There’s a difference between stress and anxiety. That difference is logic.
I’ve recently opened up to several of my clients about my struggles with anxiety. I had to do this, as I was noticing my anxiety was messing with my business, and affecting deadlines.
I wanted my clients to know that I was aware there was an issue, I was actively working to resolve the issue, and was re-working my logistics in my business to empower myself to reclaim control, rather than being a slave to my anxiety’s whims.
The conversations were compassionate, understanding and respectful.
One of clients, in particular, was asking what she could do to help me along this journey as I learn to navigate these new circumstances.
Her words were:
“I just want to be as helpful as I can, and not put any more stress on you than you already have.”
I realized after my call with her that the reason I felt so conflicted by her very generous and thoughtful statement was because anxiety and stress are not synonymous.
I wish they were.
Because that would make dealing with anxiety a hell of a lot easier, and here’s why:
What is “stress”?
Stress is something we all know from time to time. It’s inconvenient, an absolute pain, and sucks in general.
Stress is defined as “pressure or worry caused by the problems in someone’s life”.
While it’s unpleasant, the good thing about stress is that it can be dissected, better understood, and is generally rational. By this definition, there is a definite cause for why stress has been activated, and I know this to be true in my own life.
So, in a way, stress can be calculated like a math problem.
This event + these circumstances in my life = stress.
Stress can really be that straight-forward.
Sure, it can surprise us at times, maybe if it’s in a form of stress which was brought on by something we’re not used to.
Stress comes when you take on more than your capacity, either emotionally or mentally, and then find yourself in (usually) a self-inflicted conundrum.
What is “anxiety”?
Unlike stress, anxiety does not run by logic. And that can be really tough to create a strategy for.
Of course, we all have triggers. But this isn’t a one-size-fits-all reality.
Anxiety isn’t polite enough to only make an appearance when we encounter our triggers. Half the time, it just does whatever it bloody-well pleases, whenever and wherever it wants.
Because mental health is unpredictable, and subscribes to no ground rules, logic, or rational.
Anxiety literally jumps out from behind a corner at random times in the day and screams, “SURPRISE!!!” while kicking your legs out from under you.
I can go from having a great day to crippling anxiety out of nowhere, for no damn reason.
Anxiety cannot be calculated like a math problem. It just is, and it makes no sense most of the time.
Which is damn frustrating.
How’s a professional woman supposed to make a career happen for herself under these kinds of unpredictable circumstances?
Figuring out how to cope.
Most of us know that it’s unrealistic to think we can completely remove mental illness from our lives. If only there were a permanent cure… unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury.
So, with that in mind, it isn’t about trying to find a solution to stop mental health struggles, such as anxiety from existing in our lives, period.
The goal is to learn the coping skills and tools necessary to work through our struggles and achieve some sort of control.
The hope being that when we can employ those coping skill and tools, we can perhaps stop mental illness from completely sabotaging our lives.
At least, that’s the hope.
I don’t want my business to become another victim of the sexual assault I endured years ago (this being the reason why I now suffer from general anxiety).
Many of us have worked too hard to get and create what we have in our lives to lose it to mental illness’ wrath. We've worked hard, put in the years of healing to try and regain our quality of life in some way or form. We've fought so hard to just survive and learn how to navigate the world with our extra baggage that weighs us down more than we can put into words.
So what does coping look like? Coping is figuring out ways to not enable your mental illness, but also protect yourself from it.
Coping is working and struggling and crying through the pain of our mental illness to try and take back control and empower ourselves to be the captain of our own ship again.
Coping is celebrating the wins as we reclaim our lives on a daily basis, no matter how small the win.
Coping is giving ourselves a pat on the back when we even just get out of bed. But coping is also being extremely gracious with ourselves when getting out of bed just isn’t going to happen that day.
The definition of “coping”, much like the definition of “success”, will look different for each person. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's the good news -- this definition is unique, and can look different from one person to the next. In fact, as the person living with and trying to navigate your own mental health struggles, you can be the one who creates that definition as you go, based on your particular circumstances and where you are in your journey.
Successful coping for me now looks a hell of a lot different than it did on Day 1, Month 1 or even Year 1 of my journey. That definition is going to grow and change with you.
We’re all just striving for the best and happiest possible version of our lives that we can.
And for now, that is absolutely more than enough.