My Thoughts Aren’t Always True: Dealing with Anxiety and Doubt
*Originally published June 15, 2021*
I don’t think of fear as a bad thing. Fear is a natural occurrence within us that is crucial for our survival. Fear tells us to get out when there’s a raging fire, so that we don’t burn or inhale too much carbon monoxide. Fear tells us that we need to shield ourselves when a heavy object is coming straight at us. Fear tells us to extend our arm to protect the passenger in the front seat whenever we have to use our brakes quickly (though I can’t say that the last one ever actually does anything to help).
Fear is natural. But I only have a problem with fear when, instead of serving me, it hinders me. Just as fear can serve as a survival tool, it can also take on the form of anxiety and doubt, making me believe that there is danger when there really isn’t.
My family knows that I am deeply terrified of frogs. Honestly, I don’t have a clear or valid reason for this. I am completely aware that it is irrational. I am completely aware that a frog is not likely to jump on me and try to bring me to my untimely death. I understand these things clearly, and yet when my body is faced with the option of “Fight or Flight” I will go soaring. Just seeing them is triggering enough, but if one were to seriously jump toward me it would send me into a frenzy.
My doubts and anxieties function in a very similar fashion; sometimes they’re completely irrational. As irrational as fearing an amphibian, but we lock into these thoughts anyway. I don’t know what anxious or doubtful thoughts look like to you, but here’s what they look like for me:
“I am not living up to my potential, and I’m not sure if I ever will”.
“My husband will grow disinterested in me”.
“I’m not nearly as good of a writer as people think, and soon they’ll figure this out”.
“I look disgusting“.
There are more, but I think I’ve gotten the point across. I don’t think about these thoughts every single day. In fact, some days I feel like I’m on top of the world. But still, these thoughts aren’t completely absent.
Receiving Help + Taking Action
Getting help is one thing, but receiving help is still a choice we need to make right after.
When something is ‘received’ it is done willfully and wholeheartedly. Think about a time in which someone gave you a very nice compliment; so nice that you actually did not believe it should have been given to you. They gave you something so nice–a kind word–but you couldn’t bring yourself to accept it. In other words, it’s not that something nice wasn’t given, it’s just that it wasn’t accepted.
The same concept goes for getting help with our issues; for me, it would be my anxious thoughts, doubts, and low self-image. Over the past month, I’ve finally made it a point to see someone (virtually) for the betterment of my mental health. It’s a new experience and so far I’ve really been enjoying it. Sometimes my counselor will give me writing prompts (as that is how I articulate myself the best) for us to go over when we meet again. Other times she’ll offer suggestions on what I can do to deal with stress or some problem-solving for an issue I might be having that week.
Either way, there’s something for me to take away from our meetings and there is usually something I need to apply. I can talk all I want to with my counselor, but if I don’t really do anything between our sessions then it’s just a waste of my (and my husband’s) money. For me, applying and receiving fall into the same category. I can’t say I’ve “received” help if I’m not taking action afterward; it would simply mean I was “given” help.
What we do to find our calm will vary from person to person, but essentially it’s rare to see anyone who is able to have meaningful thought (followed by meaningful action) unless they’ve achieved a level of clear-mindedness.
For me, I find my calm in a routine. Just having a routine alone has helped a lot when it comes to having the structure in my day-to-day life that I desperately need. What I actually do within that routine just adds to it. On a regular day, my routine usually starts with me waking up early to work out. Though I really don’t care about working out, I find that I almost always feel better afterward. After showering I get dressed and make it a point to make my bed. Making your bed doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve found that it makes a difference in my mood and how I carry out the rest of the day. Next, I move on to doing my daily devotional, prayer, and reading. When I’ve done around 30 minutes of reading, I still have time before my work day starts, so if there’s an errand that needs to be done I’ll go ahead and do that while listening to a podcast.
Another thing that I’ve implemented in my daily routine is meditation. There are plenty of online resources and even apps like Headspace or Calm that help walk through meditation and breathing exercises. While I felt awkward at first, I find that taking time (sometimes as little as 5 minutes) to practice meditation helps me feel a lot more emotionally stable.
One thing that I find very important in my day-to-day is having moments for laughter, usually through online creators on YouTube, TikTok, etc. While the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” can come off as very cliche, it’s actually very true. Laughing has great short-term effects when it comes to relieving stress, soothing tension, and even stimulating vital organs. And I’ve never been in a situation in which I’ve been laughing and stressed at the same time.
Finding your calmness doesn’t always have to be done all at once. It can happen literally at any time and at any place, depending on your needs. It could be in the morning, the middle of the day, at night, and–most importantly–whenever you find yourself in a stress-filled situation.
I’m not saying that doing these things will always solve all my problems. However, I find that when I make it a point to dedicate that intentional time to my mental and emotional health, the anxiety and doubt that usually plagues me tend to fade away from me.
Chase Progress, Not Perfection
As I’ve said many times before, I don’t have everything figured out. To be honest, I don’t really know anyone who does. There will be times when I’ll go several days consistently keeping my doubts at bay, and then there are (and will be) times when I won’t.
Perfection is a myth. I highly doubt I’ll ever get to a point where I’m doing all the things I need to do to stay on top of things (mentally/emotionally) 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What I’ve come to realize is that a break in consistency doesn’t mean that I’m a failure, nor does it mean that I should give up. It’s normal. What I prioritize, above anything, is making progress. For me, progress means having multiple days in a row of consistent exercise like I did last week. Or even the night before posting this, which I spent time writing for 2 whole hours. Progress is understanding that the past is the past; just because I had an emotional meltdown one day doesn’t mean the next day can’t be better.
Doubt will happen, fear will happen, and anxiety will happen. But progress is understanding that God willing, I will have a fresh 24 hours tomorrow to make up for the missteps that I have today.