Anxiety, can feel like walking up a steep hill

By Anjail Ameen-Rice | Jun 28, 2021

Have you ever parked your vehicle on top of a hill? It feels great as you look down the hill and admire the view. Wow, things have never looked clearer and you may find yourself starting to feel sentimental. Ok, so now it’s time to walk down the hill. Gravity naturally pulls you down and you find yourself moving at a fast pace. Assuming you don’t have any mobility or balancing issues, you may even find this feeling of trooping down the hill fun. You quietly laugh to yourself and for a moment you allow yourself to feel like a child. So, you continue along and complete your task at the bottom of the hill and then you feel accomplished.

That is until you look up the hill and realize how far you have parked away. As you look up, you think to yourself how did I even manage to make it down such a steep hill without any issues. Then you remember that you did not do it using your own strength. It was gravity. Gravity helped pull you down and made that burden light.

You start the daunting task of trying to walk up the hill. You think to yourself, all I must do is put one foot out and then the next and keep going until I make it to the top, that shouldn’t be too difficult. As you make your way up the hill you suddenly realize gravity is not working in your favor. It is having the opposite effect. Rather then supporting your walk, it is working against you. You think ohh is this what it feels like to swim upstream. Nevertheless, you continue you on. I mean you don’t have any choice after all because you parked at the top of the hill, and you need to get back to your vehicle. Then you start to think to yourself, why did I park at the top of the hill again? Hmmm, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Suddenly, your thighs start speaking to you, why did you park at the top of the hill again, but your mind tells you to ignore your legs and just keep moving. Additionally, that beautiful scene is behind you and you no longer feel sentimental. You start feeling frustrated and for the next few moments you only allow your mind to focus only on one task. The task of getting up that hill.

You say things to yourself like it’s not that bad, I’m almost there. I can do this, just keep going. Focus, come on you can do this. As you focus on your movement, you feel yourself slightly picking up the pace. The positive thinking has allowed you to find the motivation to push through this very arduous task. You see the image of your vehicle getting larger, which is an indication that you have almost made it. Suddenly you find yourself feeling even more motivated. So you push a little harder and think if I can just push myself a little more, I can do it. I know I’ll make it to that vehicle.

Finally, it happens, you make it to the vehicle. You unlock the door, take a seat and release an all inclusive sigh of relief. Your legs thank you, your arms thank you, your back thanks you and most importantly your mind thanks you. You began to think to yourself, wow that was really hard. I’m never parking on this hill again.

You don’t immediately start the vehicle, because you are still very much out of breath. You also realize it’s going to take an equal amount of an effort to down the hill. You take another pause and let out a sigh. You begin using that same positive self-talk that you used to get you up the hill to start the vehicle and slowly pull out of the parking spot. You think to yourself, ok, focus. This is not over yet. You pay very close attention to your surroundings, gradually pull out of your parking space and once again let gravity bring your vehicle down the hill.

When you finally reach the bottom, you think to yourself. Woosh. I made it. Then you realize this is only the beginning. I still have to make it to my next destination.

Look there’s a butterfly.

I use this analogy to describe what it’s like to have anxiety. A lot of times, you don’t know what to expect from yourself or your environment. The worst part is that you spend most of your day searching for control and thinking about what you are going to do next.

When you finally find yourself able to focus, it’s usually only for brief increments. The slightest thing will distract you and then lead you on a new path of excessive worrying. Yes, you will experience brief periods of clarity. Moments where a challenge becomes crystal clear and you have complete focus, unfortunately, this usually doesn’t last very long and you move on to worrying about the next thing.

And then there’s the what ifs. You know the pattern of thinking that starts off with one “what-if” question and then switches to the next, and the next and then the next. It’s like you want to stop thinking of all of these scenarios, but in the process of trying to make yourself stop, you convince yourself that you must master all of these situations, in case one of them actually ends up coming true.

Pause

Breathe

Sleep

That’s how most people try to deal with these intrusive thoughts. They try to distract themselves.

They try breathing and when all else fails they go to sleep.

While these solutions are very helpful, I often remind people that anxiety has no cure, it’s something you have to learn how to deal with. It’s like your skin color or the color of your eyes. It’s always there, you just have to learn how to anticipate things that may trigger you and learn how to pivot.

The best way to do this is by focusing on two sets of thoughts. The first being are you hungry or tired? Seriously, like you know how little kids tantrum at bed time or behave extremely irritable when they are hungry? As adults we are no different. HANGRY IS REAL. Yes I said HANGRY. It’s a combination of the word hungry and angry. Physiologically speaking, our body need fuel to operate, in our case, our fuel is food. Some people spend so much time worrying, that they forget to eat. Or may find themselves not having an appetite at all. The problem with this is that lack of eating consistently will exacerbate symptoms of hunger, which will exacerbate irritability, which exacerbates anxiety.

The same can be true of not getting enough sleep at night. Excessive worrying often peaks at night-time. This is usually the result of two things. The first being, it’s the first time your surroundings have calmed down and you now have the opportunity to give those thoughts your full undivided attention. The second reason is because you are trying to plot out how you are going to control the people around you and your environment to successfully help you navigate through your day.  You may find yourself taking a long time to fall asleep or waking up mid-way through the night to pick up where you left off when you fell asleep.

No matter which way you look at it the entire process is exhausting. What is even worse is that it’s cyclical.

Breathe

Pause

Reflect

So how do we deal with this?

Meditation and prayer

Changing our eating habits

Listening to a self-help podcast

Reading more about anxiety

Visiting your doctor

Finding a therapist/counselor

These are all very helpful solutions. Notice I said solutions, not cures. Remember I said there is no cure for feeling anxious. It is something you learn how to deal with and work around.

As you go on your journey to cope with having anxiety, you must first identify your triggers.

Consciously ask yourself in the moment,

What just happened?

How am I feeling?

What did my feelings lead me to do?

How can I stay in this present moment and only focus on what’s in front of me right now?

Tomorrow will worry about itself. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can fall asleep at night. Can you really control anything at 2am, well yes, you can control your ability to willfully give yourself permission to go to sleep.

Literally, that’s about it.

So if we agree that we can’t control anything or anybody during our sleeping hours, we can agree that it’s better to just focus on falling asleep and acknowledging what’s in our control at that moment.

The truth is we cannot control others, but we can control ourselves.

We can learn to practice tolerance and patience on ourselves as we continue to understand our journey with anxiety.

And just like trying to make it up a hill is tough. We know it is not impossible. It just requires positive thinking.

Stay well and in perfect peace.

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