What can I do, what I can I take, what can I change to make this better?
These are common questions when it comes to anxiety. You just want the feeling to go the hell away. You think: if I quickly check that my straighteners are off, I’ll get some peace, some rest bite from the incessant nagging that if I don’t, I’ll be single-handedly responsible for something awful happening. It doesn’t matter that the third sneaky peak on the way out of the house leads only to the fourth and the fifth lap of the house. There in the moment the only thing you need is to feel better, lighter, free of doubt.
Anxiety banks on you looking for the quick fix. It thrives on your hope that you can heal a flesh wound with a bandaid. Checking for the fifth time doesn’t make the anxiety go away; it briefly calms it before the storm strikes.
Why, then, do we keep relying on quick fixes? Well, it’s natural to want to make our lives easier. It’s perfectly acceptable, too. It’s why a well-timed cup of coffee gets you through a tough morning. It’s why washing detergent comes with an easy-pour spout. The problem, however, is that emotions can’t be turned on and off like a tap. Anxiety has no simple answer. Constant worrying can not be cured overnight.
Yet, lately, I’ve been all about the quick fix and it’s not working.
I know, for example, that my hair straighteners are off because I am looking at the plug where I used them and it’s empty. However, all I can see in my head is an image of them turned on. It’d be easy to go and look in my bedroom. It’d get rid of the doubt… for about ten minutes. Because, the more I check, the more I need to check. The more I try to calm the intrusive thoughts, the more strongly they imprint on my mind. Yet I can’t seem to help it. The cycle has started and the vicious circle is tightening its grip.
It’s time for some action. It’s time for a plan.
One treatment for anxiety involves pushing yourself through the stress of needing to check and coping with the intensity of sensation that comes from not checking. You have to force yourself not to give in to the misplaced notion that you can just check once and be better. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into a million times, yet one that’s all too often impossible to avoid. So, I’ve come up with the following in the hope of breaking out of this current pattern.
- Allow myself to check once before I leave the house. That means a quick glance in each room to check that things are off.
- Take a deep breath before the front door and accept the fact that I am feeling nervous about going out.
- Leave the house, lock the door, and take another deep breath, again, accepting and noticing that I feel bad, but not allowing myself to give in.
- Tell myself that if the feeling is as strong in five minutes, I can come home and check.
It will probably work about a third of the time for the first few days. It will probably never work all the time. It’s a reality I’ve long accepted. However, it is action. Since my little guy came along, I am even more aware that anxiety is a poison in my life, and a learned behaviour that I desperately don’t want to pass on. I’m fighting it for two, now.
It’s easy to write this down. It’s a list that’s meaningless until the next time I go out. It even seems to trivialise something that’s incredibly complex. However, I gotta try, haven’t I? Nothing will change without recognising what’s going wrong and thinking about how to fix it. This half an hour of thinking it through, of typing it out, of sharing it in the hope of calming it is step one. It’s my way of saying bye bye, quick check, hello plan.