I think back on my life and the ways in which I have experienced anxiety throughout it. As a teenager, the environment I was living in was unhealthy, unstable, and not well suited for the appropriate development and growth of a young person. I saw things I shouldn't have and couldn't make sense of, took on roles and responsibilities that were inappropriate, and soon enough, felt that layer of static that coated my essence, as if to tell me, I shouldn’t be here.
This isn't okay.
My 20s came all too soon, and with it, that familiar sense. Only this time I was in a corporate environment, spending each day what felt like locked inside of a cubicle, answering calls and emails about something I had zero interest in or motivation to do, other than my first big kid paycheck. Forty plus hours a week I felt purposeless and forty plus hours a week, I felt like that screw that never cleanly screws into the hole of a shelving unit–it’s supposed to fit, but no matter how hard you try, it does not want to go in, nor will it ever. Out of place … and defiantly so. I was once again blanketed in the static I had since identified as anxiety.
I should not be here.
This is not okay.
When I finally left to pursue my career goals and open a healing center, it was like stepping outside on a perfect, breezy day after spending 26 years in a cramped car. I could breathe. I could move fluidly without the weighted blanket of angst I had grown so familiar with. Is this how normal people feel? Free? Mobile? Airy? Light? Almost a … nothingness in the most beautiful way?
I am not saying that my anxiety went away completely because of this change in my life–the change in lifestyle and career did not stop my anxious thoughts in their tracks. I worked on those as well. But the overarching sense of doom or displacement that kept me feeling unwell all the time most certainly did. I’m an open enough person to question whether or not this was just a fluke. If perhaps it was really all the other work I had been doing on my anxious thoughts that got rid of this feeling. And I almost believed it – until I closed my healing center and took a job I thought I needed. My attention was turned away from the path that had made me feel so clear and grounded and soon after accepting the position, that blanket began to knit its way back over me.
I recall sitting in my office considering my anxious feelings and reflecting on their onset, what was going on in my life at the time, and the last time I felt this way. It was then that I had the awareness that this particular type of angst has only come into my life when I was somewhere, or doing something, that I wasn't meant to be … or at the very least, did not want to be ... Could it be possible that my anxiety was working as a messenger? That it was a pesky nudge from my inner self to say, “Hey! Pay attention to your life, please! Cuz what’s going on right now is not where we actually want to be!”
I considered this and quickly realized that admitting I wasn't actually where I wanted to be was terrifying. I realized that the angst I was feeling was a deep whirring of thought I was suppressing down below the surface of conscious hearing because it was easier to listen to the less scary, more secure and logical plans or ideas I wanted to follow. The angst was the truth trying to unearth itself within and around me.
This is something my clients and I explore together all the time–and more often than not we find that dredging up those truths releases them from that staticy hold of discomfort.
It makes sense in terms of how anxiety works for us, too. Think of anxiety using this visual:
You are wearing glasses that can detect bad guys. Typically, these glasses work great and only detect true bad guys so that you can respond accordingly. Kind of like Iron Man's glasses. When we are anxious however, these glasses tend to malfunction and, over time, everything and everyone can look like a bad guy so our desire to fight or flee is constantly getting activated. Now those glasses work on unseen threats as well–thoughts, to be specific. So, your inner self says one day, “ugh this is not what I want,” but you don't want to consciously recognize that because the truth can be too terrifying sometimes to want to face (ex: “what do you mean I don't actually want to marry my fiance?!”) Those glasses, however, detect something. An, “OH NO! WE DON'T WANT TO BE HERE? THIS ISN'T WHAT WE WANT?” And the panic sets in. Before we know it, we are cloaked in that feeling yet again. I’m not supposed to be here. This is not okay.
Let me be clear–this is not the case for every type of anxiety. Just because we have anxiety doesn't always mean it’s because we are not where we want to be. Anxiety can come from fearful thoughts, social situations, health concerns, trauma, and many other circumstances. But it is important for us to take the time, no matter the type of anxiety, to explore our lives–how we are living it, the choices we are making, and whether or not those choices are for us, for our needs, wants and desires, or if we are living out of fear, based on “supposed to’s” or for others. This exploration helps our anxiety regardless of what the root cause is and allows us to gain some insight into why we do what we do.
If you are experiencing anxiety and aren't quite sure “why,” a great first step is taking a life inventory–are you working? Are you working a job you enjoy, that you want? Are you in school pursuing something you want to be pursuing? Are you dating someone you want to be dating? Are you living somewhere you want to be living? Notice the answers you have–are they full of reasons you “should” stay? Are there hidden truths you don't want to hear, but perhaps you can still feel? Pay attention. Notice when the anxious feelings spike–is it during certain times in your life, around certain people or conversations about your life? Take note. Learn from the anxious feelings and hear what it is that they could be trying to share with you. Bring this information to your therapist or coach and talk about it. You might be surprised by what you discover and how your anxiousness can be guiding you to living a life that is aligned with your wants and your needs.
For me, getting back to my truth has been life changing. I’m once again feeling like I’m riding down a lazy river without a care in the world. The awareness and the acknowledgment of the thoughts I didn't want to hear forced me to make choices that still terrify me, but bring me immense joy, but also an incredible sense of peace. I am choosing to allow my anxious feelings to be my guide–my messenger to tip me off to a thought I might be ignoring so together we can work to shift on this journey for my greatest and highest good.
Wishing you joy and incredible peace on your journey, too.