Life Lessons for Coping with Anxiety

Anxiety rears its ugly head in a number of different ways.  It can manifest itself as fear: fear of failure, of the unforeseeable future, of uncertain situations.  It can cause avoidance, self-doubt, panic, and dread.

Over the years, I’ve had my own periodic struggles with anxiety.  Through those years, I’ve acquired a handful of “Life Lessons” that have helped me cope with my anxiety to the point that it no longer dictates the course of my life.  

Allow me to share with you a few of those Lessons, along with the ways these powerful messages have allowed me to take control of my life back.  

Embrace the Suck

I don’t remember where I was when I first heard this expression, but the moment I did, it altered my perspective.  I had heard the phrase “life sucks and then you die”, and thought it was morbidly pessimistic.  This new phrase had the implied positive determination I needed. 

“Embrace the suck” is military slang that basically equates to, there’s no avoiding the crappy situation we’re in, we might as well get on with it. 

For me, it was slightly more than that.  In addition to just trudging through an unavoidable situation, it was finding the good in every situation—especially the “sucky” ones.  Embrace, after all, implies love and desire.  Can I learn to desire challenging situations, understanding that they bring with them personal growth? 

As a way of helping me cope with my anxiety, Embracing the Suck meant finding a silver-lining in even the most anxious and uncomfortable situations.  It was a way for me to learn to alter my perspective. 

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

William Shakespeare

In every situation—unpleasant or desirable—we have control over it through our Perspective.  As anxiety promotes the falsehood that we have no control over our lives, recognizing that we have the ultimate control over everything we encounter through how we perceive it, eliminates that particular fallacy. 

We do have control.  We can choose to be miserable in a good situation.  Or, even in the most difficult, uncomfortable situations, we can learn to Embrace the Suck and find something good buried under all that “suckiness”. 

Eat the Frog

The advice to “Eat the Frog”, or in other words, get the most difficult task you face every day done first and as quickly as possible, originated from Mark Twain. 

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”

Mark Twain

It’s great advice for natural-born procrastinators, but also for anyone with anxiety.  I think we have an ironic proclivity to ignore the task that is causing us the most anxiety.  Ironic, because once it’s complete, the anxiety dissipates.  If, instead, we immediately tackled the task that is causing us anxiety, we would cut off its blood-supply and keep it from growing and smothering us. 

In my life, I have learned—very stubbornly­­—that things are almost never as bad as they seem.  And honestly, for the minute percentage that things actually do turn out as bad as my imaginatively-anxious superpowers project, it is not worth all the emotion and energy wasted for every other time.

Refusing to “eat the frog”, and allowing it to linger in the back of our minds it physically and emotionally exhausting.  How many times have you found yourself worn-out in the middle of the day because of nothing other than your anxiety? 

When a task that is causing you anxiety lingers, how do you interact with others?  Are you impatient and on-edge, irritable and snappy?  How do you treat yourself?  Negative thoughts attract negative thoughts. And when we bury a chore that is causing us anxiety, we are only inviting other problems, irritants, and negativity to gather to it!

Eat the Frog—as horrible, and uncomfortable as it is, holding onto that discomfort all day is infinitely worse

Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can’t, You’re Right

My teenage son has gravitated to this quote from Henry Ford as his favorite, and that makes me so proud!  As a teacher of gifted students (and just for life in general), I’ve always tried to teach about the growth mindset.

Failure is a natural part of life.  We can allow it to defeat us, or learn to accept it—even embrace it, like Thomas Edison, who proudly proclaimed,

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. 

Thomas Edison

But beyond learning to accept failure, comes the Law of Manifestation, or self-fulfilling prophecy.  The Law of Manifestation (or Law of Attraction,) is rooted in the idea that like attracts like: positivity draws positivity, and negativity attracts negativity.  Thus, when we believe in positive outcomes—that we can—we generally do.  When we set ourselves up for failure by believing that we can’t, we usually don’t

It’s all in our mindset.  The anxious mindset constantly repeats, “I can’t,” What if…”, “It’s not possible”, and all other similar manner of negative thoughts.  Thus, our bodies, which can only perform according to what our minds guide them to do, are bound by our thoughts to produce the negative we feed it.  You cannot get an apple from an orange tree. You cannot argue with yourself to think one thing and perform another.  

So, we must then follow the advice from Henry Ford, and think we can.  We must turn off the anxiety-focused doubt, believing that if we think we can, we can.

Wherever You Are, Be All There

This Life Lesson from Jim Elliot echoes the sage words of Lao Tzu, who says:

I have to agree with this counsel from the testament of my own life.  Anxiety relies on the uncertainty of the future.  It’s triggered from a desire to control when we feel our lives have none.  And that desire for control extends to wanting to know and be sure of the future—which is forever and always, uncertain

We can spend countless hours trying to manipulate the present to produce a future that we are comfortable with, only to have our labors spoiled by an unforeseen event.  Thus, hours we have spent in anxious turmoil are all for nothing.  Meanwhile, life passes us by.

The only way to be truly happy is to quiet the anxiety of the unforeseeable future, let go of mistakes and regrets from the past, and live completely in the present.  Granted, it’s not always easy to do so.  It may take learning skills like meditation, reflection, and grounding to help maintain your focus.  But, it is well-worth learning or refining those skills.  Then we can achieve peace and happiness.   

Wherever you are, whoever you are with, whatever activity you are doing, be all there.  Living entirely in that moment will allow you to see things you would have missed, build more intimate, personal relationships, and gather a lifetime of positive memories. 

Summary of Four Life Lessons

These lessons I’ve gleaned from the words of others much wiser than myself aren’t things I’ve mastered.  They are more like a playlist I keep on repeat. 

  • Maintain the proper perspective, even in the most difficult times.
  • Don’t procrastinate. 
  • I have the power to manifest good in my life.
  • Live in the present. 

It’s hard, sometimes, in the midst of staggering anxiety, to remember these lessons.  So I try to remind myself of them frequently, even during peaceful times of my life.  Then, they are easier to draw upon when the heat rises and anxiety threatens to overwhelm.  Invariably, at least one of these messages helps restore peace and helps me maintain my determination to be happy. 

If these don’t work for you, I encourage you to create your own playlist of Life Lessons to fall back on when life becomes anxious.  Play it often, and remember you are enough, and this too shall pass 😉

Leave a Reply