Whenever something terrible happens (especially something unexpected), I am not one to flee into the dregs of doubt or anger or even the common “Why me?” way of thinking. I usually am quick to accept, quick to cling to my faith, and quick to try and move on with the new reality.
While I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty resilient, optimistic person, this does NOT mean that hard things are easy for me to go through (are they for anyone?), or that I don’t sometimes suffer lingering unwanted after-effects.
Lately, after a bit of a rough start to the year (to put it mildly), I’ve found myself dealing with some serious anxiety. Not the kind of anxiety that makes me want to never leave the house or the kind of anxiety that severely disrupts my day-to-day living, but the kind of anxiety that comes from dreading that the worst is always right around the corner, waiting just until I’ve started to feel like life is back to its usual rosy-hued state.
For awhile, it seemed like these fears were well-founded. In the same weekend that my father-in-law almost lost his life, we learned the news of two other people who had died tragically well before their expected time (one in her mid-forties who I had grown up knowing through church, and one who was my age who worked with my mom). As bad news piled on bad news, it seemed like everyone was constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who (or what) was going to be next.
And then, when life had finally calmed down a bit and even introduced some happy news to us, I learned that I had miscarried our baby at about 8 weeks, and the doom-and-glooming started right back up again.
Sometimes the anxiety of the What-Ifs hits me when my husband is five minutes later coming home than he normally would be. Sometimes it hits me as I take Raven on a walk, and my heart starts pounding that she might run faster than I can catch her into the road, or that a drunk driver might veer onto the sidewalk right where we are, or that a serial killer might be watching from that creepy-looking house shaded by all those trees on the corner, just lying in wait.
No doubt about it, we live in a world where we are made to believe that such incidents not only happen, but that they happen all the time. The widespread use of social media and the ready access to news 24/7 would lead us to believe that today’s world is much more dangerous than the world that we grew up in, which is, in fact, untrue. While crime might be publicized more than ever (and while there has, indeed, been a rise in mass killings), overall crime is significantly down from what it used to be. So, even though my world now is much safer than the world (generally) that I grew up in, it sure doesn’t feel like it.
Part of this is because I am no longer a child and so am now actually aware of what all is going on.
Part of this, like I said, is due to the immediate access to crimes and tragedies thanks to social media, which also makes it easier to see the devastating after-effects that we normally would not be privy to unless we were a close friend or family member to the victim.
Part of this is because, with my world and happiness so tied up in my husband and daughter and those others who are closest to me, I feel that I have more now to lose than ever.
Regardless of what is causing my anxiety, it is there. It is diverting my attention from all the good that there is in my life thanks to the constant worry of what-could-be-next.
Lately, though, I’ve been taking matters into my own hands.
(***Note: this is not to say that all anxiety can just be “managed” away without professional help. Because my anxiety does not interfere with my desire or ability to do everyday things, leave the house, sleep, etc., I have concluded that the following self-managed strategies are the way to go right now. If, however, my anxiety were to get worse to the point where it was starting to affect those daily activities, I would seek out professional help from a mental health professional.)
This is how I’ve been more consciously trying to keep my anxiety and worrying to a minimum:
1. I have consciously (and literally) been counting my blessings.
It is hard to feel fear when I am feeling gratitude, so I have been taking time each day (both in the moments when I feel the anxiety itself and in quieter moments as well) to just think about very specific things that I am grateful for at that very minute. There are always the usual things (my husband and daughter, a roof over our heads, a supportive family, good friends), but I also try and make myself dig a little deeper and notice the other things I’m grateful for, like the fact that I was able to enjoy a particularly scrumptious batch of fresh-sliced strawberries or for the strength and patience to be calm and loving when Raven throws another Terrible-Twos tantrum rather than getting frustrated myself about it.
This helps me to put things into perspective a lot more, too, because it forces me to see that while some things are not currently going my way (like the dental appointment just this morning that delivered some bad news about my gums), many, MANY things ARE going well and are worth celebrating.
2. Every time I feel my anxiety veering towards paralyzing thoughts and terrible scenarios playing through my head, I say a prayer.
The sooner I am able to start the prayer, the better (rather than waiting until several terrible scenarios have played themselves out, leaving me scared and hopeless and fearing the future more than ever). Often, my prayer is a simple plea for me to be able to stop thinking on such things, but sometimes I will also pray for the ability to see all that is going well, for more faith and hope that no matter what happens, all will be well in the end, or for a feeling of peace and comfort. Sometimes I have to repeat my prayer a few times to completely stop the flood of thoughts, but I always feel better afterwards.
3. I avoid social media that could potentially trigger more anxiety.
After setting the new year’s resolution of severely limiting my social media time this year, I have discovered which social media platforms cause me the most anxiety (Facebook, Facebook, Facebook), and which ones generally leave me feeling better (Instagram (usually) and Goodreads). Since discovering this, I rarely scroll through my Facebook feed much anymore (and I don’t look at the news headlines on the side at all), and any social media time I DO spend, I try to focus on the positive aspects.
4. I read/watch inspiring, uplifting material every day.
I once had a church leader teach that it’s not enough just to root out a bad habit—something else must be planted in its place, or else, like a weed, it will grow right back into the unoccupied soil. So, in addition to retraining my thinking and avoiding triggers, I have “planted” the habit of reading inspiring material each night (esp. before bed), which helps to not only strengthen my faith, but also reinforces my brain to think on positive things.
This last weekend, I felt particularly uplifted and inspired as I had the opportunity to listen to 8 hours of General Conference, a special worldwide broadcast the LDS church has twice a year where we get to listen to messages of hope and faith and love from our leaders.
5. Spend time outdoors (and exercise).
It’s hard for me to feel worried for too long when the sunshine is warming my face and the flowers are bursting into bloom all around me. Now that the weather has finally started to warm up, we’ve been taking lots of long walks outside, which has done wonders for my mental (and physical) wellbeing.
And when I haven’t been able to get outside (due to weather), I’ve still been making myself go to the gym regularly to work up a good sweat. No matter how my day has gone, it’s hard to still feel tense and stressed with all those endorphins bouncing around my body.
While I know that my life’s trials and hardships are far from over, these four strategies are helping me immensely to find joy in the journey, especially in the present moment.
Do you have any other ways you stay positive despite hardship?