I have been in a very stressful situation on and off for three months now.
It involves a landlord, money and legal procedures I didn’t ever have to worry about in the past. As a student studying abroad, working a part-time job and living from pay-check to pay-check to be able to keep studying, I find everything money-related very anxiety-inducing.
The past week has been filled with panic attacks, shaking hands, incapability of focus, scattered mind and hours of staring at my screen, waiting for e-mails. I did, however, manage to calm myself down a bit, even if just for a few moments. I’ve been struggling with anxiety my whole life and the three approaches I implemented this week had helped me in the past as well.
When I’m in a highly stressful situation and I feel myself falling into the dark hole of sweating shaking anxiety, I try to look at the situation from three different points of view. They all work as a means of distancing myself from my anxiety; they help me step out of my body and examine the problem in the frame of the grand scheme of things.
The Future Point of View
“In ten years, this situation won’t matter. I might not even remember it and if I do, it might become a funny story I’ll laugh about.”
I insert myself into the future, imagining what it might look like, what I might feel like in five, ten or twenty years from now on. I take a step back and I think about how many years I still have to live on this planet — there are so many adventures waiting for me, various people I don’t yet know who will mean the world to me, moments I will forever cherish. There will also be situations much more difficult than the one I find myself in right now. The future holds heartbreaks, financial struggles, some health issues, dealing with the inevitable death of my close ones.
My forty-year-old self will have other, presumably more difficult, things to deal with. My present lived reality will have been in the past. Actually, it will have been in the past much sooner than that. The current issue will be solved in a maximum of a few weeks. When I’m anxious about an exam or a social gathering, I keep telling myself that it will all be over only in a few hours.
This kind of thinking gives me a certain sense of relief, which in turn helps calm my anxiety down, even if just for a little bit.
The Past Point of View
“I struggled in the past; I was overwhelmed by anxiety caused by things I don’t even remember anymore. This will be the same.”
There have been so many stressful things that I’ve had to go through in my life. School exams that felt so important to me at the time, events where I had to publicly speak and my mouth was so dry I almost couldn’t pronounce words, moving to a different country where I knew almost no one, dates that made my stomach sink just thinking about them one week ahead, the uncertainty about getting a new job which I desperately needed to be able to pay my next month’s rent.
I survived all of them. They are all in the past now. When I look back at these moments, I feel relief that I don’t have to deal with them anymore, or I don’t much remember them because they are not important. Some of them I even cherish because they led to something beautiful. Dealing with these stressful situations and coping with my anxiety in the past have also inherently made me stronger. I have been challenged throughout my life and I have always come out a better, more capable person.
Moreover, when I experienced these horrible emotions, I was so caught up in the moment itself that I felt like it was the end of the world. Now I know it wasn’t. Life moved on. Soon afterwards, I felt happy and relaxed again.
This, right now, is the same scenario. It’s not the end of the world, even when my brain desperately wants to make it seem that way.
The Present Point of View
“Right now, I feel really anxious. I accept it.”
What is happening right now is horrible. I keep wishing it was already over. But it’s not. Time is passing by and I’m sitting here, on my bed, frustrated, angry and constantly on the verge of tears, and all I can do is wait. Wait to see what other people say, what they do, what their intentions are. I’m somewhat helpless; there’s only so much I can do, and I have no idea what the next moment will bring.
And that’s life. External circumstances will always happen whenever they please, with no regard to our internal plans and feelings. They come and shatter our present world to bits, and then they leave us to put ourselves back together and keep moving on until some other unexpected event comes our way. This pandemic is a big red example of how Life just does whatever the hell it wants.
This anxiety-inducing situation did not matter in the past and won’t matter in the future — but it does matter now. When I look at things from the present point of view, I find it incredibly hard to distance myself and focus on the grand scheme of things. But maybe, in this case, I don’t have to.
I just need to sit with the anxiety. I sit, I close my eyes, I inhale and exhale. I focus on the twisting of my stomach, the dumpling in my throat, the urge to cry. I let myself feel my anxiety. I accept that this is how I feel. I accept that there’s not much I can do about it. I accept that this is what Life has given me.
I accept that my life hasn’t, isn’t and will never be easy. Nobody’s life is. This struggle is one of many.
Life is wonderful. Stressful situations, mental breakdowns, and heartache are, however, a part of the package. It does not come any other way.