I came across this quote one day, and I have to admit, it gave me a good laugh.
“These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.”
– Najwa Zebian
I could think of many times when I had done just that. Experiences I had carried with me and never let go. I played with the metaphor in my mind a little longer. It made me wonder, “What burdens do I carry that I do not need to? How does carrying the weight of it affect me? How nice it would feel to stop carrying those things, and to climb over them instead? To feel stronger and lighter?”
Clinical anxiety is very much like carrying a mountain everywhere you go. The weight of it, the burden of always feeling overwhelmed, scared, panicked, ashamed, insecure, makes everything in life 20 times harder! It is not like worry or general anxiety. If you struggle with clinical anxiety, you know how difficult it can be to put aside your overwhelming thoughts. You know how hard it can be to go to events or places you find stressful. You know how hard it is to move on. You know how hard it is to stop carrying your mountain.
Today, let’s take a step towards climbing that mountain. Or at least lacing your hiking boots.
If you have anxiety, first, know you are not alone. Sometimes statistics can be comforting, and I hope that for you, this is one of those times. Anxiety is something that can affect anyone at any age. According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) anxiety rates are around 22% whether you are in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s! That’s about 1 in 5 people! Those over 60 are diagnosed at a 9% rate, and according to the CDC, children 3-17 are diagnosed at a rate of 7%. This is a huge percent of the population struggling with clinical anxiety during their lifetime!
The good news? Since it is so prevalent, there are SO MANY resources out there for people with clinical anxiety. I hope you take the time to try out different resources to find the support that works best for you.
Here are some simple things you can start doing on your own:
Lower that stress! Chronic stress is a predictor of mental health concerns.
Find ways to relax and focus on the present. Think deep breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness exercises, going on walks, gratitude lists, journaling, art, and more.
Get regular sleep! When I worked with college age students with test anxiety roughly 80% of them had no sleep schedule, and often got 4 hours of sleep or less a night. Getting a regular sleep schedule with a full night’s rest does wonders.
Eat healthily! If you take care of your body, your body will take care of your mind.
Start tracking your thoughts.
Track My Thoughts?
Ever think about vacation while in your office, and you automatically began to feel hopeful and excited? If you automatically think something, you have an automatic emotion tied to it. If you think about a failing a future test, you might feel ashamed. People who experience clinical anxiety may have developed anxiety as a result of automatic negative thoughts popping up in their mind, all day, everyday. It can be exhausting and overwhelming!
To start climbing the mountain of anxiety, you will need a map. That map is to understand your negative thoughts. This kind of approach is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
To start making change, this week make a list of times when you feel anxious, and then write the thought that proceeded it. You will begin to understand your personal patterns of anxiety.
For example, let us look into the thought process of Shannon, who wants to be a runner again, but never starts. She does not understand why, so we slow her thoughts down. Let’s take a look at what she is thinking:
Shannon sees the running shoes and thinks she might like to take up running again. An automatic negative thought pops in her head. “I will never be as good a runner as my sister.” She then automatically feels a pit in her stomach, shame and anxiety, and walks away from her running shoes. It all happened so fast, she did not even know she had that thought.
Her negative automatic thought led to an automatic feeling of shame, followed by an automatic action of walking away.
Each negative thoughts falls into a different category. Here are just a couple of examples of common types of automatic thoughts you might be experiencing as explained by Dr. Burns in his classic book, Feeling Good:
Should Statements: This means that you hold yourself up to a high standard. You say things like, “I should be able to drive stick shift after all these months of practicing,” or “I should be a perfect mom.”
Fortune Telling: This means that you predict the future and the outcome, which then informs your decision in the present. For example, “I know that if I try to help John with his math homework I won’t know how to do it. I will look like an idiot.”
Labeling: “I am a bad person” or “I am lazy” are labeling. This thinking does not allow you to see yourself any other way.
Logging your anxious moments and the associated thoughts will take practice, but it will pay off. Once you have established a pattern, you will understand your anxiety much better, and can begin challenging them. Ask yourself, “Is this thought true? What evidence, not opinions, are there for or against this thought?” Make a new statement that is true and healthy. Then, of course, practice that new thought when the old one pops up!
There are great books about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how to apply them to your life, such as “When Panic Attacks”, “10 Days to Self Esteem,” and “Feeling Good.”
Find a therapist that can help you dig deeper, to help you understand your anxiety and what is best for you. A therapist can help provide new skills to help you strengthen your inner voice and help guide you on the way to climbing that mountain.
I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.