I often have people tell me I don’t have it all that bad, so what could I be depressed or anxious about? I have a steady job and a roof over my head, so what could I possibly have to worry about? I couldn’t agree more. Why then, am I still afraid and worried all the time?
Just because I do not have a “real reason” to be anxious doesn’t mean I am not anxious. After all, if I had “real” concerns I was worried about, wouldn’t that be the healthy response to those concerns? The very problem with anxiety is that I am worried about anything and everything I can be, rational and irrational. I decided to keep track of the anxious questions that wash over me as a single day rolls by.
From the moment I wake up in the morning:
What time is it? Did I oversleep? Have I worn this shirt too many times to work? Will people notice? This is the shirt I am wearing in my ID photo; people will think it is the only shirt I wear. Should I try to do something new with my hair? It’s too boring; it’s the same hair I have always had. People will think I am boring. Is that too much cologne? Will people think I am trying too hard? Are my windshield wipers going too fast? Does it look like I am overreacting to the rain? Am I going to be pulled over? I should turn my music down because if others hear it they will think I am weird.
That’s before I even get to work and interact with anyone. Let’s continue:
Will someone notice I am just sitting at my desk? Will they report me for wasting time? When will they realize I don’t know what I am doing? Do people think I walk funny? Are people taking advantage of how nice I am? Am I letting people walk over me? Am I being too nice to this person? Do they think I am flirting? Will I get taken to HR? Am I being creepy? I feel like I am not doing enough. Am I being lazy? Do they know I have no idea what they are talking about? Should I have taken this job? Maybe I should have stayed where I was unhappy but at least knew what I was doing. They will find out I am making it all up as I go.
I need to stop spending money. Why can’t I stop spending money? Why can’t I lose weight? Do people think I am fat? Do they make fun of my height? I need to stop texting my friends. I am being overbearing and annoying. They have real lives, and I am bothering them. Does the waitress think I am rude for looking at my phone? Do I come here too often? Does my roommate think I am too loud? Do I bother him when he wants to be left alone? Why is my room such a mess? Why can’t I keep it clean? Why haven’t I finished reading that book yet? Why do I look at Facebook? No one is talking to me. They have their lives, and you are bothering them.
This all seems petty, mindless and pointless, right? That is the point. It wouldn’t be a problem if I was constantly worried about important things. The constant flood of stressing over the unimportant things is what makes my anxiety what it is. I know just as much as the person telling me I am worrying over nothing that I am doing just that. The part that annoys others, that they are so ready to dismiss as not a “real” problem is exactly what the problem is. So now, in addition to the myriad of other little worries raining down on me, tearing me apart like a storm of needles, I have to worry that I am bothering you with these other trivial concerns.
Please understand I know more than you do that I should not be worried about these little things. Please also understand that is exactly what anxiety is. When you dismiss my anxiety, you actively participate in confirming all those little fears and insecurities. Instead of adding to the pile of worries of someone you care about or even do not care about, remember that if I had rational fears it would be a survival instinct. It’s the irrational fears that make it a sickness. Please consider that, and act accordingly.
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Photo by Noel Moore