Have you ever been cliff jumping? Standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down at the clear turquoise water. The view is beautiful, the sun is shining bright and the wind is blowing in your face. You want to jump with no hesitation. Suddenly you hear a voice whisper in your ear.
“Don’t jump too close to that rock.”
“Jump to the right, but not too far right because it’s too shallow over there.”
“Jump straight down, but also a little forward because if you jump too close to the cliff then you will hit your head and die.”
“Okay relax it will be fine you’re overthinking this.”
“What if I die and that’s it, I never see my parents again.”
“Okay, just avoid that rock and that rock and that rock you know what maybe it would be better if you didn’t jump just in case.”
That whisper you just heard was your anxiety. Your anxiety is the one making you overthink something so simple. You could just jump and feel the air and tumble into the ocean or you can listen to the little voice and miss out on a once in a lifetime experience.
I guess cliff jumping is dangerous and could result in death. So if I getting anxiety before I jump off a dangerous cliff then doing bad in school must be dangerous too. right? What about feeling a certain emotion or getting anxiety from seeing certain foods.. are emotions and food dangerous too?
Why is anxiety there if it stops us from living our lives so freely?
I have heard from many of my therapists and professors, that we need the anxiety to survive. I know that must sound kind of silly, because the things that give us anxiety nowadays could be failing out of school, and never getting married.
If we are going to think of anxiety more practically, we have to think of cavemen. Think about living like people who were always moving around to find food, escape predators and protecting themselves from dangerous weather. Wouldn’t anxiety come in handy, if you were running low on food or if you needed to think about moving to a new place?
If you think about humans today, we are not living in the same society as those cavemen. We have access to many of our basic needs more easily than the cavemen did. That doesn’t mean that the part of our brain that is needed for anxiety is gone. Our brains are still alert for things that may affect our survival. It may seem silly to be scared of missing a bus or being late to class in comparison to surviving a cold harsh winter with little to no food. Despite the difference in our priorities to the cavemen, our brains can’t tell the difference.
I have been anxious since I can remember. The panic has been horrible for years as well. Every time I felt anxious my throat would feel as though it was closing up. I felt like there was a plastic bag over my head and I was suffocating. I would scream at nothing with tears falling down my face. My mouth would taste like salt from the tears and snot.
Suddenly I would burst into laughter and lay on the floor to feel something cold on my face. There I would lay with my parents staring at me from above.
“Daph, are you okay?”
I would try to say something but my throat was closed shut and I couldn’t speak or move, much less breathe. Thinking that anxiety is necessary for my survival while laying on the floor during a panic attack is really hard. I would always feel so ashamed of my anxiety, because people would think I was over reacting to such small things. My anxiety would make them stressed, so I would keep it inside until it would build and I would have a full blown panic attack.
What I want you to understand is that anxiety is not something that should be overlooked. It is not something that can be easily fixed. You have every right to feel what you feel. Feeding into this culture that tells us that our anxiety is unnecessary will only make it worse. Recognize the things that make you anxious and ask yourself “can I survive if I don’t let the anxiety win?” For example can you survive if you are late to an event, if you do poorly on an exam?
The practical answer will always be yes, you can survive even though it may not feel like it. Remaining aware of your anxiety is very hard, but it is always possible. Recognition and patience are key to calming your anxieties. It is okay to be anxious. We must acknowledge our screaming minds, and validate our emotions to gain control over ourselves.
Today my loud mind tells me that people will think I’m crazy because of my anxiety.
What do I have to say to that?
I am not crazy. It is okay to be anxious sometimes. You are more than your mental illness.
How will you challenge your loud mind today?