Dear Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

We’ve been together for a while now and we’ve come to know each other well. At first I was grateful for you, holding me back from stupid decisions, holding me back from embarrassing myself, holding me back from danger.

But now you’re just holding me back.

Too often now you’re first at the scene before I’ve even realised that you need to be. And you never try to hide that you’ve arrived.

You make my heart pound against my chest, like it’s looking for a way out.

You rush the blood to my brain, to my muscles, to my limbs.

You tense my muscles and quicken my breath.

You flood me with oxygen and ready me to move, even when there’s no move for me to make.

I feel dizzy.

A sweaty, waxy film sits upon on me and dampens my skin.

My limbs shake. Adrenalin surges through me.

I feel sick.

I want to vomit.

The physical feelings engulf me.

They make me sick. Literally sick.

I can’t focus on anything else.

You are so compelling, so I search for the danger – something that fits what I’m feeling and explains the craziness inside me. Whether or not the danger is real doesn’t matter, because I can’t help but act as though it is.

Now I’m anxious about getting anxious. I anticipate you before you’re there – that sick, clammy racing feeling.

Do you ever think of what you do to me? That’s a stupid question. I know you don’t. You don’t think of anything at all. 

You’re primal. I get it. All action and no thought. You’re the siren that screams at shadows to warn me they’ll pounce. But they never do. The only thing pouncing is you.

I hate the way I feel when you’re around. You stand around me like those unsmiling, unwavering security guards, ready to stand between me and trouble. But now you stand too close.

I can feel your hot moist breath on the back of my neck and when that happens, I can’t breathe. I would do anything to avoid you and sometimes that’s exactly what I do – I avoid you, or the places I know you will be.

At first I didn’t understand you but there was something about you that was strangely comforting. I’ve been terrified, actually terrified to let you go. I don’t know what letting you go will look like, but what I do know is that having you around feels bad.

You would say you protect me – from danger, from standing out, from failing, from embarrassing myself. I know you believe this. You’ve believed it enough for both of us. It’s never occurred to me until now that you might be wrong.

I’m looking too hard for the reasons to explain you. I hear you. I feel you. But I don’t know why you’re there. So I’m starting to think that you need me, more than I need you – and because of this I would be much better off without you.

You’re an alarmist. I’ve been paying too much attention to the drama you create inside me. Now I’m going to focus on the truth and it’s this: I don’t need you. I know you think you’re looking after me – I know that – and I’m grateful for you being there when I’ve needed you. But now you’re there whether I need you or not, and that’s not good for me.

You’re too quick to jump. Too quick to see things that aren’t there. Too quick to see trouble. Too quick think I can’t deal with it. 

When I close my eyes I see you and I feel you, but when I slow my breaths you fade. 

I know you hate when I do that. All the fight or flight, all the readying, all the work you do – it slowly falls away, one breath at a time.

So that’s how I’ll start. It won’t be easy. We’ve become a partnership you and I. Predictable. Safe. Needed.

I know you don’t mean to hurt me but the truth is that you do.

Thank you for trying to take care of me. I know you want to stay, and part of me wants you to stay – just in case. But I’m better off without you. So slowly, one breath at a time, I’m letting you go.


Anxiety can be debilitating, I know, but it doesn’t have to be. For more ways to deal with anxiety that work, see here.

 

3 Comments

Dear Anxiety……It’s Over! | Doing It Afraid

[…] I just read the most awesome letter addressed to anxiety.  It was a Dear John sort of letter but it broke anxiety down in it simplest form.  I would recommend that everyone read it and see the lie behind this fear that we feel on a daily basis. We have to acknowledge the fact that it is only a feeling and there is a way out if we just turn towards the door and take one step at a time.  https://www.heysigmund.com/dear-anxiety/ […]

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Elexis

All I can do is cry. This is so touching and I thank you so much for putting this into beautiful words. I have been dealing with anxiety for 8 years now and just decided that I needed a change and that there is no real danger that I am hiding from. You put into words, so elegantly, what I am feeling and doing now. I started a blog doingitafraid.org to communicate these same feelings. Thank you so much for your lovely words! 🙂

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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️
Speaking to the courage that is coming to life inside them helps to bring it close enough for them to touch, and to imagine, and to step into, even if doesn’t feel real for them yet. It will become them soon enough but until then, we can help them see what we see - a brave, strong, flight-ready child who just might not realise it yet. ‘I know how brave you are.’ ‘I love that you make hard decisions sometimes, even when it would be easier to do the other thing.’ ‘You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to be doing this. Trust me – you are one of the bravest people I know.’
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #parentingtips #parentingadvice
So often, our children will look to us for signs of whether they are brave enough, strong enough, good enough. Let your belief in them be so big, that it spills out of you and over to them and forms the path between them and their mountain. And then, let them know that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that they believe in themselves enough to try. 

Their belief in themselves might take time to grow, and that's okay. In the meantime, let them know you believe in them enough for both of you. Try, ‘I know this feels big and I know you can do it. What is one small step you can take? I’m right here with you.’♥️
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting
Anxiety will tell our kiddos a deficiency story. It will focus them on what they can't do and turn them away from what they can. We know they are braver, stronger, and more powerful than they could ever think they are. We know that for certain because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen them so held by anxiety, and we’ve seen them move through - not every time but enough times to know that they can. Even when those steps through are small and awkward and uncertain, they are brave. Because that’s how courage works. It’s fragile and strong, uncertain and powerful. We know that that about courage and we know that about them. 

Our job as their important adults is to give them the experiences that will help them know it too. This doesn't have to happen in big leaps. Little steps are enough, as long as they are forward. 

When their anxiety has them focused on what they can't do, focus them on what they can. By doing this, we are aligning with their capacity for brave, and bringing it into the light. 

Anxiety will have them believing that there are only two options - all or nothing; to do or not to do. So let's introduce a third. Let's invite them into the grey. This is where brave, bold beautiful things are built, one tiny step at a time. So what does this look like? It looks like one tiny step at a time. The steps can be so small at first - it doesn't matter how big they are, as long as they are forward. 
If they can't stay for the whole of camp, how much can they stay for?
If they can't do the whole swimming lesson on their own, how much can they do?
If they can't sleep all night in their own bed, how long can they sleep there for?
If they can't do the exam on their own, what can they do?
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When we do this, we align with their brave, and gently help it rise, little bit, by little bit. We give them the experiences they need to know that even when they feel anxious, they can do brave, and even when they feel fragile they are powerful.

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