A Cure For Your Anxiety
The real story of what happens in our lives often go untold. With the mask of social media and outside perception, it can easy to cover up deep rooted issues in our lives. The fear of not being socially accepted, missing out, and being the “only one” going through something can stop us from sharing our stories. The problem is, someone right next to you could be going through the exact same thing, searching for help, and you would never even know it.
The story below is a personal account from Jake Abbott, a former D1 collegiate football player, current young professional and my close friend on his battles with anxiety.
I used to think people who suffered from anxiety or panic attacks were mentally weak. As a former collegiate athlete, it only made sense that those who couldn’t hang just weren’t strong enough. Survival of the fittest so to say. In hindsight, I know better.
A quick personal story.
At 24, I was in the best shape of my life. I had just started a new career and I was engaged to the woman of my dreams. It was Tuesday in late August (maybe not a Tuesday, but aren’t all uneventful days just a Tuesday?) when I started to notice my fingers were beginning to go numb after a workout. Then, all of a sudden, it spread to my hands and my arms soon followed. Within a matter of minutes, I was laying on the ground of a smelly gym locker room with people hovering over me panicking that they couldn’t feel a pulse in my wrist. I was sure I was dying of a heart attack. My hands were rigor mortis and my lungs felt paralyzed with fear. I wasn’t sure if I was going to die of lack of oxygen or humiliation first. An ambulance ride and hospital visit later, I was told that I needed to do a better job of managing my stress, but that my heart was fine. I had just had my first panic attack.
Seriously? Me? That doesn’t happen to people like me. I played football in front of thousands of people. I’ve been the leader of countless groups and clubs. I’m social. I go out. I do everything right. And yet here I was- completely helpless to my own mind and body. Brokenness isn’t so beautiful when we see it in ourselves. For the first time in my life, I was afraid to be alone with myself. Matter of fact, if you walked too close to me, you might have heard the slight rattle of a bottle of Xanax that I carried with me wherever I went. Too afraid to take them, but too afraid to be without them. To this day, my fingers still tingle from time to time, as if almost to remind me that fear hasn’t fully loosened its clutches on me. My mind had become a prison and I wore my anxiety like shackles. Anxiety doesn’t care if your fit or not, if your strong or if you are weak. It doesn’t care if you have money or if you’re dead broke. Anxiety will catch you when life is going according to plan or when it seems to be all falling apart.
But why does it feel like Millennials are such easy targets?
I think our phones are to blame. “We have all become less able to tolerate ambiguity and the unknown due to the incredible technological advances we have seen,” says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services.
Our phones offer us everything we want. We live in an age where we can order it online today and it’s here tomorrow. We have grown so accustomed to a high level of immediacy that waiting for a text or for a video to download only causes us more anxiety. Social media offers us constant interaction, yet we are never truly connected. We live in a constant state of comparison and we are never good enough. How much time have you staring at your phone screen today? How much of that time was spent watching other people live their lives? How much time have you wasted staring at things you wish you had? Theodore Roosevelt nailed it on the head when he said that "comparison is the thief of all joy". How many moments have you lost because you couldn’t wouldn’t look up? Social media has created an entire world for you. A world that is completely catered specifically for you. A genius marketing trick that has made you your own worst enemy. The worst part was I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t fix myself. Every book I picked up or blog I read gave me 3 steps to be better. 6 steps to a happier life. 5 steps to mental toughness. It just seemed to make it worse because it gave me anxiety that I couldn’t get over my anxiety.
So how do we fix it?
The light at the end of the tunnel is the realization that your life is not about you. You want to know the real truth? How do we get out of our own heads and takes our mind off of ourselves? Serving others. When you think of others and when you serve others, anxiety has less power because there is no time to think of yourself. Your friendships, your relationships, your job- the moment you realize that these things are not primarily about you and how they can give you joy, but rather about how you can pour into the people around you, is the moment you’ve begun to cure your anxiety.
In the moments when you feel anxiety creeping in, ask yourself:
What is one thing I can do to stop comparing myself to others?
Maybe that’s tossing your phone and picking up a book. Maybe that’s spending the thirty minutes you would have spent on Instagram and taking your dog out of on a walk instead. I challenge you to put down your phone and go be present in the world. Go make eye contact with someone. Your phone is killing you.
Who can I serve today?
This one is easy. If the goal is to get out of our heads and begin to put others first, who are you going to serve today? Challenge yourself daily to find little moments to serve those around you. Maybe it’s just calling your mom and telling her you love her. Maybe it’s asking your roommates what you can do to help them out. Go coach a youth team. Hold the door open for someone. You will be amazed at the complete and utter joy you find in loving on those around you.
It’s been almost two years since my first fake heart attack. While there have been little ones and big ones along the way, I can promise you it gets better. The more you start to realize that this world is not about you, the easier it is to give yourself away. The remarkable, and completely counterintuitive thing is, when you give yourself away, you find yourself in the process. So who knows, maybe I’m wrong and you can keep trying those 6 steps to happiness that tells you to fix yourself and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Or maybe there’s some truth to self-forgetfulness.