One of the worst problems from the big bucket of problems that accompanies living with anxiety is your gradually increasing sense of isolation.
The world’s recent experience dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has focused a bright and very sharp spotlight on how debilitating social isolation can be…even among the healthy. I wish I could say that you were receiving more understanding from your friends and loved ones as a result of this, but I think the habit of assuming that everybody knows what you know has left you feeling more isolated because of an even more pronounced sense that people don’t understand you and they don’t understand what you’re going through.
Living with anxiety, whether that’s generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD or social anxiety, is like living in a room where all the oxygen is slowly being sucked out. As a result, you feel a little more suffocated every day, every week, every month, and sometimes over the course of many, many years.
You find yourself in what seems like a continuous loop of fear and avoidance, negative thinking and negative feelings. So you do the only thing that seems natural, you avoid the situation which is activating all the agony. The problem subsides, then lo and behold, a new tactic for dealing with the anxiety is learned.
So, because it was successful, you keep practicing that avoidance tactic. Your brain believes it’s the best way to make the pain go away. But that drives you deeper into isolation. You end up in a self-perpetuating cycle of fear, negativity and avoidance, which then makes it even harder to pull yourself out of the abyss.
Those unfamiliar with the experience of out of control anxiety struggle to understand a notion like, “not wanting to be know.” Maybe you even think it and try to wave it away when it comes up. But it sure hangs on tight, doesn’t it?
Psychologist have determined that deep down, being seen, known and understood could possibly be more important to you than love despite how much we want to be loved. And even in the face of that understanding, there’s avoidance of “being known.”
Life does not need to be this way. You can bring about the change you deeply want.
I’m sure it feels to you like the work associated with changing iss just too damned hard. Maybe it appears too scary. Too risky.
Well…horrible new, I’m afraid. You’re right. It is hard.
Yes, it feels uncomfortable, feels scary, and looks too risky. But you know what else is hard? You know what else is scary and risky?
If you choose to do nothing, then your current state of being is what your default future looks like, only worse. Because every time you avoid doing things that make you anxious, you train your brain to believe that’s what’s best for you.
But, look. You are made of harder stuff. While it’s absolutely true that the situations which provoke anxiety for you are deeply uncomfortable, they’re not intolerable. You can handle the uncomfortable feelings in service of a greater objective.
It Doesn’t Need To Be Like That Anymore
I can’t tell you exactly what inspired me to change my life. I’m not going to lie to you, my anxiety and depression were only considered moderate by my shrink. But I can tell you for sure, it was interfering with what I wanted to do, and I had grown sick and tired of it.
One autumn afternoon back in 1987, I found myself sitting in an open doorway, crying bitterly, wondering if I was going crazy and whether I’d ever be able to feel normal. It wasn’t the first time that had happened and it wasn’t going to be the last. However, it ignited a desire to change my circumstances..
I had no idea at the time that I was suffering from depression and anxiety. I just thought I was crazy, and that I’d never be able to stop the downward spiral of negative thinking and negative self-talk that had plagued me for almost my entire life.
Of course at the time, I had next to no self-awareness. So, I wasn’t even aware of the incessant stream of self criticism, fear of judgment by others, and fear of failure that was slowly debilitating me. I just thought it was how the world was and wondered how everybody else was able to handle this thing and I couldn’t.
However, I found something great. I found someone to help me see what I had never been unable to see before. And when I saw this thing, it was like it appeared out of the mist. Like I had been staring at it all the time, but never been able to see it.
That thing is awareness. Self-awareness. Emotional self-awareness.
Believe it or not, you are in the perfect place to begin your journey. You probably have a leg up on mere mortals because you’re already aware of something most people never recognize…the physical pain, the psychological torment of this tortured way of thinking and being.
Because you know this, because you are aware that something needs to change, you’re already 20% of the way toward your objective.
The loneliness you’re feeling, the isolation, the lack of connection and loss of meaning…all that is the juice that can get you where you want to go.
You’re aware there’s a problem.
The path forward in now opened for you.
Is Fear, Anxiety Or Panic Suffocating You?
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