I’ve Learned You Never Outgrow Anxiety — Not Really
But there are ways you can get better at managing it.
The other night, I received an email from someone asking me to do something challenging and new. To most people, this might be an exciting opportunity, but to me, I was wrecked. As soon as I read her words my heart beat faster, and my eyes started to get a bit blurry as I tried to read it a few more times. I knew I needed to walk away from my desk and take deep breaths, move around the house and do something mindless while I processed the request and allowed it to slowly sink in. I started folding laundry, still in a daze trying to slow my racing thoughts down so I could unpack all the layers of my angst. Every What if and How? bombarded my mind, as I flipped back and forth from the worst thing that could happen to the best possible outcome. I know this inner turmoil well; I’ve lived with anxiety all my life.
There are days my anxiety is so bad I can barely function. Usually, it’s triggered by some unexpected change, conflict or circumstance that is new, and difficult, and big. I get overwhelmed easily, I overthink things constantly, and I worry about all the worst-case scenarios regularly. Special events and meeting new people and major transitions cause the greatest anxiety in me, and it’s all so exhausting and hard.
Then there are days when this disorder rears its ugly little head for no good reason at all, and I feel unsettled, nervous and edgy, and the smallest things can catapult me into a spiraling mess of stressed-out nerves. Those are the days I know I must tread cautiously through the day. I’ll pick and choose what I can do and whom I can see, protecting my vulnerable mental health by doing my best to create a safe and secure place for my own well-being. I know how easily I can unravel, and I must sacrifice certain things for the sake of my own sanity.
So, after spending some time trying to settle down from learning of this new scary thing I’d been asked to do, I put my face in my hands and a random rush of frustration filled me as I thought to myself, I’m in my freaking 50s, and I still get anxious about so many things? This is PATHETIC.
I assumed by now I would have outgrown this messy part of me.
Anxiety has played a starring role in my life, taking over so many days with its wrecking ball, shattering my peace, stealing my joy, and limiting many experiences I’ve longed to pursue. Through years of coping with this unfortunate disorder, I’ve made a lot of progress by going to therapy and benefiting from the gift of medicine, both dissipating the force of the emotional avalanche that at times consumed me. And as I think back on this tiresome journey, I’ve learned I will never outgrow my anxiety, but I have gotten so much better at managing it.
I’ve grown wiser and take much better care of myself than I did when I was younger. I say no to people more often, and I turn down opportunities I know will cause me debilitating stress.
I make my peace a priority, scheduling sacred self-care time in between the demands of the day. I reach out to my trusted and caring friends when I’m in the throes of a really anxious day, and their compassion and affirmation give me strength. I go for regular walks to digest whatever stressful situation has bombarded me to decompress from it all. On really bad days, I take some time to completely shut down. I’ll go in my bedroom, close the curtains, climb in bed and lie still while I focus on my breathing and pray through all that is upsetting me. Once all the stirring slows down, I allow myself to rest. That reboot does wonders for my anxiety.
But much of life can’t be canceled or avoided. When I must endure anxiety-producing things, I pay careful attention to my preparation before the experience and the recovery I need afterward. I must guard myself against any extraneous stressors and create space to mentally equip myself for the event. That way, I can go into it rested and as calm and strong as I can be. I know after anything that requires much of my emotional energy that I will need quiet alone time to go through the long process of restoration.
It’s a lot of work managing my anxiety, but I’ve come to accept that it’s just who I am. And as I’ve aged, I’ve tried to be more patient and understanding of this part of me — instead of being self-critical and punishing. I still at times berate myself for being like this, but I have learned to respect this fragile part of me and do my best to care for it diligently. As I get older I realize that although I must cope with this chronic condition, I can still live a fulfilling life — just as long as I tend to it in all the ways I’ve learned how.