With all my self awareness just recently, I’ve been able to pin down what my personal cycle of anxiety looks like. I think I have three main reasons for becoming anxious;
- Worrying about what others think about me
- Worrying about being honest about what I think and feel
- Running out of time to do x, y, z
You know by now that I love a good analysis, so here’s how the cycle works for me when I find myself worrying about what others think.
Anxiety Cycle: What do they think of me?
Step 1 – Generally it starts after I have said or done something that seemed entirely innocent at the time, but I’ve not had an immediate response, or the other persons response was hard to read.
Step 2 – Immediately I’ll jump to every worst case scenario explanation, all of which would be negative towards myself, that would explain their response (or lack of).
Step 3 – Proceed with beating myself up as though I have committed a terrible crime. That is the obvious explanation, because my low self esteem says I must always be the problem some how.
Step 4 – Commence an endless internal brainstorming session to figure out; what I did wrong, what I should have done differently, what I can do to fix it, and how I can avoid it in future. Its endless, because I’m trying to find a solution when I don’t know what the problem is, or if there even is a problem…ffs!
Step 5 – At it’s worst, the endless internal thinking eventually starts to shut me down. You might have heard of the ‘Fight, flight or freeze’ response, where we go back to the basic caveman style survival part of our brains. Anxiety is freeze. I feel stuck, unable to move or function but my mind is still very active and aware of some sort of danger. Simple tasks become stressful or impossible to push through, because the rational normal day to day functioning part of the brain isn’t accessible when in caveman mode. It’s impossible to feel at ease. Holding onto all that anxiety is exactly why my body then starts to tense up as a physical response.
Freeze is pretty useless when I think about it. It’s not like if I stay still, my imaginary predator is going to think I’m dead, and I certainly don’t have an emergency camouflage switch…
Step 6 – Self indulge (see My Emotional Battle with Chocolate) or speak to someone to get all the thoughts out and have them reassure me. Must squash the anxious thoughts back down!
Step 7 – The ‘bungee snap’, as I call it. My brain has been tricked into thinking the anxious behaviour was helpful and that I was making progress, but really I achieve nothing, and I get dragged right back to the beginning again. Step 6 offers a false sense of relief. It is a short term fix, a distraction, for one episode at a time. It is not a long term solution because the real problem has not been addressed… It’s low self esteem that starts this whole process, by looking negatively at myself and assuming all responsibility and blame for possible or actual negative outcomes lies at my feet. I feel like a failure.
So whats the answer?
Ultimately – loving myself out of low self esteem.
That starts with catching myself at step 2 and allowing myself to consider other explanations that don’t include me being the bad guy. I have had to start choosing that it is OK for me to assume there is nothing wrong with me, or what I’ve said or done, until I’m told otherwise. It has to be me to do this, because no one else can build up my self esteem. If only it was something we could purchase from a shop, someone would be a billionaire.
So now you’ll find with me, that if you’re the type to do everything OTHER THAN telling me that there is something wrong, those signs are going to go unanswered #sorrynotsorry. We are all responsible for ourselves, and I realise now it is quite a destructive expectation for any of us to need another person to be a mind reader or expert detective to know when we’re in a funk. So you’ll also find, that I’ve started being honest about what I think and feel, so I can knock anxious cycle number 2 on the head.
Side note for another day….I don’t have any studies to quote, but I’m pretty sure the number one breakdown of any kind of relationship, is just not saying what we bloody well mean!
Still working on the running out of time anxiety cycle, which comes down to perfectionism – but that deserves its own post.