is so counter intuitive to what you think needs to be done, but it is the answer.
High functioning anxiety is very common. I have had so many clients that have come to me disappointed because they thought they had the anxiety monster under control, only to have it return with a vengeance, or to show up in another area of their life. How do you know if you have licked anxiety for good? You may have resolved your panic attacks and anxiety symptoms, but if you are still dealing with the signs below there is still deeper work to be done:
Control. Just like the woman above, a good sign that you are still struggling with anxiety is the need to be in control of the situation. To have habits and strict routines about your life or specific situations. To truly be over anxiety you don't care about what will or will not happen. If the symptoms arise you understand it is just feelings that will subside if you give them no attention.
Boundaries. Many people that believe they are over anxiety, but may still dealing with it have boundary issues. With themselves and others. They have a hard time saying no and this is because they want to please everyone and not ruffle any feathers. The belief is that by saying yes to everything you will create a cohesive environment where is there is no conflict. But in reality you are creating a no win situation as you cannot possibly do everything and eventually you will burn out and feel more anxious.
The Fix-It Mentality. This is where you believe you have to fix everything and everyone. Whenever there is a problem, you are the superwoman/man that is needed to step in and save the day. This is not just ego, but even more so, a huge indicator of anxiety. Remember, anxiety is a control issue and if you need to fix everything it means you cannot stand to witness chaos, The belief is everything and everyone needs to be fixed in your eyes, and when they are, there is calm in your world. The truth is you cannot and should not fix everyone, Not your journey. Of course we should all be kind, but it is not your burden to fix the world. That is kind of a tall order that you will definitely fail, right?
Fear of what others think of you. You worry what has been said about you and it keeps you ruminating on all "whys and whats" that you could have done differently, Or even worse, you want to control others and somehow change them to see you as likable. The truth is this, not everyone is going to like you. And some friends are going to let you down. A coach that I worked with many years back gave me great advice. He taught me the law of thirds. A third of people like you, a third do not, and the last third doesn't care. You know you are no longer dealing with anxiety when you are not trying to win the two-thirds back. It doesn't matter. Focus on the people who love you and are kind.
Sleep problems. We all deal with a bad nights sleep, or even a stretch of bad nights after a stressful event. However, if you find yourself with sleep issues often, your anxiety may be manifesting itself at night. This is because you are trying so hard at keeping the control during the day, and internalizing all the anxiety in your waking hours. The adrenaline needs to exit somehow and many times it is our sleep patterns that suffer. Once you truly accept it all as anxiety symptoms, even the insomnia, and try not to take control of them the sleep issues will subside.
Always Busy. This is a telltale sign of anxiety This person does not want to stop, They often laugh about how they are happier keeping busy and would feel guilty doing nothing. Truth is if they stopped, they would have to deal with everything; all the thoughts, the stress and the honesty of what is really going on inside. The healing begins when this person stops and allows everything to be there. And be okay with it.
Looking outside of yourself for answers. This is a big one! People who are dealing with high functioning anxiety are constantly looking for answers for what is wrong with them. They read self-help books relentlessly, go to doctors, alternative healing, take loads of tinctures, vitamins, and special secret potions. They are continuously onto the next helper, never completely satisfied with the last one. They are trying to fix what is "wrong' with them, when no doctor can find anything. Many times they get misdiagnosed or invent one themselves to create a need for help. Of course if you have something that needs to be diagnosed, get it done and get help, However, if you are constantly searching for answers to why you are not well, but there is really nothing wrong, maybe take a look at anxiety. You could feel this way because you are a perfectionist and feel if you just were perfect everything would be okay in the world. But, no one is perfect and the true fix is acceptance of yourself and love... yes...love... that is the answer you are truly looking for. It is what we all are looking for, and it has always been right inside of each of us.
So what makes me any kind of expert about all of this? No, I don't have an advanced degree in psychology Nope I am not a doctor. I am someone who suffered terribly for over a decade with crippling anxiety, post partum issues, food allergies and chemical sensitivities. And I was able to overcome it all. Completely. I know you can too. Give yourself a break. You are amazing. You got this.