Life LessonPanicking gets you nowhere.
Things go wrong at the drop of a hat. Little things. Big Things. Planned things. Things that make you feel like Karma is out to get you on a daily basis. One second life is going according to plan a
nd the next thing you know everything you planned has been uprooted, delayed, destroyed, or otherwise interrupted. From something as small as a flat tire when you’re trying to get somewhere to the ending of a relationship you had built dreams around to an unexpected financial or professional hiccup, we all face challenges on a regular basis.
If you’re a planner, like me, you might get thrown for a serious loop when something goes wrong. If you’re the person who goes more casually through life these hiccups might still represent a destructive curveball. Little or big it doesn’t matter, when you get thrown that curveball it can send you into a panic.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it is that Panicking will get you nowhere. It will get you a headache. It will get you a lot of confusion. But mostly it gets to a place where you’re mentally spinning around in circles chasing a non-existent tail while you try to get back on a path that may not even be there anymore. And for those of us with anxiety issues it can snowball into an obsessive thought process that not only doesn’t end, but convinces us that everything is wrong and hopeless. It’s the first domino in the chain and, in our own minds we connect every other domino. We find every link in the chain that could possibly be severed by this one event. We see everything that could possibly go wrong for the next 30 years because of this one small life event.
Is this you?
“My deposit didn’t clear in time. I’m going to overdraft my account. I’ll get hit with 500gajillion dollars in fees. What if I get a flat tire? I won’t have the money to get my car towed or replace the tire. I’ll have to leave my car on the side of the road. Then I won’t be able to get to work. I’ll never pay off those bank fees. I won’t be able to pick my kid from daycare. I won’t need daycare because I’ll lose my job because I don’t have a car. My credit score will plummet and I’ll never be able to get another car. I’ll never be able to work a decent job again. Maybe I can get a job as a waitress at the restaurant on the corner, because once I get fired from this job, I’ll be a joke in the industry. I’ll never be able to show my face again. It doesn’t matter, since my credit is ruined I won’t be able to buy a house anyway, so what’s the point of having a good paying job? My kid is going to be raised in a bad neighborhood with bad schools and end up running with a bad crowd. Oh my god, my kid is going to end up with a baby at 14, and then my kid’s life will be destroyed too. We’ll all be living on food stamps and public aid. F*ck my life. I don’t know why I bother. Nothing ever works out right anyway.”
Once in a while following the cascading fall of the thought dominoes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the more frequently you have this kind of thought process, the more likely it is that you suffer from an anxiety problem. Anxiety can come and go. You can be fine most of your life, then experience a “trigger” event that causes you to suffer from severe anxiety for days, months, years, or even the rest of your life.
I’ve learned that the first thing you need to do in that situation is breathe. Do NOT forget to breathe. Then you need to ask yourself three things.
1.) What is the real problem?
2.) What can I do to resolve the problem right now?
3.) How much control do I actually have over the outcome?
Starting by identifying the problem may sound like a moronic “duh” moment but clearly identifying the problem at hand is the first step in keeping the issue from spiraling into a havoc wreaking, life ending, this will haunt your family for 15 generations, karmic attack of doom. It provides you the necessary perspective to see the problem that is directly in front of you.
Asking yourself what can be done “right now” provides you focus and keeps you in the moment. This is because you can’t live in the future. You have to live in the now, deal with problems in the now, and stop borrowing trouble in the future. It sounds simple; do what you can do now and if you can’t do anything right now to resolve the problem, try to stop worrying because you’re just borrowing trouble.
And lastly, you have to identify how much you can actually affect the issue. How much control do you have in the end result? Be honest with yourself. If this is something that’s totally out of your range of control or influence, then you need to step back and just focus on damage control.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Panicking gets you nowhere you want to be. If, in the end, you find that you can’t stop worrying about every little detail. If you find that your thoughts endlessly trail to the ‘What-ifs” until you’re uncomfortable sitting still for no real reason. If you find that you can’t sleep for all the thoughts that swirl around in your head…. Well, I think you get the point. If you get to that place then I suggest you talk to your family doctor.
This leads me to another life lesson:
Take the damn help when it’s offered, dummy.
The oddest thing in the world: The people that have depression, anxiety, etc. are the ones most likely to see something horrible in getting help for it. So let me make something completely clear: needing help doesn’t make you “crazy”. Needing help and refusing to get/take the help you need is what makes you “crazy”. Think about it. If you saw someone trying to push their car to the gas station, you wouldn’t think they’re crazy. But, if you saw someone pushing their car, waving away everyone who offered them help and the guy with a can of gasoline, you’d think that person was nuts.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety you’re the guy pushing the car. It might be a momentary problem, you might be able to push that car to the gas station in a few days or weeks or years and struggle the whole way there. Or, you could accept the help your friends and family are offering you. You could see your family doctor and get the fuel you need to get you to the gas station with less suffering.
You might need a good night’s rest or a change in your diet or exercise program. You might need vitamins or medications. I can’t speculate because I don’t know you. But if you feel like your thoughts or feelings are out of control then accept the help that’s around you. It makes you a stronger person to admit you’re in a place where you need help, not a weaker person.
For me, it was a combination of acknowledging my stressors and reactions to them. I had to change my diet, add in physical activity, start taking vitamin supplements and add in medication until I feel ready to stand on my own two anxiety confronting feet again. I don’t feel like less of a person for admitting I needed medication along with the other changes. In fact, I’m so much happier with my life now that I really don’t give a crap what other people think of me. My family and the people who love me are happy that I’m happy and they’re the only people that matter.
“Oh, well if you’re on medication then your advice for handling stress doesn’t count.”
I’m calling bullshit on this one… you can try to rationalize not helping yourself or getting the help you need, but I’m not going to let you dismiss me entirely. Just because I’m on medication doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer some anxiety. It doesn’t mean my stressors went away. What it means is that I can think clearly enough to identify where I went wrong dealing with those stressors in the past and try new ways to cope with them without going into a blind panic. It means I can breathe.
The two life lessons here were painful to learn. My life was completely devastated, turned upside down and inside out before I was able to learn them properly. I could have saved myself a lot tears and heartache if I’d learned them sooner. I’m a better person for learning them, though. I still come across problems, set-backs, and the little hiccups that make life interesting. I see them as challenges now and I work to overcome them. You will never hear me say “f*ck my life” because something goes wrong.
I just remember to breathe and…
Keep Calm and Tread On.