To the person who is feeling overcome with anxiety: I understand you.
A few days back, a close friend of mine was expressing her uneasiness about her job. She does not excel in mathematics, yet her position is primarily based on managing books and crunching numbers. It was an occupation cities away that she had selected in order to escape a miserable career in New York City’s fashion scene — a fancy midtown office with all the outward appearance of glamor, permeated with gaping holes of inefficiency and overrun with tension, chiefly stemming from an aggressive and disorganized design team.
Her plan was to move forward into a position more suited to her skills, but compounded with some personal stresses, her responsibilities got the better of her.
She recently asked me if I thought she should proceed with her approaching interview within the company, or resign altogether. She was fearful of leaving her current position with a bad reputation.
“Don’t ever give up. I would just interview for the position and say, ‘Look, math is not my strong point, and I knew that coming in. I was up for the challenge, but I fell short a few times. My aspirations truly lie in (insert position here), and I know I can prove myself to you if you give me a shot,’” I suggested.
I will not know for a couple of weeks if the advice I dispensed is effective, but I never like to discourage my friends — especially when I know they are capable people.
In any case, she was describing to me her paralyzing anxiety; ironically, I felt a bit of it myself after giving her that counsel. Not to use the word ‘paralyzing’ lightly, but she and I have a mutual comprehension of the difficulties anxiety can generate mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
For instance, when I have completed a daunting task and the effects are out of my control, I will often feel a build-up of pressure in my chest. At times, it has felt as though somebody was sitting right atop my sternum. On these occasions, my breathing becomes choppy and I begin coughing to catch my breath. I often have to sink into my bed and hold my blankets or sheets or even just my hands up over my mouth to regulate my air intake.
I have noticed this mostly occurs prior to some sort of major change or significant event. If I have had papers due, or were days away from a trip abroad, or even anticipating particular social outings I have experienced anxiety. It is a common condition, but I find that most sufferers have no conception of how to address it.
Certainly, we can take medication. I’ve had my share of alprazolam, but I was always aware that it would never resolve the issues at hand. It is a quick fix — a bandage on a wound that will inevitably reopen, revealing perhaps a deeper gash in more urgent need of aid than before.
I’ve encountered too many people who are reliant on substances to dissolve their problems or dependent on the winds of change to fix them. I believe in taking matters into my own hands — in exerting as much control as possible over my destiny.
For those who feel they cannot escape their anxiety, I can offer a few suggestions.
In any anxiety-invoking circumstance, one can always change his or her situation. A person can move away from the people, places, or things causing the feeling. I have witnessed a couple of people successful in their relocations. Of course, not all people have the means or inclination to remove or relocate themselves. For those who do, this will eliminate the problem, at least temporarily; however, this does not resolve the thinking that causes the anxiety.
In my experience, and I cannot speak for everyone, the most effective method of eradicating anxiety completely is to alter focus. Focus on things that calm — even something as simple as the branches of a tree moving in the wind. Step outside, take some deep breaths (covering the mouth, if necessary), and reflect on what brings happiness and serenity. Consider the impending duties in a methodical manner, focusing on the desired goal. Upon returning to the charges at hand, I find that I feel refreshed. Another method I am more recently finding helps my tension is taking command of my situation. Projecting energy in the direction I desire keeps me from sitting back and allowing another person to make the next move. Waiting to hear back from a job? Keep writing them. Apply for other jobs. Continue moving. Staying active gives us additional options and puts the odds of positivity in our favor. However, careless or thoughtless decisions may counteract our conscientiousness. We need to put heart in all we do, but we must keep doing to achieve results. Eventually, as habits form, the anxiety will not catch up with the output.
In summary, removing negativity or oneself from it, focusing on tranquility, and casting positive energy out into the world are the three most cognitive and behavioral recommendations I’ve got. Over time, these become ritual — including the first, because it involves learning to take a stand — and it makes all the difference.
A friend of mine once told me he does not like the word ‘overwhelmed.’ He said it implies helplessness, and we are stronger than that. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember only you can control you, and you have the right to a peaceful existence.