3 Hidden Reasons Why Your Anxiety Keeps Creeping Back
It's not because you forgot to practice gratitude or positive visualization.
Posted Jan 09, 2019
Ever notice how 9 out of 10 people say “I’m fine” when asked about their day? Negativity, pessimism, and a lack of motivation could consume you — yet you’re still OK. Except when you’re not. Etiquette aside, everyone’s susceptible to bad moods, but what to do when the in-between states of blah and bad linger too long? Your thoughts are starting to race, but not as much as when you had panic attacks; your coping skills aren't maladaptive, but your outlook remains bleak; you’ve tried meditation, CBT exercises and positive visualization, yet you’re still in a funk.
How can you feel more calm and in control? It’s not an easy task to see beyond your worries or to the ways you’re contributing to feeling unsettled, but it’s always helpful to increase your insight. Here are three areas to assess for improved mental functioning.
Check your worldview. When things aren’t going right, it can be easy to default to a negative thoughts bias: “Why does this always happen to me?” or “Will I ever I find a healthy relationship?” When this occurs, try getting outside your head and into your daily routines. How do you spend your free time? We all have “mindless candy” tendencies, such as reality TV, Facebook, or cable news. But those habits can be downright depressing.
While scrolling my Instagram account recently, I happened upon an adorable image of an animal sanctuary volunteer cuddling the sweetest black calf. "Aww, look at those huge brown eyes, that is so sweet," I thought...until I read the caption and discovered the vulnerable beast died three days after being rescued from the slaughterhouse. Apparently “Christmas” couldn’t bear the trauma of being separated from his mom after she died. My negative bias immediately defaulted to the ills of the world and the endless cruel acts perpetrated by humans. Not exactly a healthy mindset. True, it’s hard to “unsee” powerful images, but balancing the bad with the good is found through intentional acts of justice seeking. Sometimes this means deleting your Twitter app or reading an uplifting book.
A healthy worldview is found through recognizing that while bad things occur, and humans can be heartless, the universe is an inherently safe place where most people possess good will. This mentality reinforces order and trust that things will inevitably work out. More importantly, it renews trust in your ability to solve your problems. Caveat: Parents and caretakers gave us our first taste of the justice system. If your childhood included erratic or unfair meting of consequences for bad deeds, your worldview may require more attention. To quote Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
Switch up your problem-solving arsenal. When your emotional well runs dry, take inventory of your current coping skills. Behaviors that were helpful as a kid may not work so well now. Let’s say your dad was a screamer, and nothing you said or did could quell his rage. Remaining quiet in those moments was a coping skill that helped you survive childhood. However, silencing your voice in adulthood leads to poor boundaries and low self-esteem. On a similar note, if running five miles was your de-stress go-to several years ago, your body may now need a gentler exercise to release tension. The beauty of problem-solving is the wealth of options available. Testing new tools is also good for creativity, stepping outside your comfort zone and discovering hidden talents.
Do the things you don’t want to do. Life can be boring — traffic, work, watching your weight, and paying the bills takes its toll. Finding time for your passion project or a yoga class can be a challenge. Boredom is an underrated factor in mental health.
According to research, highly anxious people, especially those who are overly sensitive to pain and punishment, may withdraw from the world in the name of self-preservation. A byproduct is feeling under-stimulated.
"If people don't have the inner resources to deal with boredom constructively, they might do something destructive to fill the void. Those who have the patience to stay with that feeling, and the imagination and confidence to try out new ideas, are likely to make something creative out of it," says researcher Teresa Belton.
One fix for the adulting blahs is to schedule time each day for completing a necessary, albeit mundane task. The sooner you knock it off your to-do list, the more time you have to enjoy life. To quote former Navy SEAL William H. McCraven: "If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,'' he said. "It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
Anxiety can seem like a random, intrusive interruption to your day. The good news is that intentional focus on some not-so-obvious causes of worries and stress can get you on the right side of calm. Possessing a healthy worldview, an array of coping skills, and knocking off menial tasks can go a long way toward peace of mind.
For more anxiety-relief interventions, check out my author bio.
Copyright 2019 Linda Esposito, LCSW