Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
By: Katie McLean
Have you ever felt so busy that you’ve felt you barely had time to breathe?
There are two sides to being busy. Being busy can be great. When you’re busy, you often don’t have time to think about your problems. Busyness is known as a positive form of maladaptive behavior. This might sound like an oxymoron, but many individuals with anxiety, depression, and PTSD use activities like running or playing music to de-stress and avoid their issues.
The avoidance part is maladaptive, although you can see how these behaviours have positive aspects as well, such as living a healthy lifestyle or learning a new skill. Being busy can lead us to new experiences and take us out of our comfort zones, consequently helping us to realize the abilities we have and learning that our anxiety will not stop us.
On the other hand, busyness is a close friend with burnout. Like I said, busyness can be great, but without proper self- care, being busy can take a toll on our physical and mental health.
One week last summer I flew across the country, went to a concert, hiked almost 20km, had BBQs and dinners with friends and family, and spent 4 days at the Calgary Stampede. I was having a ton of fun, but it was one of those weeks where I just felt like I would never catch up. Each night, I worried about not being able to keep up with my friends and family the next day due to exhaustion. I thought maybe I could just say no to everything, and they would understand. But each morning I woke up, and succeeded in participating and enjoying the day ahead. Learning when to say no is extremely important- you have to do what is right for you when it is right for you. However, relearning how to say yes after you’ve gotten good at saying no can be equally as important. Avoidance of activities and triggers has the potential to lead to agoraphobia. It is important to be the boss of your anxiety and not to let your anxiety be the boss of you. Here are a few things that work for me.
When to say no: when you know you do not want to do something, or you are genuinely not feeling well enough to do it. Never feel pressured by others to do something you don’t want to do. Your life is yours, and no one else’s. You will feel incredibly empowered when you learn this two letter word that puts you in control of yourself. When you are genuinely not feeling well and need time for yourself, don’t hesitate to take the time you need to recover so you can take on the world later. When saying no, be honest with yourself and make sure it is really your desire to say no, rather than anxiety telling you to avoid something.
When to say yes: learning when to say yes may have to happen once you learn to say no. I got so good at saying no that I missed out on a lot of things I wanted to do- just because I felt a little anxious. If you want to do something, but you feel that anxiety is holding you back, do it! Again, it is important to distinguish between saying no because YOU want to, and saying no because anxiety wants you to.
That week last summer, my brother wanted me to go to a concert with him and his friends. I contemplated and debated over and over until about an hour before, I just got dressed and left the house. I was anxious to go, but it was something I knew I would be sad to miss, so I dragged myself out of the house and had a great time. I was anxious here and there during the concert, but I was happy I took the leap and challenged myself to face some of my consistent triggers (crowds and alcohol). Saying yes can also be extremely empowering.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that I can be happy and anxious at the same time. This took me years to figure out, having always framed anxiety negatively. When I realized anxiety could exist at the same time as positive emotions, I gained an acceptance of anxiety I never thought I would reach. It is okay to be anxious in moments when you are “supposed to be” happy. Anxiety, however, doesn’t need to be the dominant emotion in any given situation. When you feel anxious at an event, why is it that looking back you remember only the anxiety, and not the good feelings that likely also occurred? Instead of focusing on the negative, look back and say “I was anxious but…” and think or write about all of the positives about the experience.
Even if the only positive you can think of is that you challenged yourself, you are on your way to positively framing experiences you may have appraised negatively in the past. This will not only help you to see the positives in your life, but will also help you to say yes to the things you really don’t want to miss out on by removing the fear that anxiety will ruin the whole event. If you remove the fear, you leave room for love and joy, and who doesn’t want a whole lot more of that?
Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.