I’m an anxious person.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m a very anxious person.
I worry about anything and everything. My job, my health, dating, and pretty much each and every slightly intimidating social interaction.
I just naturally assume the worst and trick myself into thinking that’s a sure-fire reality.
Journaling my Worries
A couple of years ago, as my worries were getting more intense and my anxieties were getting deeper, my therapist recommended I start an anxiety journal. The premise was simple: as much as you can, write down your anxious thoughts in this journal. For example, May 4th, 1:15 PM: Jake read my WhatsApp but he didn’t respond. He must be mad at me. I must have done something wrong. Jake will never talk to me again, etc etc. You get the idea.
Each day, I would write about the worries in my life, both big and small.
Should I say hi to this person on the street or will it be too awkward?
I forgot to submit that file yesterday. My boss is going to be so mad at me.
The list was long, and the list was varied. I was proud of myself; I pushed myself out of my brain and into my notebook.
But at the end of the month, I never ended up following up with my therapist about the notebook. Life got in the way, more important things took precedence, and I ended up switching to a different therapist anyway.
My Worries Vs. Reality
A few weeks ago, I was back at home for quarantine, and while cleaning up my old room, I found the notebook. My initial reaction was fear and caution. I didn’t want to relive any of my anxieties. Who would?
Nevertheless, my curiosity overtook my fear, and I began to read through all of the old anxieties I had written during a month long, long ago. And almost immediately, something strange happened:
I started to laugh.
I didn’t laugh because the memories were pleasant; they most certainly were not. I laughed because of how wildly off some of my anxieties were. Obviously, I didn’t remember some of the specific worries, but for the most part, things turned out so much better than I had initially thought they would.
I remember how nervous I felt before some of these events. Sometimes I had trouble sleeping, I felt nauseous, I kept on thinking about the worst-case scenarios, and so much more. But looking back, almost none of these worries actualized as the catastrophic events I knew they would be. In most cases, my fears were so far off, and I just found it hilarious how misguided I was at times.
What’s more, even for the worries that turned out to be somewhat accurate, the impact they have on my life now are practically non-existent. There were times when my worries actually did come true — I didn’t do a great job public speaking, I was awkward at a party, I didn’t do great on a test, I was sweaty and shaky in a meeting, etc. — but those negative experiences disappeared from my memory very quickly. Many of these embarrassing moments barely affected my life a week later (and sometimes even only a day later), and I found that the more time passed, the less and less the experience bothered me.
Putting The Anxieties in Perspective
It is important that I make something clear:
I don’t feel guilty or stupid in the slightest for the misguided anxiety I felt back then. I had a bad anxiety disorder and that led me to believe in worries that I now know are unnatural. At the time, though, these fears were very real and, in my mind, they were very logical and reasonable. If you do an exercise like this, it’s unbelievably important to not beat yourself up when you look back at your fears. Unless you were purposefully trying to be anxious, illogical, or stupid, then you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.
Another Tool in Taking My Life Back
After reading this journal, I now have another tool to combat my anxiety. Now, whenever, I’m 100% sure that something bad is going to happen and that it will have such an awful, lasting effect on my life, I try to remember the journal. My anxious brain was wrong many times before, and perhaps it will be wrong this time, too.
There’s nothing more frustrating in my life than my anxiety, and, as such, there’s no feeling more rewarding than fighting back against my anxiety and taking my life back.
This journal helped me do that, and I hope it will help you, too.
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