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There is a pretty common belief in our world these days that says if you are wrestling with anxiety or depression then there must be something wrong with you. You must not be a very strong person – you’re weak, or wimpy, or a whiner.

Or you must be broken somehow – you’re fighting “mental illness” – not like fighting the flu illness, but some permanent handicap that can’t be really fixed. And again the implication is that you’re somehow failing, rather than fighting a real and debilitating issue that needs attention, clear thinking and work to overcome (and that can very much BE overcome.)

But none of that is true. The problem is that we have some thinking that is making us fearful – period. EVERYONE has some anxious thinking around something. Being anxious is one of the most normal things in the world!

To be human is to wrestle, to some degree, with anxiety, however calm, collected and cool we look on the outside. The heart of the challenge is mastering the tools that make us effective in managing and overcoming that anxiety.

Practice, Practice, Practice

If there’s one thing that’s true for all of us that do battle with anxiety/depression/panic, it is that we really DON’T have much interest in facing into that anxiety. It is the very nature of this struggle that anxiety wants us to AVOID dealing with it. You don’t get very far in the natural world if you’re hot to take tigers on bare-handed…

Nope, it makes WAY more sense (in the natural world) if you get your butt in gear and get AWAY from the tigers! Millions of years of evolution have shaped a response system that literally overrides conscious, lucid thought (when it is at full power), because you need to get moving NOW.

So what does all that mean for you, the consumer? It means that we have to expect this work of facing down anxious thinking to be difficult, even on the good days. The entire mechanism of Flight or Fight wants us to NOT look that fearful thinking in the eye.

We have to expect that the work will be tiring, tedious, exhausting. We have to expect that some days it will feel like we’re getting nowhere, and that all our efforts are pointless. We will get irritable, scratchy, angry, sad, frustrated and just plain grumpy.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this work is that:

1) It is infinitely worth doing,
2) We (all of us) are capable of doing it, and
3) We don’t have to (however we feel) get it all done in a single sitting. We’re most likely NOT going to get it done in one sitting. We have to practice.

More About Bicycles

I mentioned in my last blog post about my learning to ride a bike. Let just confess here that I wasn’t the world’s fastest master of the bicycle.

I wasn’t very self-confident at the start, and it didn’t help that I was one of the last people I knew to learn to ride a bike. I felt rushed, and I was frankly afraid of falling.

So my Mom (bless her patient soul!) kept at it with me. We’d go out after dinner and she’d run along behind me, holding the back of the bike, while I tottered along, afraid of really pushing, afraid of not learning it, afraid of looking stupid… so weeks passed, and all the while I was feeling like I was getting nowhere.

But when I think back on that time I remember clearly that there were signs I was getting it – that I was starting to manage not just one skill, but the several skills that made it possible to ride a bike. And then, one great night, it all came together and suddenly I realized she wasn’t holding the back of the bike anymore…

Dealing with anxiety will often be like that too. We’re not very skillful at the start. It takes us time to get much traction. Then we begin to experience some movement. We start buying the notion that our anxious feelings and physical reactions just don’t mean much. We begin to see through the fog of our fears.

The Bottom Line

I write all this because we have to take a little longer view of this work. We want to stop being anxious NOW – I get that – no question. Every day we lose to anxiety feels terrible. But we didn’t get to that place overnight, and it WILL take some time and practice to shake free of it.

It won’t take nearly as long, of course! And with steady effort you will be surprised at the progress you begin making. The key here is realizing the work will take a little time.

Next up – REALLY taking care of ourselves.

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