Combating Anxiety: I'm Not Angry. I'm Overwhelmed
There was a time in my life when I wouldn't ask for help. In fact, I wouldn't dare let you know I needed help. If you'd asked how I was doing, I'd dodge the subject and instead divert the attention back to you... all the while frustrated that no one seemed to care about me!
To someone who doesn't experience anxiety or live in chronic worry and internal pressure this may sound silly; even crazy. But for those of us who do, this is our existence.
An anxious mind is always assessing, planning and on the look-out for something to worry about. It's what it does best. This not only wreaks havoc on our mental and physical condition, but it can damage our relationships and overall lifestyle.
One of the classic hallmarks of anxiety is black-and-white thinking. This all-or-nothing point of view slowly but surely distorts facts and perceptions. Our brain begins to manifest isolating thoughts such as, "if you can't figure out that I need help, you must not care about me" or, "If I have to ask, it doesn't really count as help" and "If I ask, people will think I'm needy".
So instead, we learn to mask our natural instinct for connection and support. We push down our fear, desperation and loneliness with a smile and a friendly, "how are you?".
But deep inside we're bubbling with anxious energy which eventually erupts into anger, aloofness or irritability.
But we're not angry, we're overwhelmed and we need to learn how to express our needs in a way that can be heard. To do that, however, we have to first know what those needs are.
So what do we do?
A great first step is to find someone safe to talk to. As hard as it is, we have to come clean. There is power in sharing our truth.
When I finally met my teacher and really opened up, it was like a thousand pound weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The gift I found in having a teacher, mentor or coach is that she became my advocate, mirror and guide.
She never judged me, but instead helped me to see life through another lens. Each time I talk with her we can pick up right where we left off because there is a history between us. I don't have to start over every time we meet or talk on the phone. Which, if I did, could become very anxiety producing. This vital relationship is how I learned to really trust myself.
Assumption is the lowest form of communication
Another common element of anxiety and overwhelm (although everyone does it!) is the tendency to assume. We can learn to catch ourselves assuming by adjusting our thoughts the moment we notice we're having entire conversations in our head, with other people!
5 key tools
The psychology of yoga gives us 5 key tools for healthy relationships, which includes clear communication. I will go into all 5 in a coming article, but for now, its important to note that one of those tools is fairness.
I've learned through personal experience that it's a great act of unfairness to expect others to do something we don't have the courage to ask for.
Luckily, yoga gives us a path to develop clarity and courage about what we need. And a teacher can help us not only get clear, but learn concrete ways to kindly and honestly articulate what we need. Modern Positive Psychology would call this same thing emotional intelligence. It's a vital ingredient in healing anxiety at the core.
Without a trusted teacher or coach it's easy for us to lean toward our tendecies and fall into old patterns.
An important note from personal experience. A teacher, mentor or coach should never tell us how to live our lives, but instead help us connect with our strength and truth, so WE can live our lives.
Another indispensable factor in overcoming overwhelm, is our willingness to practice self-care.
Yoga describes the self-to-self relationship as primary. We have to constructively and compassionately study ourselves and come to know our own wants, needs, tendencies, strengths, liabilities and values. If we don't know what we need, how can we ever ask for it?
Self-care is not about being selfish.
It's about filling up our own cup first, so we can freely and honestly give. Otherwise we become empty, resentful and angry. And those feelings can only lead to anxiety and selfishness, because in that mental condition all we think about is what we aren't getting, what people aren't doing for us, or what we percieve or imagine they are doing to us.
Our focus is almost always on self when we don't practice self-care.
In yoga psychology "practice" is defined as something we can sustain consistently. Self-care is a personal practice that can help us not only connnect to who we are, but more honestly and skillfully with the world around us.
But for any practice to be truly beneficial it must fit into our individual lives, as they are right now. If we're a working mom or dad, or have two jobs we probably aren't going to have time to go to a 90-minute yoga class or the gym everyday. We might not be able to afford a private massage every week or get a facial.
But we can carve out 10-minutes for a yogic daily practice.
Often, in the west, when we hear the word yoga we think of poses. But yoga is much more than that, and the tradition gives us incredible tools to transform an anxious and overwhelmed mind.
In yoga psychology practice is a mechanism to connect to the most intimate part of who we are.
There is a part of our mind that is already at peace. There is a part of us that already knows what we need. There is a part of us that never suffers. We can name this part of us anything we like.
We can experience this part of us as breath, or the space between our thoughts, or as an image of a strong steady mountain. The key is to be present with this part of who we are on a regular basis.
Some of us might experience this part of us by taking a walk in nature, meditating, listening to music, reading an inspiring book or lighting a candle and chanting. Whatever it is, we need to be doing it.
When I work privately with my coaching clients, one of the first things I do is help them create a sustainable personal practice which can be easily added into their western lives.
Just Do it
I once went an entire year without getting my nails done! (for a yoga teacher that's a LONG time!)
I kept telling myself I didn't have time. I'd make everyone and everything else more important. It's not that other people can't be at the top of the list; it's just that we can't be at the bottom.
When I finally went out and got my darn nails done I came home to my family filled to the brim and ready to be there with them 100%.
Of course this is a simple and even sillly example but it drives home the point...
If I'm too afraid to ask for what I need, but secretly expect someone to give me permission, or do it for me, I'm mixing a sour recipe for overwhelm, anxiety and disaster.
I find contemplating or journaling the following questions can really help me find clarity and get to the heart of things...
"If I weren't afraid to ask, what would I ask for? Or "If I were 100% honest, what do I need most right now"?
Joy Stone uniquely combines yoga tradition and modern positive psychology to help men and women move beyond anxiety, fear and overwhelm without medication or traditional talk therapy
Joy is active in her private facebook group each week with Live Talks, Blogs, Videos and Posts.