Every time I write something about anxiety, I giggle a little bit. I know it’s in my name – I am, after all, the Anxious Introvert – but there will always be a small part of me that, when I sit down to write, whispers in my ear, “who wants to hear from you? You don’t know anything.”
I know who that little voice belongs to, and it isn’t me. It’s anxiety speaking. Yet even though I know that it isn’t true, and I can almost guarantee there’s someone out there RIGHT NOW who wants to hear what I have to say, I always have an equally compelling little whisper in my brain saying, what if it’s true?
When it comes to being the Anxious Introvert, small things can require the greatest courage. Sometimes getting out of bed is hard. How can you disappoint anyone if you don’t interact with them? Going to social events, parties, networking events, even going to class can drain you of all your energy – because while these things may be enjoyable (and indeed, I LOVE parties) they exhaust you. Being introverted on the basest level simply means that in order to recharge energy, you need to spend time alone, but having anxiety means that everything you do wears you out.
And this we all know.
I am a sensitive person to begin with. I cry at sad movies (and sometimes even at not-sad movies, depending on what mood I’m in). I weep over poetry. I’m a hopeless romantic, a dreamer, someone who feels very deeply about everything, even when it would be better if I could withhold from investing emotionally. Add on top of that a dollop of introvertedness and just upwards of one metric ton of anxiety, and you have an emotional mess about to happen.
Or to clean up, because usually at that point I’ve already lost it.
So how can I, the Anxious Introvert (INFP, if you want to know) deal with all these constant emotions and feelings but still live a life which gives me joy?
There is no right answer to this question – but there are a few wrong ones. Let me get them out of the way first:
- I’m not going to stop being “so emotional.” This phrase and everyone who says it to me makes me…emotional. And what emotion, do you ask? Fury. It makes me downright furious. More on this in a minute.
- I’m also not going to stop caring about the people I care about. Sometimes people think that in order to protect oneself from the pain which Anxiety warns us about, we need to keep people at an arm’s length. Not doing that either.
- I refuse to live my life in fear, and I refuse to accept anyone or anything which tries to get me to do so.
Sometimes, these things seem so obvious – of course I want to keep caring about the special people in my life! But then things happen and I think, wow, I shouldn’t have let that person get so close to me…note to future self.
Another one which gets me really riled up is when people tell me to stop being “so emotional.” I could go on about this for hours. Every time someone tells me to stop being emotional, I want to tell them to stop breathing. Not in a malicious way – just in a “see how you like it” sort of way.
The truth is that being the Anxious Introvert means that there is a lot more room in my life for pain and disappointment, but there is also a lot more room for joy, as well. So how do we go about getting past the bad things to finally see the good ones?
Although I’m no expert, I have a few key ideas from my own personal experience which may shed some light on the subject.
1. Recognize What Your Anxiety is Telling You
I like to think about anxiety as a well-meaning but poorly informed friend. Anxiety stems from being hyper-sensitive to my surroundings and my insecurities, and it tries to warn me about the things which I feel might harm me by setting up action plans in advance. However, like that paralyzing “I should not jump” feeling you have when standing on the edge of a cliff, sometimes your body overreacts.
Just recently (as of writing this) I had an anxiety attack about the coming semester. I have to head back to school soon, and while I was mentally preparing myself for all that entails, I felt the tell-tale signs of a panic attack. However, I didn’t know why I was panicking. I was sitting in a safe place, doing something I enjoy, and having a good time.
And then I realized, I’m not in trouble. My anxiety is simply trying to tell me something, and I need to listen.
Our bodies do something similar with our health. Headaches, stomach aches, vision impairment, muddle-headedness, and lethargy are all signs of one very simple problem: dehydration. These extreme responses are really our bodies just trying to get our attention: we need water right now. So in the midst of my little panic attack, I began sorting through what my body was trying to tell me.
As it turns out, there was nothing huge. Like drinking a simple glass of water, all I needed to do was make a list of the things I was holding in my brain so that I wouldn’t worry about forgetting them before I left for college. Actually, I do this quite often, and sometimes I even do it before bed, so I can just shut my brain down and know that my paper brain will be ready for me in the morning.
Understanding what my anxiety is telling me takes practice. Sometimes it’s an environmental thing: there is music that is too loud, the people I’m around don’t support me, I don’t feel like I’m involved, and et cetera. Sometimes it’s external, as mentioned above. Whatever it is, it’s useful to know what things are particular triggers for you, and come up with an action plan for how to deal with them when it arises.
Personally, I like making lists. Whenever I’m anxious about something like a trip or a move or a return to the schoolyear, I make lists out the wazoo. Even if I never reference these lists (and often I don’t need to, since I keep a spare copy in my head) it helps take the pressure off my brain to write them down, and my anxiety can sleep well knowing that it’s done it’s job.
2. Set Boundaries, and Hold Yourself to Them
What about anxiety related to people? This is a bit trickier. There are a few people in my life who trigger my anxiety beyond reason, and though most of them are people I would consider very dear to me, it can be hard to be around them when anxiety flashes a giant, red HAZARD sign every time they enter the room.
Oftentimes when dealing with people who give me anxiety, I remind myself that a.) they aren’t trying to make me uncomfortable on purpose, and b.) they probably have no idea that I have a problem when they walk into the room. And while I don’t recommend going up to someone and saying, “hey, I want you to leave because you make me anxious”, I do recommend getting a handle on those feelings and understanding how to deal with them.
First, it’s important that you set boundaries. What sorts of things wear you out? How can you limit those things to a level that you can take and still be mentally healthy? How can your friends and family support you in these measures? These are all essential questions to ask when considering your boundaries.
My best friend and I have a very clear line of communication in this regard. Both of us are Anxious Introverts, but different things affect us, and both of us have certain boundaries we respect in each other. We make sure to tell each other when we’ve had enough, when we need our space, when we need to change plans, or when we need anything which may seem extreme to any outside party. Each of us have also learned to respect the other person’s boundaries, even when we don’t understand them.
This is fine and dandy, but there is yet another part of this which we mustn’t forget: we have to respect our own boundaries, too.
Sometimes, pushing ourselves to engage when we feel pushed past our limit is good, even healthy (see #3), but we can’t do this all the time, or our boundaries cease to exist. We need to make sure that we have enough self-respect to hold ourselves to our boundaries, too. Think about it. Why would we show a massive amount of care to the people we love, such as our friends and family, but not to ourselves?
Unfortunately, many of the most selfless people in the world set themselves up to be anxious disasters simply because they don’t give themselves the boundaries they need to take care of themselves. They think that saying no to someone’s request means that they are doing that person a disservice – and they may think that taking care of themselves is selfless, and therefore not okay.
It’ almost like inviting anxiety into our lives.
3. Practice Courage.
As a yogi, I firmly believe that everything in life takes practice. This is something that rings true in dealing with anxiety.
If you read my post The Anxious Introvert’s Take On Courage then you might remember my ideas about what it means to live bravely even when you feel constantly afraid. If not, I recommend reading it – it goes into this topic in much greater detail.
Just to sum up for the sake of this post, I want to say that the best way to conquer anxiety and live your best life is to live it bravely. You must learn to understand what it is that your anxiety means, learn how to make the most of it, and then practice living in spite of it every single day. And note that I use the word practice here, a word I chose deliberately, because that is what it truly takes.
Unlike great legends and superhero movies, no one reaches their full potential in the first shot. It always, always takes more than one try to figure out where your limits are. You must be brave, my friend. This is not an option if you want to live a life in which you are free and happy. You must be brave to live even when anxiety tells you all the ways you can be hurt and disappointed. You must be brave even when anxiety tells you that no one loves your or even likes you or values you at all. It takes courage to believe that you have something to offer. It takes courage to sit down at the laptop every day, write a blog post, and publish the darn thing – even though anxiety tells you that no one will read it.
Every time that I publish a post, even if no one reads it, my courage grows. Every time I do a small thing that scares me, my courage grows even more. I still have anxiety – but instead of a roaring voice telling me to stop, drop, and roll at the first hint of danger, it is a quiet whisper, drowned out by the stronger voice which says, I just might get through this.
Some days are worse than others. This last year, I suffered a few setbacks from which I didn’t think I would recover. They reaffirmed all of things that anxiety was telling me; that I was unlovable, that no one cared about me, that I had no talent, no worth, no future. And then something happened which stopped all of that in its tracks.
I remembered who I was. I remember that I am a child of God, a daughter of the King, a princess. I remembered that God made me exactly how He wanted me to be made, and that He loves me, and even though anxiety has isolated me and filled me with fear, He is still here with me. In that moment, I chose to be brave enough to believe it.
While in recovery from what I mentioned above, I still feel that every day I’m getting stronger. This is the hope I have for you, my friend. You can live a life of purpose and meaning, even when Anxiety tells you that maybe that isn’t the best idea. You can be strong and courageous, not because some magical pill takes away those feelings (although let me say, my anxiety meds definitely help) but because the God who created you has got your back.
Someday, anxiety will only be a small voice in your head. You can smile and nod, and say, I hear you. Then you can move on with your day. Look forward to that day, my friend. I will see you there.