I haven’t really ever looked at things in terms of my anxiety. I suspect that this is because it has always been a part of me. So much of what makes me effective in the world, and what makes me successful at things is simply an advanced form of coping. I think I’ve always coped with anxiety, and dealt with it as so much a part of my daily life that I didn’t notice it as its own thing.
Until the past few days, I never noticed that anxiety is a mood that I can address mindfully as something that is not intrinsic to who I am as a person. Perhaps it is also something I can separate myself from a bit more often?
Lately, I’ve noticed my blog posts bringing up specific things I’m anxious about as well as vague ways that I experience this tension. If my blog were a novel, anxiety would either be a theme or it would be a character trait of this “AK” protagonist person. When I asked Brett, he said that anxiety isn’t something he sees in me. He sees stress, instead. “The only way you know how to deal with something is to go through it. You don’t ever blow anything off.” I am not saying he’s wrong, but I do think I’m onto something here. Something I haven’t shined a light on for anyone, even him.
Studies show that a certain level of stress is optimal for peak performance. Stage fright is about the only thing that can make me sing in tune if a song is out of my range. I don’t think anxiety is a bad thing. I know it has probably helped more than hindered me in my life.
These past few weeks – more so the past few days – have been particularly high in anxiety, and it hasn’t been the strengthening, heightening, focusing sort. It has been crippling.
I had been tilting along that focused edge since the beginning of the year. I knew I was working at peak capacity. I also knew I had some stable foundations shoring me up. Home was secure, money was stable, my family is healthy and marriage strong, work was able to be reduced to checklists and rote to-dos for a little while to leave brainspace for other, harder things.
Then the car got stolen out of our driveway. We spent most of the month of February waiting for garages, taking MARTA, worrying about getting from place to place. We ended up buying a car. That wrenched the “secure home” feelings from my foundation. The change in finances turned my budget on its ear, so the stable money part of life also crumbled.
This week, work stopped being supportive, too. It got a lot more complicated, a lot harder. Instead of coasting along, riding the rewards of earlier successes, I’m faced with a big puzzle, a lot of demands in the immediate next few days, and my actions now will have repercussions that flow through the rest of the company and into the future. If I weren’t dealing with all of this other stuff – the stuff I needed the solid foundations for – this challenge would be invigorating and intriguing to me. Instead, it feels disastrous.
As of right now, my social support system – my friends, family and marriage – are really the only parts left of that stable foundation. Instead of bedrock, I’m relying on a single safety net.
“The only way you know how to deal with something is to go through it…”
From where I’m sitting now, something has got to give. I’m simply not capable of doing all of this. What I’m thinking, though, is that instead of letting go of one or many of these things that I’m working on… what if I just let go of anxiety?
In yoga, the concept is one of releasing tension in the muscles that aren’t being used for the pose you’re in. Doing hip stretches, many people tense their jaws and shoulders. In running, it’s letting the neck, back and shoulders go loose, not clenching your fists. It sends the energy where it needs to go, rather than diverting it to unnecessary tension.
So, I’m trying it. I’m honing my to do lists down to the next right thing. One action item. No matter how small. One doable thing. I’m not looking at the horizon. I’m looking at my feet. The horizon will be there when I have a chance, and the way is too rocky to glance up. I know my path. I know my direction.
Relax unnecessary tension. Take the next step.