The A-Word: 7 Ways I Combat Anxiety

“Anxiety” … the word makes me think of a millenial cliche, an excuse to take Prozac, a fidgety middle-school geek at a party with a knee bouncing.

Before realizing that I had a whole heaping pile of my own anxiety, I dismissed the “a-word” as a hacky buzz-word for people who needed to chill or toughen up (or at least mask it – after all, anxiety doesn’t win you any friends).

WELP, I was dead wrong in my dismissal. Like around 18% of the U.S. population, that anxiety that I tried to ignore grew larger as I grew older.  The more I expected to move past he stigma and grow comfortable/anxiety-free, the more it would laugh in my face, mocking me.

Exhibit A:

  • Me: I’ll take a vacation day to myself, so I can de-stress
  • Anxiety: You’ve already wasted this entire morning…there’s nothing you can do in this city that you haven’t already seen/done….what about that work email that pissed you off yesterday? How are you going to respond tomorrow???…What about all the things you should have done instead of this stuff?
  • Me: That’s an interesting thought. I should Tweet that out.
  • Anxiety: Oh, you want to overthink a couple sentences for 10 minutes only to give up on the idea? Fun! Let’s go.

When I send out a text to a friend, the incoming text “…” fills me with a deep dread that I’ll have to think of a clever, appropriate, brilliant response.  The red flag of a notification on my phone? Makes me anxious. I overthink every word of almost every email, I second-guess choices by running through every possible negative outcome, and I avoid any plan that could product an ounce of nervousness. I am absurdly over-prepared in any presentation to avoid improvisation or an awkward, unforeseen moment. Like many with anxiety, it’s easy to get stuck in an obsessive, unhealthy cycle.

Anxiety doesn’t always win, though. I’ve been able to take control of it over the years – here are some methods I’ve used to calm my anxiety and shake out of that rut. In no means am I saying these will work for everyone, but these are the things that keep me chill (well, as chill as possible 🙂 ).

7 Ways I Overcome Anxiety

  1. Imagine the worst. “What’s the worst that could happen?” Usually, the answer isn’t as terrible as you think.
  2. Get through the day. This day is small. I can be OK with the next 24 hours, even if it’s not pleasant.
  3. Write a list. Lists or sets of questions help to organize my brain and structure the battleground that is my anxious brain.
  4. Start. Sometimes I just have to begin and take one step forward. Even if it’s an extremely easy, small step. Then the rest fills in and I realize that the task isn’t as insurmountable as it once seemed.
  5. Consider Younger Allison. What would “middle/high school me” think of me today? Examining myself through a different lens puts things in perspective and (usually) forces me to see that my problems are minute.
  6. Watch a comforting movie/show. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you just need to rely on something that is guaranteed to make you feel “at home” and at ease.
  7.  Stop caring what people think. Easier said than done…but if I’m doing what’s best for a project at work, I force myself to stop caring what individuals think and stop worrying about whether I’m doing things the “right” way or how someone else would do it.

Just by writing this post, I’m slooowwlly dismantling my anxiety bit by bit. Like anything, anxiety will flare up and back down. But I’ve learned to take it more seriously these days and, in doing so, found some ways to fight back.

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On Burnout and Blogging

To say I’ve been in a rut isn’t quite a strong enough statement.

I have been ladder climbing for around 6 years after college. Trying different careers, it was a bit like putting on different masks and playing house (I’d tried my hand at playing an English teacher, tech startup writer,  Digital Marketing analyst and, most recently, a project manager). I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had “drive” toward a specific passion…it was more that my career goals were to work toward a promotion. I would feel stagnant unless I got to that next level of “mastery.”

Once I got the promotions, new jobs, etc., I felt like I was stretched beyond my capabilities–an imposter in a role I hadn’t really deserved, since I didn’t have that innate talent or proclivity for it. It was like acting in a play, and I just always needed to level up because…that’s what you do. I have the urge bred into me from small-town public school to master a subject, check it off the list, and move on to the next. I have always been a little bit of a lazy person too, I’ll go ahead and say it. I would write a paper using the minimal energy possible and at the last minute because I could get away with it. It was almost a game…how little can I do to get the “A”? Hell, even just writing this post feels like above and beyond my weekend quota for work. I have a strong fear of failure and often avoid challenges. Not flattering, but we’re going to be transparent on this blog.

Yes, I would climb at work, but the more I’d focus my energies there, the more I would collapse in a heap and not work on myself outside of work. I would become increasingly complacent on the weekends, telling myself “you just need to rest a bit, just need to make it to the next break, need to make it to a vacation and recharge your batteries.” But once I was resting, I couldn’t move. I would screech to a halt and then become bitter with the thought ANY small tasks. And my duration to the finish line became smaller and smaller. It was always “just a few more days, and it will be better.” But the “better” times never really were enough to balance the scales of the difficult work weeks. I became an obsessive Gollum with my free time, only working on anything that led me toward that sacred free time.

At that particular tipping point, the problem became that I was ONLY able to do nothing. Any task was asking too much of me. I wanted to work in a Starbucks and craved boredom. All I could see was the freedom of having no pressure, no tasks and sacred time to myself without work. I wanted the ability to choose whether to do nothing or do something.  If anyone called after-hours about work, I was furious and indignant at their nerve. My default state was mentally exhausted and, well, burned out.

 

I guess all that said (and I expended a lot¹ of precious mental energies to say it, so…yay for small victories, I guess), it’s time to admit that I want out of the rut. 

I’m setting my goal here and now, and documenting on the very-public internet to make it seem legitimate: find what I care about and spend time with it. 

I want to stop blaming burnout, draw the boundary lines with my job, and take those breaks I’ve been dreaming of. But not just to take breaks. I want to use those breaks productively to leave the couch and push myself past the status quo and out of the lazy trap I set for myself. Questions I hope to answer in my made-up quest:

  1. Do people find passions in their careers, or do you do a career as a means to fund your passions on the weekends?
  2. Does recharging your batteries need to include some sort of productivity before it becomes toxic?
  3. What can I control and how far can I detach from my job before I become a bad employee?
  4. How much accomplishment does one person need at work vs. personal life?
  5. Can a woman in 2018 find success and fulfillment in areas outside of her career and still retain her “feminist card”?
  6. Will any job include burnout like this? Have I picked jobs that are too stressful for my personality? Or is that a copout?
  7. If I disconnect from work, can I make it up and engage enough with my personal life?

 

Can she do it? Is she really an imposter or does she just need a different job? Stay tuned to find out…²

 

 


¹ “a lot” by comparison. That’s a very relative phrase. My mental energies on the weekend = 1 person’s normal mental energies in one minute.

² Or maybe not. Maybe this was just too much effort and now I’ll experience blogging burnout…