Journaling Through Anxiety

reading-925589_1920
When I make a mistake it’s not just some harmless incident. It’s monumental; it’s life changing. It’s like I’ve taken all of my progress, all of the time I spent learning to forgive myself, and wiped it all away. Clean slate. Back to the beginning.

Sometimes when I try to explain this, people don’t understand. “It’s okay!” they exclaim, “We all make mistakes, why do you care so much?”

The reason is, anxiety and depression can make even the smallest mistakes feel like the end of the world. I overthink, I overanalyze, and I put way too much focus on the little things. Often times this leads to sleepless nights, or in the worse cases, panic attacks. In the field of psychology, there is a term for this distorted pattern of thinking: magnification. As the name suggests, you take one incident and blow it way out of proportion. Soon enough, it’s the only thing on your mind.

Oddly enough, I started to notice how often I fell into magnification when I began making progress with my own general and social anxiety. I realized that I would stress myself out over everything, even if it’s something that has no real effect on my future. It got to the point where I kept a running tally in my mind all day. There would be times where I felt like I was in the clear. Then I would make a mistake and have to start all over again. 

 

I forgot to open the door for that kind old man this morning. 

I took too long to take the change out of my wallet. People stared. 

I was late to my second class of the day. Why can’t I do anything right?

I didn’t score high enough on that test. 

I forgot to put my blinkers on when I was making that turn. 

I think I said the wrong thing to my friend. Are they mad at me? They’re mad at me. Are they judging me? 

The little things that wouldn’t even cross someone’s mind linger on my mind long after, like nagging flies that won’t go away. My mind was never at peace.  I would add all of my mistakes up and come up with a grand total- the total I would use to determine how worthy I was of forgiving myself. The more mistakes I made, the less worth I had, and the harder I would have to fight to redeem myself. 

It sounds extreme, I know, but anxiety and depression can be consuming. 

When I talk with people about anxiety and depression, magnification or absolutist thinking appear to be a pretty common occurrence. We’re overly critical of ourselves without ever acknowledging our accomplishments. When I began writing this post I grew curious, so I found an article on Very Well Mind called “Cognitive Distortions of Magnification and Minimization” that helped broaden my knowledge on the subject. 

I wanted to share a strategy I find very helpful in overcoming this distorted thinking pattern called a panic journal, or what I call ‘journaling through anxiety’.

I’ve made a lot of progress in my own social anxiety and how I view my own mistakes. It’s taken a lot of self reflection and hard work, but I’ve found that I’m rarely consumed by these self defeating thoughts lately. It all begins by learning to look at the bigger picture. (Before I continue sharing, I want to remind readers that this is based on my personal experience! Recovery is never a one size fits all)

It’s important to remember that when you magnify things, the world appears a lot smaller than it really is. That’s why your mistakes feel monumental. When your field of view is centered only on what you’ve done wrong, you aren’t giving yourself the room to reflect on all that you have done right. 

I began to remind myself of this daily, and developed a habit of writing down what I was worried about, down to the last detail. During overwhelming episodes of anxiety, having a panic journal became a huge relief for me. 

For example, I wrote about what happened during a job interview that lead me to a panic attack later that night. I had gotten through the majority of the interview just fine, that is until the end, where I found myself stumbling on my words. I couldn’t think clearly afterwards. The rest of the day that was the only thing on my mind and I went into a downward spiral. At the end of the night I concluded “The interviewer hated what you had to say. You clearly didn’t get the job.” This created a snowball effect of worries in my mind. Those small mistakes I made during the interview that day had me convinced that I would be unemployed and hopeless. 

So, I wrote down all of my thoughts without a filter, without stopping to analyze a single thing. I went to bed that night feeling a little better, because at least I had gotten my feelings out. 

A few days later when I got a phone call that I did receive the job, I looked back at my journal entry. My anxiety convinced me that I failed, all because I was so focused on the few mistakes I made, without taking into consideration any other aspects of the interview.

It helped in many other situations, no matter what the source of my troubles were. I came to realize that in most cases, I went into panic mode before I could fully process the events of the day. My thoughts were simply irrational because they were a results of the mind tricks anxiety played on me. In a few cases, my concerns were realistic and writing down my worries was a useful way to sort out my thoughts. 

Take any sort of journal, whether it’s on paper or on your phone, and write down everything that’s on your mind. Give yourself time to go through the emotions and just let your stress out. Later, once you’ve had enough time to calm down, reread what you wrote. Does it make sense, or do your thoughts look like the result of your anxiety? Can you pinpoint areas where your thoughts look irrational or magnified? Or, are these problems that you truly do need to address? Releasing your emotions then reflecting on them may give you the clarity you need to work your way through it. 

If you’re looking for tools to aid you in your recovery, I highly recommend trying this out. Journaling isn’t only effective, but it’s easy and accessible for those who can’t afford to speak to a professional for whatever reason. Using a panic journal may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot if you’re recovering from an anxiety disorder. 

(Thank you for reading, I hope you find this helpful! Best of luck on your journey.)

 

Can You Always Be Positive?

True happiness isn’t forever, it might not even be for a while. It is found in the moments we least expect it, and sometimes hidden in the times we need it most. Happiness is fleeting.

When I say that happiness doesn’t last forever, I don’t mean that in a such a cynical way. I say that happiness is fleeting because the truth is, life happens and we don’t ever get to choose when. Mistakes are made, things are lost, and bonds are broken. And with these losses, there goes our expectation of infinite happiness right down the gutter.

Many of us feel unsatisfied with our current state of life because our expectations of happiness don’t coincide with reality. Our ideas of what real success and happiness look like are corrupted by social media and the fabrications we’re exposed to every day. We are lead to believe that happiness is perfection, and we convince ourselves that once we are finally happy that it will last forever.

This faulty perception of happiness only gets worse when we begin browsing through social media. I consistently come across a sea of lifestyle posts and ‘hacks’ on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram that I can’t take seriously. These influencers tell us that if we drink more water and get some sunlight each day, then we’ll grow into the person we want to be as if we are mere plants rather than complex, unique human beings. If it were as easy as drinking water and getting sunlight, then we would achieve perfect physical and mental health. For someone who has dealt with anxiety that interferes with everyday life, I understand that there’s a lot more to overcoming the downs of life than that and I’m sure almost everyone can agree.

The thing is, of course platforms like Instagram are going to be filled with picture perfect profiles. We all want the world to see the best version of our lives- even when it isn’t truthful. I can relate with the desire to create a positive image, and I do believe that platforms such as Instagram can be beneficial in that sense. When people land on my profile I want them to see the best version of myself.

The issue I have with this is the negative effect it has on all of us to be mislead by these perfect profiles, particularly the younger generations who are so invested in social media. When we scroll through all of these images, we’re seeing people living in a dream like state. These perfectly crafted profiles make us feel as though we’re missing out on the joy that all of these people we follow are experiencing, or seem to be experiencing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comparing themselves to popular influencers that promote this image, or commenting along the lines of “I wish I was you!”

So there we go again, reaching for something out there, for that pure joy we see on social media.

But it’s not real.

We can convince ourselves that we can control our lives the way that we control our social media profiles, picking and choosing which moments we want to live out.  

But again, that’s not possible. If that was the case, then we’d all be manic.

In real life we live out the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the sunshine and the rain. We don’t get to slap a sunset filter over it and say that we had a perfect day. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want it to, and that’s okay. That’s life. And the sooner we begin embracing the unexpected rather than running away from it, the closer we are to real happiness.

I came across this quote while watching Euphoria the other day that perfectly sums up my point.

“I had a therapist once who said that these states will wax and wane.

Which gave my mother relief, because it meant that in the bad times, there would be good times.

But it also gave her anxiety because it meant that in the good times, there would be bad times.”

Although simple, this episode does an excellent job of explaining how clinical depression works for most individuals. Not only does this episode accurately portray how it feels to live with depression and anxiety, but it holds true to the nature of life for all of us.

It can be somewhat frightening to realize that we don’t always know when the next low point will be for us. But if everything always went the way we want it too, we simply wouldn’t be alive. Think of it as the ups and downs on a heart monitor. If you see a straight line, there’s no pulse. If you see it consistently going up, well, that’s not exactly healthy either.

So at this point you might be asking yourself, what’s the point? 

Why am I writing this? As I began to write this post I didn’t know exactly what direction I was headed, I just wanted to remain honest above anything else. Even though I try to keep my writing on the positive side, it’s not always so easy. If I only covered the positive topics then I would be missing out on exploring so many other subjects surrounding mental health that other people can relate to.

So back to the question I set out to answer, it’s a little complicated. While I don’t believe there is a way to always be positive, I do feel that it’s important to always hold on to the hope that things will get better.

If I could give anyone advice on how to be a more positive person, it’s to accept that you don’t always know what tomorrow will bring, but hold on to the hope that the hard times will pass and you will find yourself living out those happy moments again. Don’t let that fill you with fear, let it fill you with excitement.

Instead of viewing happiness as perfection, instead of trying to keep it forever, view it as moments. It’s true that happiness is fleeting; like every other emotion it comes and goes. Happiness is found in moments that turn into memories we can cherish.

So stop chasing perfection and start chasing those moments. It’s that rush you feel when you catch the perfect wave, or that moment when you break through the surface of the water after taking a daring leap. It’s the sense of pride you have when you can finally feel your diploma in your hands and the warmth that radiates from those who supported you along the way. It’s in those moments when you find yourself laughing until your chest aches, or that joy you feel when you reconnect with a friend for the first time in what felt like forever.

Even on your absolute worst days, happiness is there, in that smile that illuminates someone’s face when you do something kind. Happiness is everywhere, even in the bad, if you would just open your mind to it. 

It’s like catching a firefly in your hands, even in the darkest nights. There will be times where the nights feel dark and you think the light has ran out, but it is still there, waiting to land in the palms of your hands again. And those moments, like fireflies, will come back to you when you least expect it.