The other day I sat at the kitchen table of our chic little AirBnB above the streets of Strasbourg, France, eating a fresh-cooked steak salad and the most delicious baguette I’ve ever had.
At that moment, I felt happy and blessed…until I didn’t. The tiniest bit of anxiety crept out from the corner of my mind and swept over me. I couldn’t help but feel nervous, on-edge, and full of worry.
But that’s just how anxiety rolls.
It’s a little ball of darkness that sits off to the side. Always there. Always looming. Always waiting for attention. And sometimes, demanding it.
It wants you to know of its presence — of its never-ending existence in your life — and it wants you to be afraid of it.
So it plays tricks on you. When all is well in the world and you should be happy as a clam, it steps out from the corner and says:
“Oh no, buddy. You can’t be happy. Think about all the stuff you need to worry about. You don’t deserve happiness. You deserve me.”
It expects you to get caught up in the rush of emotions. In the hundreds of thoughts and worries that swirl about your head. It wants you to feel anxious without actually knowing why you feel that way.
Because when you’re in this mental state, anxiety gets the best of you. And it basks in the attention it craves.
There was a time when I’d let this darkness consume me. I’d do exactly what it wanted me to — I’d get lost in my own head and the onslaught of negative thoughts. I’d kick and fight and scream, doing absolutely everything I could to resist the way my anxiety made me felt.
At that point, it became the only thing I could think about, and I’d spiralled out of happiness into a darker place. I’d let my anxiety win.
But that’s not what happened to me this time.
There’s a reason why anxiety wants you to get caught up in the harrowing fanfare of it all — it doesn’t want you to hone in on the details. It thrives on you being unable to focus.
Which is why today, I know exactly how to handle it. I’ve got the tools in my kit and the clarity to see through what anxiety really is.
So as I’m sitting there at the kitchen table, my anxiety trying to strip me of the happiness I was feeling, I noticed the anxious thoughts and feelings I was having, and I stopped for a second to ask myself:
“Wait. Why am I feeling anxious?”
I don’t get trapped in my head. I don’t shove away the nervousness. I just do two things:
I allow myself to feel all of those unwanted feelings. The fogginess, the on-edgeness, the nervous energy. Everything.
As I do this, I don’t push anything away. I just let them do their thing and I don’t let myself become bothered by them. After all, they’re just feelings. And I should expect to feel them just as I would any positive feelings.
You can’t have light without darkness.
I just take 2 or 3 minutes inside my head to actually dive into the various things I might be anxious about.
I’ll sit there and pull the strings on some of these thoughts. When I do this, I don’t just view them from the surface. I dive in and investigate.
For example, one of the reasons I felt anxious was because I was worried I didn’t do enough work that day. So instead of letting that destroy my mood, I decided to find out why it bothered me.
Did anything absolutely have to get done that day? No. Even if it did, surely life would continue on if I just did it the next day? Yep.
And even if the absolute worst happened and I got fired, would I still be okay? Yes, because I’d find a way to survive. I always have. It’s how I got the job in the first place, and it’s how I’ve made it this far today.
So why am I letting it bother me so bad right now? Because that’s just what anxiety does.
Every time I do this, I realize my brain is just playing tricks on me. Every thought I fully explore ends with me thinking, “There’s really no reason for me to worry about this right now. At all.”
Those anxious thoughts and feelings are just a bunch of stupid fabrications from the dark recesses of my brain. And my brain is only doing this to me because that’s what it does.
It thinks. Generates thoughts. Good, bad, and everything in-between.
We all need to learn how to deal with these emotions because sooner or later we’ll be tested. Anxiety is always with us.
I’ve realized that no matter what I do or how healthy I live, my anxiety is always with me. And it always will be.
But the difference now compared to my darkest times is that I’ve learned how to live harmoniously with my anxiety. Sometimes I just need to let it do its thing.
As long as I don’t let it consume me, then I win.
Originally published at https://www.themonklife.net on November 9, 2019.