In keeping with my previous blogs about good health, stress management is a key component and is the subject of my blog this morning. I’ve been open about the fact that anxiety and depression are part of my biology. It took a long time to accept, and come to understand that it’s a physical ailment that needs to be treated just like any other disease, injury or condition in order to feel better. Unfortunately, because of societal and my own internalized negative stigmas about mental health, I resisted admitting for far too long that I needed some help. The good news is that I finally did get help, and my life has completely changed for the better in more ways than I ever could’ve predicted. That’s why I don’t hesitate to admit or talk about the issue in the hope that it might help someone else who is suffering under the weight of such awful feelings. The truth is that anxiety and depression get under the skin of all of us at some point in our lives whether because of biology or circumstance.
Regardless of the cause, many of the tools that I learned during my therapy are useful for managing stress no matter who you are. One of them I call “what would Laura ask.” Laura is my therapist. She taught me how to drill down to the root of what is really driving how I feel in a given circumstance. I admit that the process can often be difficult and frustrating, but so worth it. I was good at hiding and denying so many things that in reality drove who I was and how I thought. I also let unnecessary worries rule my life. By going through the therapy process, I had to be completely honest and meticulous at really examining my life and motives, including the good and the not so good. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I learned to free myself from negative emotions and motivations and now walk a whole lot lighter through the world. That doesn’t mean that I no longer feel anxiety and depression. There are still times that it creeps up the back of my neck and presses in on my heart. The difference now is that I know how to recognize, manage and get past it in order to let my happiness hold the prominent place in my life.
By way of example, here is how the process works. As an attorney, I often find myself in an environment that is geared toward winning and losing. Everyday can easily become a contest between rivals. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines contest as “a struggle for superiority or victory.” For me personally, such a view of the world easily becomes very toxic. I don’t like being at odds with people. I have no problem advocating for ideas and those who need defending, but that’s different than going after a person’s throat or climbing onto their back in order to gain the edge or win. It’s against my grain, and I won’t do it. Plus, no one ever wins all of the time. Therefore, if one hangs their hat on always having to win or be the best, they are setting themselves up for certain failure. Plus, it alienates one from all of those awesome people in the world who have so much to share.
Recently, I’ve been involved in a very contentious matter at work that started to get the better of me. I was feeling anxious and cranky. I noticed the physical manifestations of stress. My muscles were tight, I clenched my jaw until it was sore and my breathing was shallow. I big part of dealing with stress requires recognizing it before it gets out of hand. These clues were all I needed to get my act together.
Once I noticed these feelings, I said to myself, “what would Laura ask?” She would ask a series of questions that would get at the heart of what were the range of emotions that I was feeling, what was driving those emotions, whether they were warranted and what exactly did I want. The analogy that I would use to describe the process is one in which she gave me a small shovel and each question represented digging deep down into the layers of my soul one scoopful at a time, until I discovered the truth. It’s like a meticulous archeological dig. One has to take great care in finding those many truths that drive us. Personal grown comes in discovering, acknowledging and deciding what to keep and what to throw away once we find them. And, admitting the truth about our negative motivations. By going through the process, I realized that I am not happy viewing the world as a contest under any circumstance. I have no desire to be in a position to say that I’m better or superior than anyone else. What drives me is ensuring that I’ve done the best job possible of telling the truth of my client’s side of the story. In the end, the chips will fall where they fall, and I don’t have to feel bad or inferior if my side doesn’t prevail. I only have to feel bad if I let myself become someone I don’t want to be in the process. It’s my choice. Such a realization is so freeing. The stress peeled away and I was me again. I relaxed and found my smile. Not just any smile, but the one that comes from the inside out.
So, my bit of advice is this. The next time you’re feeling stressed, sad or whatever. Be honest with yourself and drill down as to why that is and whether it’s even warranted. If you can understand what’s driving your feelings and motivations, you can start to do something about them. Be who you want to be regardless of whether you win or get called the “best.” What does that even mean in the grand scheme of things? I’d rather be known as decent and kind. That makes me happy.
And as always, never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help if
you get stuck. Notwithstanding my biology, I am a truly deeply happy person with so many people, things and experiences to be grateful for in this life. I love being alive. Asking for help allowed me to find and know this truth. I wish you lots of good health and many smiles from the inside out. Peace.