Anxiety and the New Year

January 2, 2013

Happy New Year, Spiros! Today, January 2, is the first day back to “real life”. How are you feeling?

This morning after getting up, having breakfast and taking a shower, I realized I was in a severe state of anxiety, almost to the point of panic. Suddenly all the things I was able to ignore and put off during the holidays are back on the front burner and I feel overwhelmed. I don’t even want to go pick up the new computer I bought day before yesterday because I feel sure that it will be the beginning of hours of frustration getting the Wi-Fi network, software, printers and other drivers set up.

Perhaps it is just because I’m getting older, but for the first time in my life I am acutely aware of a longing to just stay in my comfort zone, eschewing challenges. The holidays were great for that — I could just sit at the sewing machine for hours, days. And today, as it’s time to get back down to business, I look ahead of where I am and see only things to be fixed, change, risks, challenges. It is difficult to see any of it bringing me to a state of joy, a sense of comfort or a reward.

So much of what has to be done is just about maintaining the status quo — for example, going to the doctor for check-ups to make sure that my health doesn’t deteriorate (yes, I have reached the age of colonoscopies . . . .). It seems to offer little reward, but it has to be done.

Some rewards are there but take a long time to achieve — finishing a quilt, for example.

Other rewards are less sure — if I write a book, for example, I have to invest all the the time and effort up front and there is no guarantee that it will sell well enough to feel as though it was worth the effort.

I know that I should set up smaller goals and rewards for myself on a day-to-day basis.

But I find that the reward I most want is in itself a challenge to achieve. And that is not only beyond reach at present, but brings its own enormous hurdles and challenges to achieve.

The possibility of feeling happy and comfortable, even in a small way for a few moments, feels buried beneath layer after layer of obligation and work and challenge. Hence this acute sense of anxiety.

I tucked back into bed for a few minutes to try to enjoy a few last, precious moments of holiday comfort and to consider how to abate the anxiety (I think best in bed — one of the great advantages of working at home).  Here are some ideas I came up with (some good, some not-so). If you are feeling like I am today, perhaps you will find some of them helpful.

1: Ignore the anxiety and just go back to spending hours quilting. However, knowing that I should be doing other things (the holidays are over and with them the freedom to ignore obligations for a time) brings with it a sense of guilt and the knowledge that ignoring things that need to be done will only ultimately lead to bigger problems and greater anxiety.

2: Stuff the anxiety and go into workaholic mode. Yes, it gets a lot of work done, but it leaves me feeling unsatisfied because I never get a chance to even approach the comfort zone.

3: Set up daily achievable tasks for myself and daily rewards in the comfort zone. This is practical but I still have to push through daily anxiety.

4: Rather than perpetually hang onto a To Do list in my mind that never ends and causes me anxiety, define priorities and get the most important things done, so that even if not everything gets done, I can still let myself go to the comfort zone guilt-free.

5: Get really clear about the purpose and goal of the work, then focus on the goal and how good that will feel — whether it is today’s small achievable step or the ultimate large goal that will take a while to accomplish. In other words, anticipate. (What really motivates you? A monetary reward? A emotional one?)

6: Get up earlier in the day and give myself time in the comfort zone before facing the challenges of the day. (Some people use prayer or meditation for this, or it could be a hour or two of quilting time or other creative endeavor.)

7: Delegate some tasks that cause me anxiety — as long as the person to whom I delegate doesn’t become the source of more anxiety.

8: Take joy in grace. I define grace as a sense of balance between your inner world and the outer world. Knowing I got through the task, even when I didn’t want to do it, by consciously choosing that sense of balance can be its own reward.

9: Find a way to evoke an inner sense of calm no matter what — perhaps a visualization or deep breathing — and learn to go there in the midst of any situation. This doesn’t mean “checking out” , it means staying centered and calm no matter what is going on, realizing that that sense of calm, like grace, can be a reward in and of itself.

10: Some people would say that turning anxiety over to God is a solution. God might help with the emotions, but I still have to be the one to sit at my desk and do my work.

It‘s probably safe to say that we all live to one degree or another with anxiety in our lives. Why does it feel so acute today, on the first day of the year? Perhaps it is like coming home after a trip: you have such a good time away from it all during the holidays, and then come home to abruptly find yourself face-to-face with it again, making it much clearer by contrast.

I suppose the good thing about contrast — as I teach in my workshops — is that it makes the design really visible and clear. Seeing things clearly is the first step to making a more beautiful design, to making change.

Yesterday morning on New Year’s Day, I woke up with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy playing through my mind.  Perhaps it was a glimpse of things to come, a promise (and yes, a perpetuation of the holiday message) that there is a place of comfort and joy that is somehow accessible to each of us, despite all.

May we all find that place of comfort and joy each day, as we are working toward our goals and when we achieve them.

Happy New Year!

RaNae

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3 Responses to “Anxiety and the New Year”

  1. Sharon_powless Says:

    Hi RaNae,

    You said you keep your to-do list in your mind. Write it down and free your thoughts. It may work better yo write it in that new computer so you can continually change it and what has been accomplished.

    Since I am older than you (I am going for my second colonoscopy, an the first one was good so it’s been 10 years since yours was done) I know the mind doesn’t want to hold things it once did. And yes, I had a great memory at one time.

    I hope you find a solution for your anxiety. It tends to be self-destructive.

    Sharon Powless

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Hannele Says:

    You nailed the problem with your 10-step worklist 🙂

  3. MaryV Says:

    Hi RaNae, this post is so close to what I’ve been feeling. I had an extended holiday and on January 4, it was wham! Welcome back to the “real” world. One of the ways I relieve stress and get myself on track to “get a lot done” is to listen to my favorite music. Beethoven is my favorite composer and the 9th symphony comes in a close second behind his 5th!

    Hope you are well on your way to accomplishing your goals and can’t wait for you to come to Houston in February!

    mary


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