All morning, I knew I needed to get a project done. It’s been sitting in the back of my mind, just eating at me, causing some stress and anxiety. I’m wanting so much to relax but can’t quite get there because there is this unfinished task that keeps wanting to call me. It’s an, “I have too…” Have too as in I don’t want too, not in the mood, and begin to feel the pressure. Then, of course, what follows is the negative feelings of guilt and beliefs of “I’m failing. See, I’m not good enough.” Anxiety begins to kick in deep down in the chest and gut.
But instead of facing it, it gets put on the back burner. You know it’s there, but you ignore it. Instead, somehow, you trick yourself into thinking other things take priority. Everything else that isn’t done or is going wrong is suddenly in your complete awareness.
On this particular morning for me, there was unexpected laundry that needed to be done. As I walk through the house, I found myself grunting because of course, the last person who took the last roll on the paper towel roll couldn’t replace it with a new one. Then walked into the bathroom and AGAIN, nobody restocks the toilet paper rolls after using the last one. Really?
Body heat is now bubbling. The body is tight. Teeth are cringing. Thinking, “No wonder I can’t get my project done!”
You start snapping, blaming others for the stress you’re feeling, and announcing how you don’t feel appreciated. But not exactly using those word. Instead, announcing what isn’t being done, and yelling at a loved one to get it done, proclaiming they never help. You may start slamming things down, slamming doors, or even worse, don’t say anything at all. Instead, you huff and puff, do it yourself, and then shutdown. Don’t they know how you’re feeling and the stress you’re under?
And that’s the moment. Stress and anxiety has reached its boiling point. Anxiety has turned into Anger.
Sometimes it’s an unfinished project. Maybe an argument with your spouse, child, or coworker from weeks ago that never got resolved. Or an on-going underlying fear of being hurt, rejected, or judged and so don’t want to take the chance of expressing yourself. It just bottles up. You hold it within your mind and body until it reaches its capacity.
It’s usually not until the snapping or crying is over though that you suddenly realize, “Did I ask for help? Did I let them know what I needed? Am I expecting them to read my mind and just know what I’m going through?” You may (or may not) begin to realize that this isn’t about them necessarily. This is about being scared to express your needs for fear of being vulnerable and seen as weak. Fear that you’re not good enough because you’re not meeting expectations.
If you have ever been invalidated, hurt, violated, or manipulated by another, you’ve learned it’s not safe to be vulnerable. Openness and expression leads to negative results and consequences. Suppression is the only answer to stay in control and stay safe. Your strong if you can manage your feelings by keeping them to yourself and get your job done without complaining.
Until you just can’t anymore.
Your emotions, thoughts, and body begin to feel out of control.
This the paradox to anxiety. The only way to be in true control is to know, understand, allow, and express your emotions. And the only way to do this is to gather the strength and courage to learn how to do so. How to be open and be vulnerable. Only then can you be in true control and feel confident in your strength.
This is where anxiety meets peace.
So how do you take steps towards vulnerability? By first taking steps to nurture you. Not others, You.
Step 1: Nurturance
Begin to change your thinking and learn to be okay with taking care of you first. Believe that you deserve this. This is not selfishness. This is necessary for you and for those around you. Repeat a mantra to yourself, “I deserve this, and my family deserves this.”
Step 2: Give yourself permission to pause
Taking a pause is not about weakness or laziness. It’s about opportunity to pay attention to what is going on internally.
You may have mastered suppression so well that when you want to express yourself, your body doesn’t allow you. The throat closes automatically. The breath stops. The mouth shuts. The body cringes and tightens. Maybe you’ve forgotten how to cry.
The fact that you may recognize this is already steps ahead. If you know your reaction is to automatically shut down, begin to do some of the following:
- taking 3 to 5 deep breaths several times throughout the day, every day.
- take a Yoga class
- Mindfulness meditation
- meditate on prayer
All of these will help you slow down and get to know your body and emotions better. Many assume the answer is in your mind. It isn’t. It’s in your body. Once you begin to listen to your physical sensations, you will begin to catch the shut-down mode sooner and be able to use some of the nurturing steps below.
Step 3: Learn to let go
- Pull out a paper and ask what expectations do you have for yourself?
- Are they realistic?
- Are these others’ expectations of you or are you assuming and expecting them of yourself? Really stop and think about this. You may be surprised by your answer.
- Who’s the voice in your head that puts those expectations there? A parent, teacher, boss?
Then ask if you can give at least one or more tasks to someone else. Ask for help, it’s okay.
You can’t be all, to everyone, all the time.
Use your support system and resources. If your feeling anxiety about giving control to someone else, pay attention to that. Is it okay that it’s not perfect? Listen to what your body is telling you about how you feel about this and allow that feeling to be there for a moment. This is vulnerability.
Better yet, does it have to be done right at this moment? Can you give yourself permission to do it a later? Maybe today, getting it done now does feel better than waiting. Tomorrow, it may be the opposite. Either one is okay, not wrong. It doesn’t make you less than. Again, pay attention to what your body is telling you. This is vulnerability.
Finally, what are the expectations you are putting on others? Are those realistic? Do they know these expectations?
Step 3: Do something that brings you joy and pleasure
When was the last time you did something you enjoy? Take out a piece of paper and list what you did as a kid that you loved. Puzzles, building, coloring, drawing, riding your bike, skating. These don’t have to stop just because you’re an adult. List a hobby that you’ve been wanting to do but put it aside. Is there a class you can take (exercise, photography, writing, art i.e.)? This list can go on and on.
Step 4: Express yourself (in baby steps)
Doesn’t matter if its expressing it to yourself through journaling, meditating, art, even crying (yes, crying is a stress reliever); or if you express it to a love one or friend. The point is to release it one way or another.
The key to reducing anxiety and preventing escalated anger is to Nurture You with love, patience, and self-compassion. This will only lead to healing and trust. Healing and trust allows a space for empathy for you and others, which then leads to healthy, loving, and satisfying relationships.
Intimate relationships with yourself and/or others leads to connectedness and peace that you are enough. Believing you’re enough reduces anxiety to a much more reasonable level.