Joy Obstacles: Chronic Anxiety
I think it's safe to say that everyone--even the most well-adjusted, high-functioning perfectionist--suffers from anxiety from time-to-time. Promotion time at work, college application season, cross-country moves--all of these are scenarios that would typically induce anxious feelings in normally calm individuals.
However, some people--myself included--suffer from a more chronic form of anxiety, one that permeates daily life and often ruins otherwise happy occasions. I personally find that it differs from what I'll term "normal" anxiety in three ways:
1.) Chronic anxiety often crops up in response to minor stressors, daily hiccups that most people would brush off in 30 seconds. Take, for instance, the following situation: I spill a cup of coffee on the kitchen floor before work on Monday morning. Though I rush to clean it up before dashing out the door, I can't relinquish the "dire" consequences of the spill for the remainder of my commute. What if it stains the floor and we don't get our security deposit back? What if the cat licks the floor? Coffee is poisonous to cats, and if she gets sick, I won't be home for another eight hours to take her to the vet! The extrapolations only unravel from there.
2.) People with severe anxiety also differ in that their responses to "acceptable" stressors are exaggerated. Take, for instance, applying to graduate school. Most people would feel some degree of anxiety during application season, but those with severe anxiety become almost incapacitated; they may lose their appetites or have difficulty sleeping, kept awake by tragic scenarios in which they are denied admission across the board and forced to spend their entire adult lives working at Dunkin' Donuts.
3.) Finally, severe anxiety often operates inversely to ordinary anxiety. Normally, we become anxious in response to an event or encounter. For people with anxiety disorders, however, this pathway is frequently reversed; anxiety precedes the trigger. This is particularly likely to happen during an absence of legitimate stressors. To solve its pathological need to worry, your subconscious goes out scouting for something to obsess over. "Oh, everything is going well now, sure, but did you ever consider that precarious tree branch hanging over your bedroom? You'd better check that your renter's insurance is up-to-date." Etc. Etc.
1.) Envision worst-case-scenarios. "Ok, I tell myself, if Luna somehow slurps up a few molecules of coffee and gets sick, well, she's a cat and has a gag reflect. She's vomit--probably all over the couch--and be fine."
This technique helps put the illogical into perspective, making you realize that the cataclysmic event you are anticipating is probably more on the scale of a small seismic tremor or a rain shower.
2.) Talk it out. Ideally, there is someone in your life who will listen unconditionally to your doomsday predictions without passing judgment, a person who will have a calming influence. Maybe it's a therapist, a best friend, or a spouse. If you're alone when anxiety swoops in, talk to yourself. I find that verbalizing my thought-process--through a sort of spoken stream-of-consciousness--often helps me identify the underlying problem. It's not quite Joyce, but at least it's helpful.
3.) Distract yourself. Distraction is not always the answer to mental disorders because it is a.) often temporary and b.) an harbinger of denial. However, because anxiety often takes hold when the mind is idle, it's helpful to remain occupied. Grab a book, watch a YouTube tutorial, or call your grandma.
NB: Telling someone with severe anxiety to "just relax" is like telling someone with the flu to "just stop coughing." The more you draw attention to the problem, the worse it becomes.
It may seem counterintuitive to write about anxiety on the Joie blog, a criticism that is justified; anxiety is, from my experience, mutually-exclusive with happiness. However, that is exactly why it should be discussed. Because they are rarely visible, mental disorders are too often ignored, which only allows the problem to fester, infecting those portions of your life that should bring happiness--like getting into graduate school or getting that raise at work.