The Stories We Tell Ourselves
I have struggled with anxiety since I was a young child. If you have never experienced these feelings, I want to paint a picture for you. My brain has the ability to make up the most creative stories imaginable when I am anxious. It is like my own little college improv group in my head. It can take one thought, word, situation and just run with it until it is almost unrecognizable.
I will admit that I have a love/hate relationship with my anxiety. Because it came out when I was so young, it has been a part of me for over half my life. The majority of my development has happened with it right by my side. And to me, it is almost like a badge of honor that I am able to keep pushing through obstacles and challenges with this weight on my shoulders. It turns me into a hard worker, makes me notice/think of things others don’t and it makes me live life very intentionally.
That being said, it can be debilitating sometimes. If someone were to measure my physiological response while doing something as mundane as cooking dinner, sending an email or even laying down to go to bed, you would think I was facing imminent danger. My heart rate can soar when I’m just sitting and there are moments when I just can’t seem to find my breath. I had my first panic attack when I was 11 and I remember telling my mom to take me to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack.
So although it is still a struggle every day, I have learned a thing or two about how to cohabitate with my anxiety. When I get into a negative thought spiral, I take a deep breath and try to dig myself out of a hole by retracing my thoughts. Being able to pinpoint the trigger of anxious thoughts is key to preventing bigger breakdowns down the line. While I don’t always have control over my physiological responses, I do (for the most part) have control over the stories I am making up in my head. So if I am able to check myself and my thoughts and discern what is reality from what is a story I am making true in my head, that is ideal. Here are some questions I ask myself to stay grounded:
- Is this really a threat?
So many of the situations in my life that bring up anxious thoughts and feelings truly aren’t a threat to me. My body’s response is tricking my brain into believing it is though. So to combat this I use the power of my brain to trick my body. I ask myself “is what is happening right now posing an actual threat to my well being?” “No?” Let’s start with some deep breathing then.
- Have I done all I can to be prepared?
There is a big difference between planning and worrying. I have yet to master knowing when I personally cross the line. For me, it is a vicious cycle because planning soothes a lot of my worries, but a lot of the time it actually feeds into my worrying nature. This is something I constantly check in with myself about.
- What story am I telling myself about this task right now?
My anxiety can do one of two things when I need to accomplish a task. (1) it can make me go into overdrive and make me extremely productive, but not in a positive way. More in a fear-based way. “I need to get this done or else…” or “______ is counting on me to do this, I am going to be a disappointment if I don’t follow through.” (2) it can cause me to freeze, putting off a task until the last minute because I am afraid of the anxiety that comes when starting something new. If I am lucky enough to catch myself in the act of making up a story in my head, it is helpful to vocalize where this story is coming from so I can ultimately either debunk it or address it if necessary.
Although this continues to be a daily struggle for me, these questions help to ground me when I need it. For days when I need extra support, I make sure to lean on those around me (like my friends, family and my dog!).
Do you want to understand more about yourself as a leader? Form even more connections with your team and learn how to work better together? Contact us today to learn more about our program series, “Understanding the ME in TEAM”
*Meet the Author*
Kylie is entering her third year with Leadership Inspirations! She is currently a student at Chapman University, finishing up her B.A. in Integrated Educational Studies with a double minor in Psychology and Leadership. She is also in her first year of a Master’s program focused on Leadership Development at Chapman University.
Favorite Quote: “Take your time, don’t move too fast, troubles come and they will pass” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Fun Facts: 1) I grew up overseas in 7 different countries 2) I love music and love to sing 3) I can play 5 instruments!