1500 minutes. 1500 minutes is a pretty conservative number for how many minutes a week I spend feeling anxious. That’s an average of about 4 hours a day. Right now, I am anxious about reporting that and having you judge me. What I’m more anxious about is that I know I am underestimating the amount of time and I don’t want anyone to think I am “crazy”.
I’m anxious about:
Not being on time, driving, meeting new people, giving students the wrong advice about their classes, how I spend my time, hurting people’s feelings, going to the doctor, if I will ever really be able to work for just myself, what people think when I post in this blog, if what I’m eating will make me sick, when I will lose another immediate family member, people not believing me, not being heard, being unsure if I am using the right punctuation or grammar, having to make a decision about what we are going to do or what we are going to eat when I am with friends, if other people are happy, being in a small space with too many people, if I am being judged, most things I say, getting to the airport on time, losing my keys, forgetting things, having a messy room, taking a yoga class and not being able to do the poses right, everything about money, cooking and having it taste bad, text messaging, sending mail and being worried it won’t be received, packing for vacation, picking out produce at the grocery store, taking too much of other people’s time, not having control, trying to make this list and knowing I forgot things.
I’m not exaggerating. I know I left a number of things out. I will probably feel anxious that you will read that list and it will make you anxious. Funny thing is, I am not always even conscious of when I am anxious. Ever since I have been going to my current therapist, I have been more aware of how my body is letting me know when I am getting too anxious. Sometimes, I feel my jaw tighten. If I stop to notice, sometimes I am holding my breath. Sometimes my muscles and joints will hurt too.
The fancy word for obsessively worrying or thinking too much is called ruminating. The things I ruminate about most are the things I have said or done. If a conversation didn’t go the way I meant for it to go, I will think about it for hours, sometimes days. First, the thing I said plays in my mind over and over. Then I think about how the person might have reacted to what I said. Next, I think of how I would explain, clarify, or apologize. This cycle goes around over and over and over. Sometimes, I get stuck in the cycle and can’t be present and mindful. I am too busy thinking about what happened and what will happen in the future as a result of that. Next thing I know, I have wasted valuable time with a friend because I refused to take the time to address my anxiety and use the concepts I have to calm down and slow my mind. By the way, I am sorry if this has happened when I was with you. (I have to apologize because I’m anxious you won’t know that I am aware that this is a problem).
If I have done my job as a writer, I have just brought you to a place where you get a sense of how my anxiety impacts how I experience the world. It is uncomfortable, unreasonable, and totally irritating. (Listening to the audio might REALLY give you a sense.)
I used to think I was just stuck in this place of anxiety. I felt like I was trapped and would not be able to stop worrying. That only made it worse and made my body get to an extremely agitated state. Now I know there are things I can do. At this point, these things only work about 45% of the time. That percentage has slowly increased and will continue to do so the more I practice. The new skills I practice have only really been in my mind and body for about a year. My mind has a tendency to be more urgent and in a hurry while my body knows the work is in slowing down.
I experienced this just yesterday when I was overwhelmed with thinking about some difficulty I am having with some friendships right now. My mind was racing; I was searching for solutions, judging myself, and feeling grief. As hard as it was, I forced myself to move into a less anxious place by breathing, using a practice called tapping, and stopping the outside and inside chatter. I actually felt and saw the difference in my body. I came to a space of more peace and calm. If it was relatively easy to get there in 30 minutes, I cannot figure out why I don’t take the 30-45 minutes to do this more often to greatly decrease the 1500 minutes a week. While that is the logical thing to do, anxiety is illogical and is hard to pair with something so logical.
By giving up my old ways of thinking, I have been open to new things. I have learned that THINKING about my anxiety is completely unreasonable and does not work. My mind is already ridiculous and has no productive space for “thinking about thinking.”
I have learned more about being comfortable with discomfort. Maybe not even comfortable: at least tolerant. I have heard many people with anxiety say it is irritating when others tell them to “just breathe.” To be honest, it does feel irritating. It is a process to get to a place where that makes sense. Something one can say when encountered with another’s anxiety is simply, “I know this is difficult. I am here and will be patient. I am not judging you.” Eventually, we will be able to tell ourselves to “just breathe”.