Anxiety: The Short-Circuit

How would you define anxiety? Feeling nervous? A lack of self-confidence? An inner uneasiness?

However you define it, anxiety is real. Since it is experienced in so many different ways, and affects so many parts of life, it is difficult to nail down. Anxiety tends to lurk in the shadows but makes its presence known, often at the worst times.

Anxiety is not the same as a sense of nervousness about a new situation. For example, anyone would feel fearful about speaking in front of a group of people for the first time. That person, however, would find with each experience it gets easier. While speaking, the person with anxiety might be thinking about what listeners are thinking, whether they like what she is wearing, if her hair is sticking up in back, if he has something in his nose, if his zipper is down, what she would rather be doing, and why she agreed to do this in the first place. And no matter how many “that was wonderful” she receives, there is still an underlying uncomfortable something.

Anxiety can be a life short-circuit. It can divert energy and motivation to itself with no explanation. No matter how perfectly a circuit is designed, a short not managed becomes the focus.

What does anxiety mean to you? How do you function with it?

Your value is in you. Your life is not defined by anxiety.

Your Value

Nothing you do, no matter how you try, will add to your value. Your value has nothing to do with what you own, the size of your income, where you live, who you know, or how many know you.

Your value is in you. Nothing you do will decrease your value. Your value is yours alone.

You will always be disappointed if you look to others for your value. It is already yours.

Realizing and protecting your value is your responsibility. These affirmations can help. Speak them to yourself.

  • Words do not create value.
  • Value is in me, not in words others say about me.
  • Worth is mine alone, not in what others approve.
  • No amount of compliment will add to my value.
  • Worth and value are mine in the absence of any words of approval.
  • Touch is not my source of value.
  • Value is in me, it is mine.
  • My approval is in me, not in what others say about me.
  • I affirm my own value, it is mine alone.

Write these down and keep them with you. Repeat them to yourself until they become part of you. Then, and only then, keep reading them to yourself.

Your value is yours alone. You already have it. Stop looking.

Time for coffee.

Anxiety and Model Railroading

I love model railroading. It’s been my hobby since I was fifteen, and I loved trains long before that. I’ve been working on my newest layout, which, at the present time is still quite a way from rolling stock moving along the rails, for about sixteen months.

I’ve seen posts of modelers who appear to be living the dream, spending tremendous amounts of time working on their railroad as a result of this unbelievable struggle with Corona Virus. This is NOT a criticism! I applaud their dedication to the hobby, and the pictures I’ve seen are amazing. We can all learn from each other. I also know that most of these modelers are working on their layout because they are not allowed to go to work. So it’s a battle to survive. No, my problem is me. Because of anxiety I struggle with almost constantly, it is very difficult for me to stay in my train room long enough to get a lot done. Oh, I know that’s okay. It’s not a project that has to be completed on a schedule. It’s mine, for me, by my plan, schedule, design, likes, dislikes, frustrations, disappointments, delights. I don’t need approval for completed projects, but I do crave it.

I’m retired, so you would think my days might look like morning coffee, a glance at the morning news, drinking more coffee, then heading to the layout, then coming back upstairs to get more coffee. Nope. I have this constant nag that I should be productive, I should be doing something. And model railroading, for some reason in my mind, doesn’t fall into the category of productivity. Sure, it’s productive as far as my layout is concerned, but not productive in the overall scheme of needs. There is always something that should be done.

Actually, even writing this blog is part of that nagging. need to be productive. It’s something that is considered, started, re-started, edited, almost published, re-written, edited again, and then published. After which it is taken down and edited again. And yet, even with that, it’s not really productive because it’s not necessary to life. Neither is model railroading. But, on the other hand, model railroading is absolutely necessary because it can definitely contribute to a sense of accomplishment. I did it! That looks great! And it only has to look good to me.

So, the daily struggle continues. Some days are better than others, I just have to keep working at it. In the process, I will find time to work on the Maple Valley Short Line and feel good about it. Eventually, there will be trains moving. The scenery will begin to take shape. With this layout, I am determined to be incredibly detailed down to the smallest weed by the side of a shack. The win over anxiety is in the details. Little by little.

Do Something Different

Have you had the experience of driving a familiar route and all of a sudden realize you don’t know where you are? Every time you get in the car do you have to think about where to put the key? How to make the car move? How to stop it?

When you wake up in the morning, is your routine exactly the same day after day? Is there a time during each day when you begin to feel anxious or depressed?

Unless you’re sixteen years old and driving is new, you never think about where to put the key or where the brake is. You have learned it, and have practiced it long enough it is now habitual.

Your brain and your body work together to record new actions, and if they are repeated again and again, they become a part of muscle memory. You can do them without thinking. Everyone knows the old saying about riding a bike.

Feelings work the same way. Your brain and your mind can associate feelings with actions, or places, and the environment and actions can trigger the same feelings repeatedly.

Here’s a quiz. Think about school, not just the word, but the experience of attending school. How do you feel? Think about going to the dentist. How do you feel? If your feelings about school are negative, in thirteen, or maybe many more years of school, you had thousands of experiences, and not all of them were bad. Many were terrific! In the dozens of times (hopefully) you’ve been to the dentist, not all of them resulted in pain and yet your feelings about it might be fear and dread.

Feelings can become habitual or automatic. One way to disrupt automatic feelings is to purposefully change what you do each day. It is important that you on purpose, in other words, while thinking about it, change your actions. For example, if your morning is shut off the alarm, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, fix the coffee, let the dog out, make the bed (what?), then take a shower, and you do that day after day after day automatically, change it! Get up, make coffee, let the dog out, brush you teeth, etc., purposefully. Think about it!

Here’s the point. If you are with purpose thinking about what you’re doing, your brain and feelings are not left on their own to begin setting you up for the anxiety and depression you might normally feel every day by mid-morning that short circuits your entire day. Do something different! If that doesn’t do it, with every action, think about each element of the action. Think about who ground the coffee, how the coffee pot was made, how hot the water gets, what color of coffee is actually perfect. Think about how toothpaste is made. Think about the person who had to glue all those little bristles in the handle. (Just kidding). Get it? If you’re purposefully thinking about what you’re doing, you are changing the way your brain automatically runs. Don’t leave your brain and emotions to stir up feelings on their own. They will automatically turn to the routes of thinking and feeling that have been there longest and strongest. Change them!

Make your brain and your feelings work for you, not against you.

Hope you have a great day.

Dale Parsons, MA, LPC

Tell Your Children!

Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children.   We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully.  We are so proud of all of them!  And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.

This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows.  Something she said really hit me.  She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose.  Reinforcement was constant.  While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.

My own experience was much different.  I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it.  What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.

What I endured back then would be called abuse today.  Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.  Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience.  What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior.  Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or,  “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results.  Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.

My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most.  His father left home and never returned.  As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.

One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house.  Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry.  When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report.  I said, “I got this a month ago.  I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.”  He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!”  He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin.  “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled.  I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.

In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62.  I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him.  Were we loved?  Yes.  Did he provide for his family?  Yes.  None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.

Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline.  I love it.  It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.

Once when I was going to be away,  I had a serious conversation with my three boys.  I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest.  I won’t be angry no matter what you say.”  Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?”  I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone.  The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone.  I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way.  I was relieved to hear them say, “No!  We don’t like it when you’re gone.  We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.”  I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.

Why have I shared all of this?  If you have children, please, please, encourage them!  Praise them!  Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming.  Who knows?  Can you see the future?

Kids will be kids.  They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones.  But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children.  You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others.  That is a huge responsibility!  Speak affirming, not shaming words to them.  Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?”  Tell them they did a great job.  Tell them you believe in them.  Tell them they can, whatever it is.  Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”

The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent,  guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!