Opinion: When Good Times Give You Anxiety

Crystal Jackson

Photo byHofmann Natalia on Unsplash
We say we hate drama. We only want to live a peaceful life. But for some of us, a peaceful life isn’t an easy one. Good times give us anxiety.

Before you rush to judge that statement, let me illustrate how this works. I’m happy lately. Even though I’ve had some personal challenges, I feel hopeful about my life. I finally made peace with a relationship’s end. My home and career life are thriving. I’ve purchased a house and successfully made it into a home. Even my chronic illness feels under control. Yet, my mind keeps scanning my life for a problem. I feel uneasy when I don’t find one.

For people who have experienced trauma and developed a hypervigilant mindset to survive it, good times can be anxiety-provoking.

  • First of all, we’re not used to happiness and calm waters. It feels uncomfortable because it’s new.
  • Secondly, we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re scanning our lives for confirmation that it will — because it always does.

Sadly, because we’re looking for things to go wrong, they usually do. Sometimes, it happens because we’ve managed to sabotage ourselves, and it also happens because no life is all smooth sailing all the time.

People with happy childhoods and relationship histories who are securely attached may find this both strange and dysfunctional, but it’s actually been an adaptive trait for people who didn’t get the smoothest start. It’s only when we’re no longer dealing with trauma that what was once adaptive becomes a real problem. Without healing, we’re going to keep repeating our trauma and will struggle to accept happiness.

I’ve spent so much time looking for the problem that it became funny to me. Happiness is fleeting, and I’m wasting my time trying to dismantle it. I decided to stop doing that and start appreciating it instead.

I’m learning to be more securely attached and to address trigger points to my anxiety. Part of that process is accepting that happiness is just as valid as any other experience. We don’t have to take it apart or question it. We don’t have to feel like it doesn’t belong to us or that we don’t deserve it. We can let it in without worrying about when it will be taken away.

Believe me when I say that it’s easier said than done. I spent too much time trying to determine why I felt uncomfortable and then judging myself for the reason. I don’t want to squander any more of my precious peace. I just want to experience it.

It’s a new experience to be happy after years of struggle. Right now, I’m not questioning why someone doesn’t love me back. I’m thriving in authentic, meaningful, and deep friendships and relationships. I don’t question if the people around me actually like me because they express it often.

I’m not worrying about how to pay my bills or experiencing anxiety about managing my children. I’m not spending time with people who drain my energy, and I know how to set boundaries and communicate in ways that keep my relationships healthy. Life is not without its challenges, but for once, I feel strong enough to manage them — and know that I have a powerful support system if I need a little help.

I don’t expect the smooth sailing to last forever, but I’m also tired of living like the other shoe will drop at any moment. I’m tired of focusing on all my challenges and minimizing the good things that come into my life. I’ve lost people I didn’t think I could. I’ve loved and lost and lived to do it all again. I’ve experienced surges of progress and unexpected setbacks. I alternate between being my healthiest self and reeling from the impact of my chronic illness.

I’ve learned the following strategies for addressing the anxiety that Brene Brown calls foreboding joy.

  • I decided to give every single bit of good in my life as much energy as I give the drama — more, even. Good times deserve to be acknowledged, appreciated, and savored. It doesn’t matter how long it lasts. It just matters that it’s here at all.
  • I tell the anxiety to take a seat. I breathe through it and know that bad feelings won’t last forever.
  • I practice gratitude. Instead of allowing myself to fall down the rabbit hole of worse-case scenarios, I remind myself of all that I can appreciate about myself and my life.
  • I ground myself in the present moment and leave the past and future where they belong. I don’t follow my thoughts down every single path they want to travel.
  • I don’t indulge the anxiety, but I do acknowledge it. I forgive myself for feeling triggered by happiness, and I appreciate my body for being constantly vigilant in my protection.

Today is a good day, and I’m not poking holes in it. I’m enjoying the sun on my face on a surprisingly warm winter day. I’m allowing happiness to sit beside me and telling anxiety to take a hike. I accept that I deserve good things, and I hope you know that you do, too.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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