Okay, so I suck at clickbait. BUT, you’re here, and that’s all that matters! Seriously though, I do think that the graphs I’m about to show you are pretty great, if I do say so myself. They pretty accurately and simply demonstrate the difference between normal citizens and anxiety superheroes like you and I. In fact, I think they can pretty well demonstrate how anxiety can become our arch nemesis, or how we can utilize it to give us amazing abilities.
Just a note: These graphs are not professionally made. Yes, they’re drawn by hand. Don’t judge me, I’m imperfect! In fact, let’s just say that it’s intentional, to demonstrate and embrace the imperfectness of ourselves. It’s part of the “acceptance” I will discuss in a few paragraphs (see what I did there? Not yet? Oh, you will).
Now, on to the graphs.
The Anxiety Roller Coaster Explained
We anxiety superheroes are no strangers to the extremes. We have low lows to be sure, days where the fear is so overwhelming that we can’t get out of bed. Also, we have days where we are full of ideas, plans, action and joy that make normal people wonder what kind of drugs we’re on. It’s not drugs, it’s superheroness.
This dichotomy demonstrates the mental version of Newton’s Third Law, that every negative thought process (anxiety, depression, poor self image, etc) has an equal and opposite positive thought process (joy, contentment, excitement, euphoria, self confidence, etc.). Some would describe this as anxiety induced euphoria.
As demonstrated here, the life of a person with an anxiety disorder is a series of severe highs and lows. The periods of time that people spend in each of the positive and negative mentalities vary due to various external influences, but generally speaking, this is the experience of people suffering from anxiety.
It’s is a stark contrast to those living a more “normal” life.
The Boring Life of Normal People
I use the term “normal” here to describe people who don’t have anxiety superpowers. It is not in any way meant to classify us as abnormal. Let’s not forget, over 20 million people in the United States alone suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind. Anxiety is far from abnormal.
Now here’s a little glimpse into the life of normal folks.
You can see by the minor dip below equilibrium that normal people don’t experience severe amounts of anxiety in their normal course of life (this is, of course with the exception of major devastating or life changing events. Everybody is affected by anxiety in one way or another. This is an apples to apples comparison within a vacuum, so to speak).
On the other hand, they also don’t experience super high “highs” (again, extremes aside, like winning of the lottery).
Okay, so some might argue that living a life without anxiety, even without the “highs”, would be heaven. Speaking as someone with an anxiety, I disagree. Anxiety sucks, no doubt. But I am the type of optimist who believes that we can have anything we want, as long as we shape our attitude and do the work. With the right set of tools, and the right perspective, we can keep the super high positive mentalities while minimizing the negative mentalities.
Unfortunately, we often allow the negative mentality to win out. We entertain the negative self talk and it beats us into submission, so that we rarely, if ever, get to experience the extreme joy, peace, excitement, and euphoria of the high highs.
The high highs never come about because we’ve created a demoralization barrier.
The demoralization barrier is like a Great Wall of Anxiety which our minds will not allow us to cross. It points us back in the direction from whence we came to the place of despair and irrational fear. Worst of all, it’s a barrier of our own making.
This is the situation we want to avoid. We need to break through the demoralization barrier, and prevent ourselves from going into the low lows. Fortunately, just as there is a barrier preventing us from achieving great joy, peace, and self confidence (the high high), there is a barrier we can establish which helps defend us against the low lows: the debilitating anxiety, the fear, the depression, and the low self image. It’s called the gratitude and acceptance barrier.
Show Anxiety and Fear Who’s the Boss (not the TV show…)
In order to construct the gratitude and acceptance barrier, we have to understand what gratitude and acceptance are. Here’s a “come to Jesus” moment. Gratitude is not a feeling that is imposed upon us by an outside influence. It is a state of mind we gift to ourselves, regardless of our environment or circumstances.
If you want to read that sentence again, that’s okay. I can wait.
I get it, easier said than done. Gratitude is a practice, but just like any practice, you can build it over time. It’s a muscle, and the stronger it gets, the more strength you have to fend off fear. Gratitude kills fear. They are polar opposites, and the more time you spend in one, the weaker the other will get. Work on strengthening your gratitude and you will build a superpower beyond measure. Over time, you will begin to see yourself hitting the higher highs more frequently, and you will have fewer lower lows.
Gratitude and acceptance go hand in hand. Accepting our present circumstance is a matter of acknowledging that we don’t have control over absolutely everything. Anxiety superheroes are pros at believing that they have to control everything. By fighting that urge and accepting the fact that you’re not going to make it to work on time today because of the traffic, the picnic you’re planning may get rained out, or that you didn’t get the job you wanted, you will in turn recognize the things that you can control and begin to shift your focus to those.
Why waste time on the things that are out of our control, when there’s so much we can do to change the world? Superheroes focus on the controllables.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Oh great, another person telling me to ‘just be happy'”. That’s not what I’m doing. In fact, I hate it when people tell me that. As if we’re not allowed to feel feelings? Horse poop! The very reason we get to have the high highs, the the very reason we are superheroes is because we are sensitive to feelings. What a wonderful blessing it is that we have anxiety! (How’s that for a demonstration of gratitude?)
I’m not saying that if you practice gratitude and acceptance you will be cured of all anxiety and fear forever and ever amen, hallelujah! As people with anxiety, we will continue to have anxiety attacks, feel depressed, and even feel less of ourselves.
But it doesn’t have to run our lives.
Gratitude and acceptance of our present state are two of the tools which will serve to limit the frequency of anxiety affecting us, increase the number of high highs we experience, and allow us the opportunity to develop our super abilities.
When you feel yourself getting into a period of “high highs”, it’s time to leverage your motivation to become a person of action. Our greatest productivity comes during our high highs. If you can maximize the time spent in this mindset, you will not only be full of joy, but more productive! This is when you need to act on your dreams and goals. I would call this “Being on Offense”. Take the ball and do your best to score.
As the tables turn, and you feel the triggers coming on driving you toward a low, you want to build that solid gratitude and acceptance barrier. This is the act of “Being on Defense”. Your objective is to prevent the ball from entering your territory, and take aggressive action to regain control of the ball. This is when you have to practice some serious gratitude. Write detailed lists of why you’re grateful. Do NOT phone this in. Everybody can give the boiler plate answers. “My kids, my family, being alive…” Come on. Dig deep. If you want to genuinely develop the gratitude muscle, you’re going to have to lift more than just the wimpy 5 lb weights! If you can find a specific associative example (an experience you can actually associate to a specific and meaningful positive feeling in your life), you will reinforce that gratitude.
Upon finishing the list, go into detail about why the person, place, or thing makes you grateful. How can you maintain that connection with the gratitude? How can you be in service to others? Double down on the gratitude and you’ll put the anxiety to rest.
Also, you can use meditation or meditative exercise to curb your anxiety and shift into an attitude of appreciation. I recommend doing both (shameless plug: you can get coaching on how meditative exercise can transform your life by visiting Extra Life Fitness. I know the coach. He’s a great guy!), but it’s important to know that you can only get the greatest benefit from meditation and exercise if it’s habitual and consistent. Make it a point to schedule it and commit to it. A very good guided meditation application is Headspace. It’s a perfect, easy, and time effective way to make that positive change.
Don’t let anxiety run your life. Instead, take control of your attitude to reinforce the gratitude and acceptance barrier. Protect yourself from fear by doing the defensive work, and leverage your highs to make them even higher and more frequent. By doing this, you will become an unstoppable superhero!