In an earlier post, I wrote:
Anxiety is a habit. You’ve got to breathe through it.
The line was almost a throwaway. Even when I wrote it, I felt it was an overly simplistic solution to the thorny problem of persistent fear.
Yet, it resonated with so many people, I thought there must be more to it.
The Masks We Wear
It’s been 30 days since I announced that I would be stepping away from my marketing business to fulfill my dream of being a full-time writer and novelist. In that time, my so-called simplistic solution has carried me through approximately 28 sleepless nights.
I wish I could say my 15 years as an entrepreneur were filled with success after glorious success. The problem was, no matter what I tried, the money never quite worked. And in the last few years, I had to generate more business than I could physically deliver, just to pay the bills and support my partner’s family.
Over time, my fear hardened into a mask. The mask said, “Business is great! Everything is awesome!” But it was a lie.
My Self-Help Addiction
When faced with a seemingly inescapable problem, some people are driven to drink. Others overeat or make friends with the neighborhood drug dealer. Unsurprisingly, I was driven to read.
I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent on self-help books over the years. Some were worth it. Like You Are a Baddass by Jen Sincero and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. But most were contradictory and offered only a few nuggets of wisdom.
I kept looking because I believed the stress was my fault. That I could control it better if I tried. Maybe if I just meditated more… Maybe if I spent more time in nature… Maybe I just needed some herbal tea…
The thing is, none of that stuff works if you don’t also stop doing the things that create the anxiety in the first place.
Yes, my life situation was the result of my own choices. I own that. But adopting a 20 minute meditation practice or learning Tai Chi wasn’t going to fix it.
Sometimes when you can’t swim any longer, you just have to get out of the freaking pool.
Last night, I woke up at 4:00 am in a panic. Something was very wrong. I lied in bed, husband snoring away at my side, cataloging my worries.
I didn’t have any.
All my work projects are caught up. The book is coming along great. We have enough money. There’s food in the refrigerator. My son is healthy and happy. My marriage is strong. Even the mouse that ravaged our pantry two weeks ago has been captured and appropriately dealt with.
“So why am I awake?” I wondered.
It’s because of the thing I understood intuitively a month ago, although I did not recognize its importance.
Anxiety is a habit. You have to breathe through it.
When you spend years in a state of near-constant fear, you don’t just wake up one day and know everything’s fine. It takes time.
Luckily, time is the one thing we all have.
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