It is said that people with anxiety live too far in the future. We worry about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year, and we forget to appreciate the moment that we are in. And yes, this is true. So much of anxiety is caused by projecting our fears onto the future, but it is important to also realize that our fears didn’t spring up out of nowhere. They are founded upon our past experiences and, to confront your anxiety in a holistic way, you have to heal your past before you can work on not being afraid of the future.
When something bad happens to you, whether it is a frightening illness, the loss of someone you love, a betrayal of trust, or whatever it was, it is human nature to do everything in your power to avoid going though that kind of experience again. On the surface, this makes sense, and it is healthy to learn from our difficulties and move on. But what happens when you can’t move on? If you become so focused on avoiding the thing that happened to you that you become paralyzed with fear, you will develop phobias that will prevent you from living the life you want. If you survive a scary illness or injury, you can become so preoccupied with your health and safety that you are too scared to do the things you like to do. If you lose someone you love, you can become too scared to get attached to anyone else for fear of losing them, even though you know that it’s not good for anyone to isolate themselves. If someone betrayed you, you can become too afraid to trust anyone again, even though you know that the lose and support you would get from a confidante is beneficent to your wellbeing.
Sometimes the thing haunting you from the past isn’t something that happened to you, necessarily, but a personal failure on your part. Maybe you did really poorly on an important test years ago and to this day you still feel a panic attack come on any time an examination comes up. Or just generally, past failures can shake your confidence in your ability to perform well in even unrelated situations. You could think that you are not qualified for a job you would love because you were bad at sports as a kid. Logically, you may know that being bad at one thing in your past doesn’t mean you will be bad at something else in your future. Failing one test doesn’t mean you will fail every test. You can KNOW this but still feel the anxiety. Finding the root cause of your present anxiety is a pivotal part of recovering and moving on to the present.
It can be hard to know exactly where your anxiety comes from. For some of us, our anxiety springs from evens in our childhood that we may not even fully remember. For many, it may come, less from one single, traumatizing event, but from a long series of little things that, taken individually, may seem insignificant, but altogether paint a picture of repeated failings throughout our life. This is where a licensed professional will be able to help you, if you need it. An objective view can be invaluable in helping you see the forest when you, on your own, might only be able to see the trees. She or he will be able to help you look into your past and pull apart the meaningful events that have shaped your anxiety today and help you work through the next steps, forgiveness and acceptance. Not everyone needs to see a therapist or counselor to help cope with their anxiety, but if you are suffering from panic attacks or a general anxiety that is interfering with your life to the extent that you are being negatively impacted by it, it can be very helpful to get help from someone trained to know how to help you. The temptation to let pride stand in the way between you and the healthcare professional that can help you is strong for many people. It helps to remember that anxiety is a tremendously common problem in our society. There is nothing spectacular about our need for outside help. There’s no shame in seeking out a dentist when you have a cavity, so likewise there should be no shame in seeking out a therapist when you are struggling with panic attacks or anxiety.
Once you are able to determine where your anxiety is sprouting from, the next important part is to forgive. Sometimes there will be a specific person you will have to forgive. A caregiver who didn’t care enough, a trusted person who betrayed you, a bully who hurt you, these could be outside forces that you may be harboring resentment towards that is keeping your anxiety alive. Oftentimes, however, the person you most need to forgive is yourself. Forgive yourself for being weak in the past. Or for failing. Or whatever it is. Being angry about past events prevents you from accepting them as part of who you were so that you can move on to who you are now and who you want to be in the future.
There is a common idea found in wide-ranging self help theories and therapeutic philosophies known as radical acceptance. Many books have been written on the subject but, to put it simply, what it means is to learn to accept our situation. Not in a nihilistic way or merely resigning yourself to misery, but in a realistic and therapeutic way that helps you deal with your present circumstances rather than wasting energy and happiness on wishing things were different. Confronting your past, dealing with it in a healthy way, and putting it to rest are necessary components of accepting your current state and moving on to better things in your life. It is impossible to move on from bad things that have happened in your life if you don’t analyze and deal with them in a healthy, controlled way.
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