On Sharing Anxiety

I am anxious about unsent emails, and climate change. I am anxious about my contributions to this world, and paying my bills. I am anxious about saying the wrong thing, and not saying anything at all.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

I think it is safe to say we all suffer from some form of anxiety. We might perhaps say that this is due to the fact that it is not easy to live in this world. We wake up to emails from bosses and banks, sandwiched between news updates informing us of the latest gun attack, or near-extinction of a species, or bomb threat, or WWIII-inducing tweet. We close the tab and open it up to a message about a meeting we have to prepare for, then traffic updates for the route to work (where others’ car accidents become our inconveniences), then a doctor’s appointment we forgot to schedule (again), and so on.

We are anxious.

We go for runs and attend yoga classes. We meditate — and oftentimes end up thinking about things we should be doing, or haven’t done, or maybe should start doing, or stop — we try to meditate, again. We eat healthy and try to get some sleep when we can. We drink. We feel terrible the next morning. We go back to yoga.

We see others’ Facebook posts bragging about job promotions and event productions and healthy children and tropical vacations. We sip our coffees and pretend like that one friend’s smiling face isn’t making us want to throw our drink across the room. We post our own smiling picture of us doing something semi-accomplished, and close our laptops.

We pretend like we are doing great, so great. We don’t post why it took three hours to fall asleep last night. We don’t post about the bill we can’t quite pay off, yet. We don’t post about the rather short email from the boss who wants to know why that project isn’t keeping up with its projected timeline. We don’t post about how long our showers are, or how much gas our car takes, or how much trash we produce, or how we forget to recycle (a lot), or how we accidentally left the lights on all weekend. We do post, however, an article on renewable energy. We don’t feel much better, though.

Our anxiety increases. Isn’t it supposed to be eased by others’ gratifying support for your proposed image online? Oh, wait. That’s not right. What can we do, then, if not pretend to be okay?

Um, probably anything else.

Look, we are all anxious. It is impossible not to be, these days. There are a lot of demands, a lot of stress, and a lot of expectations.

The first step is admitting it: “I am anxious. I am worried. I am stressed.”

The second is admitting that it is okay to feel this way. At least, that is what I tell myself constantly: it is okay to be worried about this. It is normal to be concerned. It is hard. It is very hard. But it’s okay.

The other thing I tell myself? I am not alone. Let me rephrase that: You are not alone. Those smiling pictures I post are not indicative of my perfect life. They are, in fact, the opposite. I am struggling. I don’t always recycle. I don’t always send emails on-time. I don’t always get praise from my higher-ups, or promotions, or go on fabulous vacations. I am not always happy.

Feeling supported is important; and only talking about the good stuff is going to get us nowhere. We are all suffering in ways particular to our lives, ages, and experiences. It is okay to share when you are feeling anxious about where you are or where you’re going, what you have or haven’t done — or even something that doesn’t pertain to you at all.

I know this sounds obvious, but we live in an age where we are expected to bear the weight of a million different information points, both particular to us, as well as local, national, and global concerns. It is unrealistic to assume we will be okay if we just keep truckin’ on; as a matter of fact, it can be even more harmful to do so. Take a step back, reflect, share, or just sit with your feelings. Embrace them as part of the human experience, as part of what makes us the dynamic, complicated, uncertain, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately beautiful beings that we are.

I write poetry. It helps me work through my thoughts, and turn my darkness into something beautiful, and tangible. I don’t usually share it, except with close friends, but maybe someday I will. For now, the important part for me is the process: the process of identifying a dark feeling or experience, and delving into it, working through it, transforming it through this process into something I can see, work with, understand, and love. Yes, love.

The world is a hard place. The victims of the most recent Vegas shooting are flooding my mind; it could have been someone I loved. It was 500+ people that someone else loved. It is not okay that these events are occurring — but it is okay to feel sad, worried, and anxious about them. Just don’t take on this burden alone. Don’t allow it to overtake the beauty of the fact that you care at all.

Caring is a wonderful thing. Care about yourself, care about each other, care about the environment and the polar bears and the amount of trash in the ocean. Write about it, paint about it, talk about it, share with friends how you feel, what you want to see in yourself and in the world. Go for a walk in the nearest park. Meditate. Do some yoga. Eat a nice, home-cooked meal. Try meditating again (it’s hard, I know).

But don’t give up. Don’t pretend the anxiety isn’t there. It is real, and it is important. It can even be motivating (take action!).

And at the end of the day, we are all in this together — despite politics, despite guns, despite age, race, background or career. Everyone is hurting, but we can hurt, together.

If you have a particular practice you use to address your worries or anxiety — or a resource you use to talk to others about what you are feeling — please comment it below! Let’s share with each other, build each other up, and show up for each other as best we can.