Anxiety: My thoughts and learnings

Anxiety: My thoughts and learnings

In starting a brand I am becoming more familiar with my anxieties and insecurities, they are becoming more pronounced because I am seeking greater growth out of myself.

I view anxiety and insecurity as a core part of the human experience, not something to be fully avoided but rather something I can learn from* (I mean that in broad strokes, because I have no experience with clinical anxiety or depression, I’ll defer those sorts of discussion to experts). My anxiety feels like a nebulous black cloud or a large rock blocking a river’s flow or a metallic stench nestled deep in my bedroom walls – something difficult to remove, to look past, or to live with – it’s all encompassing, pestering, and polluting. Even with it’s ugly presence, anxiety could be purposeful – maybe it’s an old evolutionary tool to keep me from straying too far, to keep me safe. I choose to believe it does have purpose, I view it as the counteracting force of my desire to grow, to actualize.

Whether in discussion with my friends or broader media discussion, it seems anxiety or the discussion of it is rising. Societal factors like the decline of religion and economic inequalities may be to thank. Religion specifically was a calming force, offering a reason for our insecurity. Now we approach life’s uncertainties without any promises of meaning or spiritual safety which can be really fucking terrifying. As an answer, many of us have turned to consumerism, I know I have at times. The promise of a “better life” through a better job and lifestyle and resulting trappings – the “American dream” to some degree. Beyond the material improvements from poverty to upper middle class living, which is profound, these winnings are largely empty beyond beautiful wrapping paper. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking to buy some new tattoos and shoes for the summer and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them for a time – but that’s not the ultimate purpose.

I don’t mean to step on desire whether consumerist or not. I think desire, when pointed in the right direction, can do wonders. Anything good in the world can be attributed to personal and societal desire for more of the “good”. I think seeking the “good” or seeking our growth and self-actualization is a great thing. But it is inextricably linked to the pain of anxiety and insecurity – they are counteracting forces.

I’m learning a hell of a lot about myself in starting a new business. My old anxieties rear their head more pronounced, and new anxieties have been gaining force. At its core, these anxieties take me away from the present – dwelling on “mistakes” from the past or foolishly planning for an uncertain future. Often the beast shows itself in forms of:

  • Outsized worrying – like the small task of sending an email or writing a passage such as this or reaching out to a person becomes a mountain of a challenge, something that with each passing moment becomes larger and more reflective of my inherent incompetence.
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all worst-cast outcomes – my anxieties usually tell me that the worst is going to happen and as a result I begin planning and planning. Since I will eventually become my smallest, least capable form I should determine the stories I shall tell others and myself, what I should make of my life at that point, and a whole host of associated paths.
  • Physical reflections of the mental state, like tension, fatigue, and irritability.

This opportunity has brought me much closer to my anxieties, making me more familiar with my triggers and my thought patterns. For example, when I begin to reflect overly on my past mistakes, it begins with my shoulders rising and tightening, my brows furrowing, and my posture narrowing. The thoughts begin slow and then flow with greater pace, after a while my mind feels “blank” after running through many scenarios, but the feeling of regret and shame remain. Often, when not mindfully attended to, I will respond with some form of mindless consumption to distract myself like endless scrolling on my phone or a TV show or a movie. Sometimes the mindless consumption will result in a funny meme or animal video to send to friends (my recent go-to has been racoons and bears, not sure why), but it’s largely fruitless.

This process has not been without pain, but I try to find appreciation in that pain. It’s associated with the growth I feel and am seeking. So, how to make the anxiety less painful and more reflective? How to make the inward gazing productive instead of destructive?

Here’s what I have accumulated so far in the way of cooperating with these emotions and forging them into a method of education and growth or discarding them when appropriate.

I cooperate through physical and mental practices. Most immediately when I feel lost and anxious, I follow these steps:

  1. Mindful breathing: A slow exhale from the mouth – deep and intentional – focusing on the source of the breath and the movement of the air out of me. A deep inhale from the nose – less intentional, almost ‘letting it happen’. The switch between intentional and subconscious in breath reflects the things we have our perceived control on versus those outside of it. It’s a pretty concept. I repeat at least three times then let things flow from there. 
  2. Thought sorting: Slow down, and picture each thought as a pebble floating down a river. Do not wish for any pebble to go faster or slower, just observe. View the thought for what it is. Negative thoughts are negative, they aren’t some broader indictments on your state – they’re just thoughts.
  3. Recognizing the negative patterns and whether this will bring real reflection or just stagnate growth: After some time of letting the thoughts flow, you will recognize familiar negative patterns. Is this pattern just a boring reiteration? If so, recognize it as that – boring, dull, uninteresting – something to be discarded. It is new? Then let’s assess whether it has a real reflection associated with it. If it brings new insights into why you’re feeling anxious, then maybe you’ll learn something about yourself, don’t discard a negative thought out of fear.
  4. Understand what growth it is holding me back from: If this is a genuine negative reflection, something with new implications, try and find out its counterpart. What type of growth is it protecting you from? Change is uncomfortable, but discomfort should not inform whether it is the “good” action for you. If the anxiety is the counterweight for a type of growth you genuinely seek and want deeply and for good reason, then jump – leap – don’t look back – stride forward – you’ll do great in this new state.
  5. Reflect on that growth: I love a good journal but don’t often rush to it when I feel anxious. I’ll do the above steps then let the reflections on what occurred marinate. I love engaging in something physical – like the gym, or cricket, a brisk walk, a run, yoga, or a mindful nourishing shower – there’s a lot that can be enjoyed when presence is facilitated. After the thoughts have been allowed to rest and become subconscious, then I approach the journal or maybe even talking out loud. I allow the words to flow and try not to erase – whether stupid or ‘wrong’, I try to be in the flow.

In the long term, when I recognize the increased regularity of anxious feelings, I revisit a few basic blocks:

  1. The basics: Health, community, and self

Don’t overthink the basics. Is my health in check? Am I exercising often, eating well enough, and getting my sleep?

Is my community in order? How often am I spending real quality time with my family and loved ones – don’t underestimate the beautiful impact of laughing until your cheeks hurt surrounding by long-time friends, maybe over a bottle of wine and some Mario Kart, maybe at a park under the sun, wherever it is – quality time.

Am I in touch with myself? When was the last time I journalled, or went for a walk alone, or had a “self-care Sunday”. Am I being fully honest with myself? How am I really feeling?

  1. Connection with gratitude

Let’s not overlook the good and the beautiful around us. Start as small as you can – what are you grateful for? Then let it flow and grow, say it fast, and say it proud.

I’m grateful for the sun, the warm breeze, grass underneath my bare feet, my mother, my sister, my father, a warm cup of tea, a long drive at midnight in the summer with my favourite R&B tracks playing, I’m GRATEFUL

When it flows, the things you overlook just by habit become clear. The day is no longer mundane but packed with beautiful little intricacies – each immense in their depth and quality, you just need the time and attention to notice. So, god damn it, NOTICE.

  1. Facilitation of presence

What am I doing to facilitate my presence? Where and how am I mindful in my day? Often, when I’m at my lowest, it’s because I’m not really there – mentally I’m in a memory from 1 year ago or in preparation for something that will never happen 2 months from now. What are my rituals? It’s my gym time, yoga, skincare, the shower, folding laundry, lighting up a candle, preparing my food. Reconnect with those rituals. Start with your breathe, feel it and be part of its flow, then be in your body – feel each sense – smell, touch, etc. etc. Even if the thoughts are still negative after these rituals, at least you’ll be able to feel them, instead of being anxious about their presence.

  1. Sincere or serious?

Am I being sincere or serious about my life’s events? I’ve never been a serious person, I enjoy comedy – whether I’m the butt of the joke or not. A lot of times you are the joke in the story. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens, obviously you care – often more than you should. But care sincerely not seriously. Sincerity has a lightness to it – you can approach things with youthful hubris and a sense of humor. Laugh! This moment won’t come again. In seriousness there’s a real gravity, you fall like a stone, you’re too attached to each outcome. Sincerity finds fascination in small things, it doesn’t lord over this strict hierarchy of value. Trust your faculties, trust your preparation, trust your process, and trust the universe – play in the moment because you are ready, there’s no need for your seriousness.

As always, what do you think? Let’s have a dialogue –

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