So, is it just me, or is the whole wide world just filled to the brim with anxiety these days? Or, you know, at least us Americans. And here is the other thing – am I the only one who has a problem with this? Because I have a problem with it. And furthermore, I have an even bigger problem with the fact that it seems to no longer be considered a problem.
Certainly, life can be stressful and anxiety producing. Serious health problems, getting laid off from work, living through a tragedy of some kind. Anxiety during or in the wake of an anxiety-producing event is natural and to be expected. What I am referring to is anxiety that hums along as background noise in daily life.
I know so many people who self-identify as living with anxiety. This concerns me. A lot. Especially because it seems to me that the solution to living with anxiety these days is to simply live with anxiety. Historically speaking, this is a new event. And I don’t think it’s a good thing. (The fact that I don’t feel particularly comfortable levying this criticism speaks to a larger issue I have, which is that everybody is so freaking fragile these days that we go around in large bubbles, scared anybody might come along and pop it.)
But back to anxiety. I don’t think we were designed to live this way. This is not who we are. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, my friends. We were made better than this. So why have we allowed fear to enslave us?
I know there is the rush to blame biology and biochemistry, but make no mistake–there is a mind/body connection that is undeniably powerful. The recent discovery of the lymph system that feeds the central nervous system is new proof of this long known fact. More disturbing, the finding the fearfulness can be inherited, that we can in fact burn our fear into own DNA and pass it on to our children, should motivate us to find a way to unlearn this habit of anxiety.
So why are we so anxious? I make it a habit of being honest here on my blog, so I will tell you that I believe the answer is going to have a spiritual component. (For those who don’t know, I am a big fan of Jesus.) But I also endeavor to speak to everyone, and I think there is another level to this equation that is universal regardless of your beliefs, and that’s the one I’d like to discuss. It strikes me that the root of much anxiety in this world is an overarching lack of authenticity.
The people I know with the least amount of anxiety in their lives are also the ones who live the most authentically. I know something about this, having spent a lot of my life in anxiety and also, correspondingly, in denial of my true self. It is possible that my own personal experience with this issue leads me to view anxiety through a false paradigm, but I don’t think so. I think I am right. I think every time we squeeze ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit – be it in our job, our marriage, our family, our friends, our community – we layer on the anxiety. Working with one box that doesn’t fit is manageable, but you try two or three on for size and you’re going to be in a miserable state of affairs. At that point, you’re looking at one of two scenarios – you’re in an unsustainable situation and something is going to break catastrophically, or you’re going to die miserable.
Unfortunately, you can’t change until you’re ready to change. I know I clung to all my old ways with a Charlton Heston cold-dead-hands level grip. Embracing change is probably something that can only be learned the hard way. However, there are moments when the right person comes along and says the right thing at the right time. For me, that person was Mary Tannery, who realized before I did that my situation was dire. She told me, “Everything is going to be okay.” I said, “What if it isn’t?” Meaning, what if I did wind up getting a divorce. And she said, “That’s what I am talking about. If that happens, it is still going to be okay.” I drove home considering this whole new world. It was another year and a half before I actually entered into that whole new world, but Mary cracked open the door that day to my own emotional survival.
For me, the root of my chronic anxiety was my inability to be genuinely honest with myself and with others. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest, I was trying to survive inside boxes I felt I had to live in, but that didn’t fit me at all. I wish I had known how to get brave and honest, but I didn’t. “Shoulds” ruled my life. I lived the life I I believed I should be living and convinced myself it was great – but it wasn’t, and the resulting anxiety was my number one symptom of my lack of authenticity.
Here’s the thing, though – it isn’t necessary. We needn’t live in anxiety. Our problems are solvable. We can live authentically. It is a choice we can make. It is unbelievably difficult, but it is doable. Finally – if you need a judgment-free person to listen, I am here. You can email me at carolynleeadams at gmail.com, or better yet, find me on Facebook. (I prefer messenger to email.)
[It just occurred to me I failed to make a distinction between good stress and anxiety. The stress that comes from dealing with pressure situations isn’t bad at all. It’s actually awesome. It’s what your body should be doing with pressure situations. Oh well. Hopefully I won’t be misunderstood.]