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How Looking Back at My Darkest Days Helps Me Through Present Anxiety

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I am anxious a lot of the time. I will never say it is a good thing in any way shape or form. But it has done one thing for me, something simple that often takes years to develop. It has taught me perspective. Before I talk about perspective, let me give you some.

I worked for one company for a long time. It was perpetually high-pressure, frenetic chaos, not unlike using an explosion to force out a cannon ball. I worked long, hard hours and stressed over everything, because I felt I had to. When I left work, my phone rang daily with urgent problems that needed sorting. The stress drove me past breaking. I was grateful for 12-hour “short” days. I never received gratitude or recognition. At the desperate encouragement of family and friends, I searched and searched for a new job. Hundreds and hundreds of applications.

Then, I got an offer. A good one. Thirty fewer hours a week, much less stress, I am liked by my customers, my boss and my team. I am good at what I do, and I get recognized for it. If a meeting runs late at the end of the day, they apologize for making me work late. I tell them it is not at all a problem; it is still a better day than my best day at the other place. I had one co-worker tell me to stop comparing what I do now to what I did then. But I cannot, and more to the point, I feel I should not.

Comparing my pile of good things (to steal a line from “Doctor Who”) to my pile of bad things does a couple very important things for me and my anxiety. It keeps me grateful and it keeps me humble. Being an anxious mess today might seem so overwhelming that I can barely breathe. I do not get through it by telling myself there are brighter days ahead. No, I get through it by looking back at the darkest, longest, most excruciating days and remembering I came out on the other side. For me, good things in the future mean nothing compared to the bad things I had to scratch and claw my way through. I can make it through this, not because karma will give me a treat for doing so, but because I have seen worse.

It lets me be grateful for my pile of good things. I am so grateful not to be working where I was that I am in a perpetually better mood at work (which means I also do better at work). Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I hoard good memories and close friends and I cherish them because I have had some sh*tty days. I look calm and in command at my new job during stressful situations, because I have built up an immunity to it.

So when your anxiety rides towards you in dark, icy waves, know it will still be hard. It might just suck. But even if your pile of good things is small, they can shine brighter. They won’t even have to be great good things; they can shine out to you simply by comparison. Cherish them when they are there. That one friend or movie or park or song or whatever your talisman against the darkness is — be grateful for it. My stress and experience and anxiety gives me perspective. It helps me value my good things. I can face the dark times more head on, because I have seen worse. There are plenty of bad things out there, that is certain. So it is my practice to try, little by little, to create a good thing or two to toss out there. I invite each and every one of you to do the same.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: November 17, 2016
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