“When it rains, it pours,” is something I always heard growing up. As I get older, it makes more and more sense. Complications, stressors and life challenges seem to come in waves, or, at least, it feels that way. It could be the power of our emotional state during difficult times, or it could just be a coincidence. All I know is that multiple stressors add a great deal to our level of anxiety and even contribute to depression and self-doubt.
Lately, I have found this to be true in my personal life. Even positive events, such as moving or going on a business trip, can increase the level of emotional discomfort, and leave us reeling in a state of uncertainty that, in turn, increases our levels of anxiety. Sometimes I find myself breathing faster, having racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping and difficulty eating, and feeling as if I am not at my best.
This is what I have dealt with my entire life. I will most likely never truly master my anxiety because I have a brain disorder called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). But for many people who don’t have severe anxiety or OCD, stressors can still contribute to feelings of uncertainty and doubt, and can even lead to similar physical and emotional states that feel downright lousy.
I keep reminding my daughter to stay young as long as she can and not hurry to grow up. Children often say they can’t wait to drive, go to college, have a job or have children of their own. I think to myself, “If they only knew how getting older is what adults often dread, then maybe youth would stop being wasted on the young.”
The one thing I love to do is watch my child grow. Despite being an adult, I learn so much from her that I enjoy riding life along with her. I just wish that time could slow down, allow us to breathe a little and savor the special moments in life. But the reality is that we must enjoy every moment, and try to carry those special times with us as we go through the more challenging moments in life.
We often get so overwhelmed with life that we block ourselves from truly taking in the wonderful experiences that truly make life worth living. My goal every day is to be present, not take myself too seriously and look at life’s stressors as temporary interferences. They will pass, and we will overcome them.
I have found that, despite everything that gets thrown at me, I am still standing. There will be times that I will need to walk away for a moment and take deep breaths, only to remind myself that this, too, shall pass. I tell myself to let go of this “need to control every situation.” When I let go of things that are out of my control, I feel better and my anxiety begins to reside. At times, it will feel more difficult than others, but I will only keep on practicing.
When you are down on yourself or a situation, try to come up with a positive alternative to a negative thought. Envision a positive image or memory, that even for a moment you will find some peace.
Happiness in life comes from within, and in time, if you allow it. Nothing is constant. Before you know it, that stress that you feel will turn into a moment of peace by the simple things that matter to you most — a hug from your child, a piece of chocolate, a friend, a funny joke, a walk on the beach or anything that takes away that weight resting on your shoulders. If even for a moment, remind yourself to let go of the things you have no control over.
Some useful tools that I use include making lists of things I can do to reduce the load of stress that I feel. Lists help us keep from forgetting the important things we need to get done. They help clear your mind.
Tips for releasing stress or anxiety:
» 1. Learn to laugh at the mental noise and call it what it is: anxiety and stress.
» 2. Breathe deeply, hold and release slowly so that you are getting oxygen into your brain. (You may or may not notice that when you are stressed, you are actually holding your breath.) This breathing exercise will take practice, and is effective and worthwhile.
» 3. Take a walk on the beach and feel the sand under your feet.
» 4. Take yourself out for a treat. Then, when you feel ready, get back to taking baby steps and doing one thing at a time.
Don’t take on too many things at once, or the stress will come right back. Always remember that things that are out of our control have no right to destroy our sense of peace and well-being. Do the best you can. And, if that doesn’t work, watch a Mel Brooks movie. I prefer History of the World, Part 1.
— Jonathan Lukas MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. He is in private practice and runs The OCD Treatment Center of Santa Barbara, working with adolescents and adults with anxiety disorders. Click here for more information or call 805.453.2347.