How many times have you heard the words “Just Calm Down.” ?
Are there any words that a person with an anxiety disorder, especially panic disorder, hates more than these?
I’m just giving you some food for thought today readers. I know I have talked about this before, and I will probably write 20 more blog posts about it before I am done. I think it is THAT important.
I want you to take a moment to consider that when you are feeling anxious or panicky or keyed up, and somebody says these words to you: “You need to just calm down.” ……..maybe….just maybe….. there is some truth to what they are saying.
If somebody were to suggest that possibility to me 20 years ago when my anxiety disorder first erupted, my head would have whipped around and lasers would have flown out of my eyes as I said “How dare you?”
Okay, that’s not true. I was way too timid to ever do that, but I would have been thinking it.
I used to spend most of my days either having panic attacks, or carrying on about something or another that had me really worked up and feeling anxious. And I can’t recall EVER trying to calm myself down. Ever. I looked to others to make me feel better – that was my natural reaction. That was the reaction that felt right to me. I wanted reassurance. I wanted somebody to fix what was wrong. But rarely did anybody attempt to do that for me. Usually I just got told to calm down.
I hated it.
Family members used to say it to me all the time. And it was usually not in a concerned, gentle way. It was always in that exasperated, annoyed, eye rolling kind of way. If you have anxiety, you probably know the exact tone I mean.
It’s as if what they were REALLY saying was “Oh my GAWD. Get a grip. You are SO ridiculous. Why don’t you just grow up and quit being so whiny all the time??”
And every time I heard it, I felt belittled. I felt misunderstood. And I felt like nobody gave a damn about me. It really hurt. Why did nobody care enough about me to fix me? Why could nobody see how awful my anxiety was and give me some sympathy and some hugs and a solution to my problem?
I would usually just end up leaving the room with my eyes burning with tears, feeling ashamed of myself and stupid for having believed that somebody might actually give a damn.
Now, as I look back over the course of my life – my thoughts on this have completely changed. Now that I am healed from nervous exhaustion and looking at life with clear eyes and a clear head, I can see that they were all right. I really did need to “just calm down”.
It KILLS me to say that. It really does. I hate being wrong. I hate being in any situation that would allow my mother to say “Told you so!” in her sing- songy voice. But the truth is the truth, and MY truth is that I was overthinking, I was over-stressed, I was too dependent on other people and I really needed to calm myself down and stop freaking out all the time.
Now, I wish that my family and friends had said it MORE....although in a different way. I wish they had walked up to me, looked me dead in the eye, put their hands on my shoulders and said “Look at what you are doing to yourself! You are so worked up you aren’t thinking clearly. You are interpreting everything wrong! You need to rest and slow down! ”
I needed a mental “jolt” and I think that maybe hearing those strong words in that matter of fact kind of way could have been the wake up call I needed. I’ll never know.
Instead it was said to me with annoyance and disgust, which only stressed me more and perpetuated the anxiety.
But it’s not their fault. I can’t expect people without anxiety to understand what to say to somebody WITH anxiety or phrase things in the exact way to make it through our “wall of defense”. What I got was what I got, and looking back now, I wish I had gotten off the defensive and listened to what was really at the heart of what they were saying. I wish I had said to myself “Okay, yes they are being jerks and yes that stings to hear. But is it true?”
It never occurred to me to look at it that way.
I want to make sure it DOES occur to you. Do what you want with it after the occurring happens, but I am doing you no favors if I don’t give you this train of thought to consider.
“Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges.”
– Bryant McGill, Author
Living with anxiety is a very intense experience.
The non-stop drama and constant anxious feelings are very powerful and it feels very much like these feelings are happening TO us, as opposed to happening BECAUSE of us. We want to react to all of it. That is what feels natural. But we need to take a huge step back and look at the bigger picture and see how our big reactions to everything are only making things worse.
I do not mean that in a “blaming” way. Blame has nothing to do with anything I say in this blog……EVER. It’s about taking ownership of your anxiety disorder and accepting responsibility for your role in its creation and the role it currently plays in your life.
This is what empowers you!
I don’t want it to make you MAD and defensive when I tell you that you can control your emotions and calm yourself and your life down.
I want you to feel relief…..and be GLAD!
I want you to think “Thank goodness! Here is somebody telling me I have reason to have hope that I can get my life back!”
We start to believe very early on that we have no power over our anxiety.
We feel like victims, completely at the mercy of whenever our brain decides to start the “misfiring” or the “malfunctioning” or whatever we think it is that causes those waves of intense stress, anxiety, or panic to come.
And of course that is how we feel. What other way would we feel? We are chronic, habitual, hard-core negative thinkers. We aren’t going to start feeling the effects of intense stress and then cheer ourselves up, tell ourselves we are going to be just fine and that things will all work out if we just calm down and take some time to improve our emotional health.
Of course not! If that was the kind of people we were, we most likely wouldn’t have anxiety disorders. We would just be average people going through a bad time, right? The fact that we have anxiety disorders means that there is a pretty high chance that we are walking around telling ourselves that life has suddenly taken a big nosedive and the only way to deal with that is to tell ourselves how bad things are and get worked up about it on a regular basis. That is just who we are. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change our attitude and turn things around.
Anxiety disorders are not spider webs. Once we find ourselves in the middle of one, it doesn’t mean we are stuck there.
I am here to tell you that there is not one single second of your life, where you are not in complete control of your anxiety disorder.
Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than others to get there, but it is still possible. There is not one single second where your power is taken away from you. If you feel powerless, it is because you have given it away. You have “surrendered” your power to an imaginary beast that doesn’t even exist. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Anxiety is a friend….the best, most loyal friend you will ever have, and all it wants is for you remember that YES, you DO have power and that you need to trust yourself and use it.
THAT is what anxiety is all about, and once you get that message your time in Oz will end and you will find yourself back home again.
You DO have the power to stay calm. You DO have the power to not over-react, no matter how intense your fear is. You DO have the power to say to yourself “I can handle this. My knees may be knocking and my voice may be shaking but I can handle myself and I will not fall apart.”
You DO have the power to say “This drama is doing nothing to help me. I am going to keep thinking only slow composed thoughts until these feelings pass.” As soon as you prove this to your subconscious and to your brain, your friend Anxiety will leave and let you be in charge again. It no longer has to worry about you. It knows you will be okay.
Everywhere I see the “I can’t keep calm…I have anxiety.” phrase. It’s on key chains, coffee mugs, avatars, T-shirts, cell phone covers….its everywhere!
What an absolute lie and what a horrible message to be sending ourselves. I am all about being proud of anxiety and owning it, but why do we care more about telling the world “It’s not my fault!”, than we care about telling ourselves “I can handle anything!”
Where is the data that supports this meme? “I can’t calm down?” Says who? I have had anxiety for over 20 years and I have never seen any proof that supports this statement. Sure we ourselves may believe that we can’t calm down, but in all honesty, we are in the throes of an adrenaline fueled, exhaustion driven anxiety disorder. It’s not like our judgement is the greatest at this particular point in our lives.
Do you know what that meme should say? It should say:
It is my belief that we should be building ourselves up – not telling ourselves we are weak and being controlled by something we can’t handle.
We should be encouraging ourselves and speaking to ourselves, and to others, about how strong we are. If we don’t believe in, or celebrate our strength, we are only perpetuating this myth that we are all weak, nervous and helpless.
I am not one to get too hung up on people “understanding my mental disorder.” Understand or don’t understand…it makes no difference to me. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be throwing ourselves under the bus either. It makes no sense to me why, when we are finally standing up and showing the world that we have a voice, we would want one of our rally cries to be:
“It’s not our fault! We have something wrong with us!”
( By the way, if that meme happens to be your Twitter avatar, then this is a bit of an awkward moment between us, isn’t it? I hope that you can just keep an open mind here and consider what I am saying. I am not judging at all. I have been there. I’m just trying to get you to consider a different perspective. )
Don’t get me wrong – if you love this meme and this attitude is working for you, then fantastic. Keep on doing you – I will never tell you that you are wrong for it. We all have our path to walk with our own mental health.
But if you are looking for a new anxiety perspective, then consider the one I am sharing with you in this post and see if it relates to you and your story and if you might benefit from making your anxiety point of view one that comes from strength.
Always strength. Never weakness.
The good news is that there a lot of positive messages out there about anxiety and mental health in general. Social media is full of encouraging messages and people. The tide is turning and its great to see. There just happens to be a lot that isn’t so encouraging and I hate to see people speak about themselves and their anxiety that way.
Never ever, ever, ever tell yourself that you “can’t” do anything….especially that you can’t calm down.
That is pouring gasoline on the fire.
You are not broken. You are not weak. You CAN calm down – I don’t care how extreme your fear may be. You are just mentally exhausted and don’t think you can and I promise you, that is the only thing that is holding you back. I say this as somebody who has had severe panic attacks, a long history of over reacting to EVERYTHING, and difficulty even remaining calm enough to drive down the street in the past – and who no longer does.
Did I take a pill? No. Did I have some kind of magic surgery? No. Is my brain special and made better than everybody else’s with anxiety so it just naturally healed over time and I became “fixed”? No. The only thing different between me and you is that I woke up one day and it finally hit me that I had given my power away, and I decided I was taking it back.
I realized that nobody ever told me I couldn’t calm down when I was panicking or really worked up with stress or fear.
Not one doctor ever said to me “You need to face reality. Never again will you be able to calm yourself down. There is no hope for you.” Even the doctor who tried to prescribe me pills never told me I was sick! (I’m still not entirely sure what he was trying to tell me.)
There was no data…no tests. There was not one shred of evidence that told me that I was not in control of myself at all times.
I formed that conclusion and came up with that belief all on my own.
Nobody ever told me that I couldn’t slow the pace of my life down and improve my emotional health so that I wouldn’t over react to everything under the sun. I just simply never tried it. I didn’t believe it would work so I didn’t even bother with it. I thought it was just generic advice from self-help books and couldn’t possibly help me.
That was all me.
Those of us with anxiety are so sensitive to the idea of other people “stigmatizing” us. What we don’t realize is that we are stigmatizing ourselves far more than anybody else is.
That is the thing about anxiety…95% of it is all based on lies that we tell ourselves….very convincing lies based on what we THINK we know. We form conclusions based upon fear, not fact.
It’s not our fault…we are emotionally and mentally exhausted. But that doesn’t make it any less true. I was a mental basket case. The last person’s opinion I should have been listening to was my own! And yet I had myself convinced I was crazy and couldn’t leave my house or go to the grocery store without collapsing, or passing out behind the wheel, or winding up in a fit of hysteria in the frozen food section! Do not make this same mistake.
The next time somebody tells you to “just calm down”, even if they are being a great big jerk about it, instead of reacting with offense, let that be a positive trigger for you….a mental wake up call that makes you realize you are in a bad anxiety spiral, and that yeah they are right, you really do need to snap out of it and use some positive self talk to calm yourself down.
I am not so far removed from my bad anxiety days that I don’t remember how difficult is to find composure when you are bewildered and confused and something has triggered fear or racing thoughts or other anxiety symptoms in you.
I get how difficult it is to calm and slow your thoughts when your emotions are telling you that something is VERY wrong. But you can do it, and although I do offer you some tips throughout this blog, you don’t need a big long list of instructions on how to do it. It’s not something you have to TRY to do, once you reach this mindset that I am talking about. It’s just something that you DO. It obviously won’t be sheer perfection and grace in the beginning, but you will get there if you stop telling yourself you are incapable of doing it.
I KNOW that deep down inside you, you know how to calm yourself down. You have calmed yourself down probably hundreds of times in your life before this anxiety disorder broke out and nobody had to tell you how to do it. And you have remained calm in the exact same situations that now trigger a stream of “I can’t handle this!” racing through your mind. The only thing that has changed since then is that somewhere along the line you think you lost the ability to do so.
In closing, ultimately I can’t tell you what to feel about your anxiety. Your relationship with your anxiety is going to be what makes the most sense to you and what feels right to you. And that is how it should be. I am just giving you an alternative way of looking at it, that perhaps you hadn’t considered before. During the course of my anxiety recovery, it was those alternative ways of looking at my anxiety, whether I came to them myself or somebody introduced them to me, that ultimately became the missing pieces that I had been looking for to solve this puzzle.
Photo Credit: All Photos Courtesy of Pixabay Public Domain