I distinctly remember that feeling of dread and paralysis at the face of responsibilities way back when I was just a kid in middle school. I was a diligent student, and a perfectionist too, and looking back, I’m pretty sure the middle school me took my academic responsibilities a bit too seriously. But all the same, I didn’t have that kind of perspective, I didn’t know how to cope, and that feeling of anxiety induced by the pressure to be perfect was so real for me, and so disturbing.
The feeling of being stressed, overwhelmed, and burdened by responsibility followed me through my college years (where the general lifestyle certainly didn’t help) and on to adulthood. Except, the stakes get oh so much higher in adulthood. The responsibilities pile up, and anxiety becomes a sort of shared sentiment.
Life gets stressful, and now and then, we’re faced with an overwhelming amount of responsibilities. Dealing with stress at work, challenging projects and pressing deadlines, trying our best to meet both the expectations of others and those we impose on ourselves, managing relationships, finances, having somebody depend on us, general “adulting”… At some point, it all comes together to form a loud blast at the very core of our being.
But we can’t give up, and there is a way. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed to the point of lashing out and breaking down isn’t, and can’t be, a “normal part of adult life.” Nobody deserves that agony. The responsibilities are there to stay, but it’s up to us to develop mechanisms and learn how to cope with the related anxiety so we can live happier fuller lives. Here’s what I have learned in my journey of dealing with responsibilities-related anxiety, and the most effective strategies which you can apply.
One of the key things to keep in mind when coping with stress and anxiety is that these feelings build upon themselves – if you let them. That’s how we create a snowball of anxiety, rolling the ball up the hill until it gets too big to handle. For example, when you feel anxious because of a demanding project at work, your instinct will guide you to think of a million problems that could prevent you from meeting the deadline, and the anxiety builds up.
Not only that, but these feelings will easily slide out of the domain of the actual issue that’s caused you anxiety in the first place, so you start seeing problems and stress-triggers everywhere. We all know this issue all too well – stress at work becomes stress at home, and all of a sudden every little thing triggers you.
To prevent things from getting out of hand, it’s essential that we remind ourselves of the “snowball effect” and always do a bit of introspection. Ask yourself – What is the actual source of my anxiety? Is there one particular event or task that has led to everything getting so overwhelming? Work your way back to track the initial source so that you can focus on it alone. But to make introspection possible, you’ll first need to calm your mind with grounding techniques.
Introduce one small lifestyle change
You’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times by now how you can naturally keep stress under control through lifestyle habits. Sleep, diet, exercise, spending time in nature, human contact, nurturing hobbies – we know that all of these things are crucial to our wellbeing, but we are eager to ignore this fact at the times when we need our healthy habits the most.
That’s why I’m not going to tell you how you should start exercising in the morning, eating more vegetables, or going to bed earlier. I’m sure you know that already, and from my personal experience, I know that when things get tough, thinking about all the habits, I need to turn around in my life and all the things I’m doing wrong induces more anxiety, with a side of guilt too.
The best thing you can do is pick one little thing you can change and stick to. Maybe it’s going to bed 10 minutes earlier, finally trying a fun hobby you’ve always wanted to give a go, or promising to cut your consumption of energy drinks in half. Try meditating for 2 minutes today. Baby steps. A healthy lifestyle that helps you manage stress can’t be built immediately and on imperative – introduce the little changes that make you feel good and help you manage stress bit by bit, and you’ll gradually develop a strong foundation.
You might not proclaim yourself as a perfectionist, but your mindset and work habits might tell otherwise. Admittedly, this is the toughest one to tackle and something I’m still working on.
Perfectionism is crippling because – get this – nobody is perfect, and the idea of perfection is an abstraction anyway, an entirely subjective matter. It’s a mindset that always works against you: you’ll never be delighted with your work, you’ll stress throughout the process even when you could be enjoying it, and it will lead you to so much frustration and anxiety as you obsess over the tiniest details and anticipate failure. Not to mention, this type of mindset easily leads to procrastination – so, even more, fear and dread piles up.
What I do to overcome the frustrating and anxiety-inducing perfectionism is always to remind myself to keep things simple. I align my thoughts so that I can identify what my standards for the given task are. When my mind is restless, I write these thoughts down. And when you have it down on paper, it’s usually straightforward to see how you’ve set unrealistic standards for yourself – and how much more productive it is to take them down a notch. That feels liberating. Don’t think about the final result, immerse yourself in the work process and don’t underestimate the quality of “your best.”
But the truth is, anxiety is a part of the broad spectrum of human emotions and nobody is immune to it.
When you look at astronauts, air traffic controllers, and brain surgeons, it seems like it’s in their nature to stay calm and collected at the face of overwhelming responsibility. We’re awed by them as if they’re another species. But you can be sure that those amazing people have worked all their life to train their mind to stay calm under stress and rely on their mechanisms to cope with the feelings of anxiety.
In the end, coping with anxiety takes work – and the action never stops. You always have to be present, be aware, learn, and build good mechanisms that work best for you. Remember – baby steps.