When you are someone who has experienced the fight with anxiety you can, after a while, feel pretty beat up. It can like seem like an endless uphill climb, this struggle to change crisis thinking to problem-solving, this relearning what our Flight or Fight responses actually mean, this journey into brand-new levels of self-learning and self-care.

That beat-up feeling isn’t helped by how hard we can be on ourselves. As I’ve pointed out in other blog posts we who battle anxiety tend to have pretty fierce personal standards (whether we’re clear on that consciously or not about ourselves.) We can start to feel like the world’s biggest failure. Everyone around us seems to have their act together. Why can’t we get there, we ask ourselves?

We can wind up feeling ineffectual, weak, lost and living a life that is more like flailing than living. We can feel like losers. And as if we weren’t already having a hard time we get to cart THAT thinking around as well. How do we combat that thinking?

Maybe We Need a Fresh Perspective

One place to start might be a reminder of just what this fight with anxiety is about – or, rather, where it starts. It starts with some less-than-useful thinking. And right away we can get ourselves in trouble, because we must be failures since we don’t think clearly or correctly, right? Ugh! NO! Every human being has to LEARN to think. We have the hardware (our brains), but the software doesn’t come with the system…

We have to learn how to think. And while most of us have had something in the way of a formal education (i.e., been to school) it is pretty appalling to consider just how haphazard our thinking education really has been.

Tough Guy 2

For example, one person learns to take chances socially – chat people up, talk to relative strangers, risk rejection, and not see it as anything big or scary. Another person learns to be tentative around people, to be afraid of social rejection, to learn to NOT talk to people unless they feel perfectly safe. Is there a curriculum someplace about social anxiety? Hardly. Nope, it is pretty random, pretty much dependent on the roll of the dice…

What and who roles those dice? It’s quite a list! Our parents figure largely, of course. They, mostly unintentionally, transmit their courage AND their fears to us, and we are more or less helpless in the face of that transmitting. Then there’s whatever traumas we’ve suffered in our family, if we have, or the traumas we’ve suffered in our lives – and only heaven knows if we had the necessary skills to deal with those effectively. Many of us did not, at least at the time…

And we can’t forget the expectations we pick up from the world around us – family, school, friends, work, church, you name it. Those expectations can become a mighty burden – what we expect from ourselves, what is “good” behavior, what measure success or failure, etc.

ALL of that and more gets jammed into our brains, and 99% of it is nothing we ever consciously review, think through or question. It JUST is. So our thinking can easily, very easily become a fertile seed-bed for anxious thoughts.

The bottom-line? We who fight anxiety are contending with a lifetime of less-than-optimal thinking forced on us, as well as an often limited set of skills in sorting out and challenging that thinking.

So before we go trashing ourselves we might consider how hard we’ve worked to keep our heads above water DESPITE our anxious thinking. We’re clearly made of tougher stuff than we usually give ourselves credit for…

And the Fun Doesn’t Stop There

Of course we haven’t had to just endure whatever problem-turned-to-crisis thinking that’s haunted us for the last X number of years – we’ve also had to face through and deal with the physical and emotional barrage of Flight or Fight. And that’s hardly been a cakewalk…

Nope, we’ve had to endure sleepless nights, nameless dread, bodies that feel/seem out of control, profound despair and depression, panic attacks, seemingly weird physical reactions – it’s been a real party. We’ve twitched away from situations that risked us experiencing those feelings and sensations, which meant we’ve lost out on good times, job opportunities, trips we’ve wanted to take, etc.

Tough Girl 1

We’ve also isolated ourselves, wanting to just FEEL BETTER, and not wanting to have to explain or justify our “weird” behavior to other people. We’ve sat in quiet (or loud) suffering, feeling trapped and scared and mad and deeply, deeply frustrated at what felt like life passing us by.

We’ve worried that we’re going crazy, or that our bodies are just going to suddenly give out on us, or that we have some weird, unusual disease or physical problem that the doctors can’t find (but which we KNOW is there – at least our fear is certain that something is there.) We’ve spent a lot of money on physical examinations and therapy programs and medication and stuff we found online and who knows what else.

We’ve wanted to SCREAM with frustration, dig a hole and bury ourselves in it, find an alternate universe were there was no such thing as anxiety and panic and depression. Between our bodies, our feelings and our relentless self-criticism for not “being stronger” or “just getting over it” we are under all-but-constant bombardment. Weak? Wimpy? Really? I don’t think so!

And We Were Doing (or ARE Doing) All of This While Attempting to Live Our Lives…

Maybe we’d have some room to trash ourselves if we just sat around eating bon-bons while we were dealing with anxiety. But no, we’ve been BUSY while we’re having this largely-invisible-to-others firefight with anxiety.

We’ve been, many of us, still holding down a job! That job might be earning money in a company or working for ourselves, or it might be raising one or more kids (which I’m convinced is probably the hardest job in the world of terms of sheer number of hours spent AT work…) So we get to fight anxiety and still have responsibilities to other people, still have to produce decent work product, most (or all) days of the week.

We’ve still paying bills (if we’re not to the point where we’re in a corner just trying to avoid ANYTHING that will make us anxious.) We’re still dealing with the mundane tasks of food shopping and house-cleaning.

Or we might be caring for elderly relatives or parents, or dealing with real physical challenges of our own on top of anxiety. We might be dealing with house foreclosures or traveling out of town for work or finishing school in one form or another.

The point is that we’re NOT just sitting around, however hard we are on ourselves, however much we think other people think we’re lazy or not trying hard enough! We are still in the world, still dealing with living in the world, along with trying to find ways to cope with our anxiety.

We’re Much, Much Stronger Than We Give Ourselves Credit For…

Maybe it’s time to start looking at ourselves just a little more honestly. It might even be time to acknowledge that we’re pretty damn tough. We don’t give up, however much we FEEL like giving up, however much things seem unbearable at any given moment.

Tough Guy 1

We are, in fact, survivors. Maybe it’s time to just say that to ourselves, and realize that, whatever we’re afraid of, we have ALREADY demonstrated that we have the stamina, the energy and the determination to face our fears and worries down and deal with them.

All we need are some effective tools and maybe a little support as we tackle our anxiety. We need to learn to do better thinking. We need to learn to see Flight or Fight for what it is, not what it feels like. We need to learn to do self-care, in multiple ways. We need to be honest with ourselves and our fears, not run away from them.

We’ve already demonstrated that we are remarkably durable, remarkably stubborn. We are MORE than capable of winning the fight against anxiety. We’re survivors. We’re fighters.