Anxiety & Anger

I started my day out with a man silently cursing me out in the third lane of a highway.

It was sort of like something out of The Exorcist because his head spun around to yell at me over his shoulder, but it definitely wasn’t The Exorcist at the same time because we were both driving to work on a dreary Monday. (Oh, and there was no pea soup.)

And while I understood his frustration and even admit that maybe half of those curse words could have been warranted, I had a weird reaction to it all. I sort of guffawed while trying to choke down my anger.

One side of me said that it was absolutely ridiculous to get that angry inside of a car. I mean, it’s sort of like space, isn’t it? No one can hear you scream, and you’ll use up your oxygen for nothing? Besides, there are plenty of things to focus your anger at besides cute bloggers who drive poorly. (Like why we haven’t solved homelessness or revived the Wishbone series for kids.)

But of course, then another part of me decided she was angry, too. My blood pressure started to rise when I realized that this man was aggressively shouting at me because I was going the speed limit. I felt like defending myself, loudly, to no one. What do you want from me?! The black pedal next to the gas is called the brake, and contrary to popular belief, it will NOT hurt your car if you press it from time to time.

Of course, neither of these reactions were truly appropriate. So, I took the rest of the car ride to think about how I really needed to feel.

And this is what I’ve realized: when you’re angry, you need to think about the bigger picture. But when you’re anxious, you need to focus on a single moment.

Believe me. I tried every way ever presented in the media to calm myself down after this encounter. I took deep breaths, counted to ten, then twenty, then thirty. I even turned up the radio to drown out my thoughts for awhile. But I found myself to be angry still. Pissed, actually.

And that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t even remember this encounter when I got home that night (and this was true. Sort of.) And that tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t recall what had happened. And the day after that, well, I daresay the whole thing will have been forgiven and forgotten. (You know, if I wasn’t documenting it on this blog…)

In essence, I realized that I had to focus on the bigger picture, if only to figure out that my anger was completely worthless in the smaller one.

And I also decided during my drive that anxiety should get the inverse remedy.

Personally, I get anxious when I’m thinking about too many things at once. And it happens all the time. I could be simply enjoying my Wednesday afternoon when I feel a punch in the gut over what I did four weeks ago, or what I need to do tomorrow. I break out into a cold sweat and hyperventilate about the lack of time I have. But this is where you need to focus on your breathing. For me, it works to separate everything into “moments” interspersed with deep breaths. It helps to make everything a bit more manageable.

But weirdly enough, we tell people to take deep breaths when their angry instead of looking to the future (calm down? CALM DOWN? CAlm dOWn?!) and broaden their thinking when they get anxious instead of telling them to focus on a single moment (Don’t talk about the “what ifs.” Think about what could go right in addition to wrong.) Somewhere along the way, we got this mixed up.

Of course, your therapist has probably been telling you this for years. This isn’t new or ground-breaking information about anger and anxiety.

It’s just your general reminder to be aware of yourself and what you need. Take a time-out or a walk before anything gets too serious. Before, you know, you yell at a stranger. Any stranger, whether they have a weapon or not.

After all, it’s time that we took better care of ourselves. But it’s up to us all to start.

Life Is Voluntary

It’s easy to forget that you have to choose to live.

Gravity keeps you on the ground. Alarms go off when they’re told to. Green lights turn without a second thought. The world is set to auto-pilot, and you are a mere passenger.

But you? Your body is a work of art, isn’t it? Controlled by your own volition?

Not exactly.

You blink and breathe automatically. You pull back when something burns you and hunch down when it is too cold. Everything is instinctual and such a part of the fabric of life that it is easy to forget that you have to choose to live. You have to decide, everyday, that you are going to make the most of it. You have to think about what kind of contribution you are going to make. But how are you going to do that when the Starbucks barista knows your order and has it ready for you when you get there? What happens when you actually start to memorize the license plates of the cars that participate in the same daily commute as you? What happens when trying to live goes against the grain of life itself?

Well, ironically, you have to focus on that which is unintentional to create a deliberateness in your life.

Huh?

Okay, let me put it this way. You know when someone tells you to take a deep breath? Well, usually when you breathe, it sort of just occurs. It’s like waves on the shore; they roll in, they roll out. But like the sea, your breath is not in control. You are. Likewise, the ocean is not in control. The moon tugs at the waves and creates the tides. So, when you focus on your breathing, you are actually taking back control of what you already do naturally. It puts you in the driver’s seat again, which is really helpful when everything seems like it is crashing down around you, and you aren’t in control of anything.

So, that brings up another great point: you feel most helpless and angry when you are not able to navigate, when someone else is doing that for you. But, if you focus again on the things that were once self-regulating, like your breathing, you can begin to seize control and start to believe that more of life can be shaped to your advantage, even things that seem to beyond your sphere of influence.

Really, this is all a really fancy way of saying that everything in life is about choices. And even when you feel like you have run out of them, they are still there because there are decisions to be made in what is perceived as truth. You simply have to believe that you have the power to change what has always been.