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5 Mistakes I'm Learning From Living With Anxiety

I have spent a chunk of my life and headspace thinking about the mistakes I’ve made — mistakes that aren’t even worth thinking about again (why did I make that joke that time? Were they offended? You catch my drift) — and I started to think about reasons why mistakes are good things. If you don’t get off the bus at the wrong stop the first time, how will you learn where you need to get off? Great analogy. This actually happened to me the other day and it was very annoying!

Sometimes, my anxious mind revels in the mistakes I’ve made, haunts me with things I said 10 years ago and doesn’t let me forget. Maybe it’s good to not forget them, keep them, write them down, learn from them. Maybe some things are just worth letting go of.

Here are five mistakes me and my pal anxiety are learning from:

1. Apologizing.

I used to say “sorry” a million times a day. Sorry I cried when we were trying to have a good time. Sorry for not coming on that night out. Sorry for saying I was sick when I definitely wasn’t. Sorry I “missed” your call. Sorry I didn’t let you talk about what’s going on with you. Sorry I got angry when my anxiety was triggered by something and you didn’t even realize you’d spoken. Sorry I rang you late at night when I couldn’t get to sleep. Sorry I didn’t call when you told me you cared. Sorry I left early and couldn’t have fun.

Basically, I was constantly sending apology messages. Apologizing for my behavior and not feeling satisfied until I got the response I was waiting for (which is never what I want and it doesn’t matter what you say because it won’t make me feel better — because I never stop punishing myself).

And then I stopped. Not completely, but time by time I realized that really, I was the one overthinking the reasons behind why I’d left or why I’d gotten in a bad mood all of a sudden. Why am I apologizing for something I can’t control and something everyone around me, except me, accepts?

2. Forcing myself to have fun.

Anxiety doesn’t have fun. It doesn’t turn off so you can enjoy yourself. I guess, if that happened, it wouldn’t exist. I wish it did. I used to really enjoy myself — parties, holidays, work, everything. And I still do; I still go out, I see my friends and I make lots of plans. Keeping busy keeps my brain occupied and spending time with people close to me is something that will always make me happy.

I have stopped going places purely because I fear I will miss out on the set of jokes, I will be seen as a “loser” or people will think I’m lying and doing something else (I’m really in bed thinking about whether or not I’d have had fun if I went). Instead, I’ve started going places because I will enjoy it.

Maybe that one night out or dinner plan isn’t feasible at the moment and that’s OK — I’m not going to force myself through something so excruciatingly painful for the sake of perception. So I started saying, “no, I can’t make it, I’m having a bad day and would rather go to bed,” or “Can we rearrange when I’m feeling a bit better?” It really works. Let your mind and body have that space to calm without the pressure you felt just to show face or to prove you are better than your anxiety.

You are better than it, but sometimes you just need to be honest with yourself and know that particular day isn’t going to get better by sitting through a social experiment for your brain.

3. Self-destruction.

Go to the gym, eat healthily, get eight hours sleep, don’t drink too much — all things we know is crucial to a healthy mind. When the only thing that feels remotely safe is your four walls and your duvet, these things become near impossible. I’ve stopped seeing my inability to consistently look after myself as a failing but a mistake I can learn from.

Making the self-destruction mistake is one of the hardest to learn from. Self-destructing often seems easier than making an effort to self-care.

But trust me: once you learn from it and start to self-care (and I mean like eating salad and doing some exercise every now and again), you’ll feel a world of difference. It’s not the solution by any stretch, but take it from someone who knows — it does help. I even know that’s unhelpful to say because when people said it to me, I’d be like “oh, bore off with your gym salad eating life.”

4. Caring too much.

Through my most anxious times, I’ve found myself caring so much about everything. Every tiny thing — from when I’m going to shower that day to why someone said that thing 100,000 hours ago and what it meant.

The ability to stop caring is near impossible and completely unrealistic. We all care about something and it’s important we do. I am learning to focus on caring about things that matter. Caring about self-care, caring about those closest to me, caring about my health. Not about who said what when, that I might be missing out on something by not attending, that something’s going to go wrong, caring about presumptions.

Most of the mistakes I’ve made come from caring way too much about things that just don’t matter. Write down what you care about and why it matters — it’ll make sense when you do it.

5. Stopping writing.

Baring myself, making myself vulnerable, writing under my own name, letting people read the things I’ve felt, describing every single thought and feeling…

I’ve nearly stopped a million times — stopped writing, deleted all my posts.

I realized that would be my biggest mistake. It’s such a release. If you don’t want to go public (and I do not blame you!), then just write. Write it all down — every single feeling, every bit of sadness, every bit of anger. I promise, write it down. Words, sentences, draw — release it.

I’m coming through the other side, but knowing I can create empathy means enough to know that to stop would be my biggest error.

Be creative, release your biggest fears and scare yourself a bit. It might work.

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Thinkstock photo via daizuoxin