Do you know someone who doesn't experience anxiety? I don’t. There isn't a single person I know who is free from the effects of stress about money, love, work, and health. The list of stressors is endless; the way people manage it is also endless and very personal.
There’s a long list of ways in which I managed my anxiety over my lifetime. Lately meditation and breathing help me the most, but I still catch myself playing with a loose piece of cuticle to the point at which it hurts. It’s a small action that almost quiets the million thoughts racing around in my brain and enables me to concentrate on the conversation I’m in. Sometimes I sit on my hands when I realize I’ve been picking. That helps also.
What is your physical manifestation of anxiety? I have a friend who looks up and away each time she answers me; it's a subtle motion. Another friend wipes his palms against his knees and makes sure that he does it equally - twice on the right side and twice on the left side. Another friend bites her nails. Another friend picks his eyebrows. Another friend blows out air away from anyone. And many friends take medication. I could keep listing the many forms managing anxiety takes, but I write this post to make a point. Who cares? Are you good to people around you? Do you work hard to meet or even exceed expectations in your job? Are you kind to yourself? Ok then. You're successful in your life.
Anxiety has become a cool and trendy topic if you're a famous person like Larry David; you can have anxiety and laugh at yourself. But if you're a regular person, it’s stigmatized in an unhealthy way. There was a post going around on LinkedIn about a woman who openly wrote to her boss that she was taking a mental health day. Her boss applauded her honesty and publicly lauded her courage to be out and proudly taking a day of mental rest. The comments to this LinkedIn post ranged from cheers to disgust. From recommendations to promote this brave person to threats to fire this weak woman. It was a mini-view into our country that plays out on Facebook all day long.
The fact is, none of us is without anxiety of some kind. Imagine a continuum where the tiniest anxiety is on the left and the most debilitating anxiety is on the right. Most of us fall towards the left. But we all have some. On the left could be the fact that you need to climb into bed from the right side to the left the same way each night. My friend does this and he must or he’s out of sorts. How is this any different than the Rosary, crossing ourselves, bowing to Mecca, or singing a Shabbat prayer? In my mind, they're all different ways of managing our anxiety about the fact that we have no control over anything. The only thing we can control is how we react to that which is out of our control.
In my 30 years of managing and coaching business people, I’ve come across a whole lot of self-hate for having anxiety. I’ve led individual meditation sessions to help clients breathe through fear and anxiety about their job. Invariably, the client will apologize for requesting help with their anxiety, as if they were the only one to feel their heart racing, their skin flushing, their breathing short and quick. Each time I say that it’s more common than they know; that the vast majority of my clients experience anxiety about work.
So why am I writing this post? To say you are not alone. You are so far from alone that it's over crowded where you are. There’s no room to sit with how crowded this space is. It’s subway in Japan with the pushers squeezing more people on the anxiety train. Look around you. Count how many people are breathing. That’s how many people have anxiety.
Now find people who model calm. You may think of these as people without anxiety, but that’s so completely unlikely that I’m going to guess they have a different secret. I propose that they like themselves; they accept anxiety as it comes and they don't beat themselves up about it. They know that it’s as common as breathing and therefore not worthy of much attention other than to manage it. Self-hate, that inner monologue about how [broken/neurotic/damaged/fill-in-your-word] you are for having anxiety, is exhausting and distracts us from enjoying our wondrous, miraculous, anxiety filled lives.
If you pray to surrender to the higher power to help you manage your anxiety, fabulous. If you go dancing, party on. If you nibble your nails, well, maybe try something that won't hurt. Sometimes I choose dark chocolate with sea salt. The bottom line is to choose what helps you, recognize it, own it, and love yourself as you are.
Image: Dick Thomas Johnson