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.
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.
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.