One of the biggest triggers of anxiety is the internal voice. This is the internal narrative that discusses the past and the expected futures. This is the internal criticism, which we all have, and let’s face it; everybody claims to be their own worst critic.
Perhaps this is true.
Or better yet, perhaps this is necessary.
In all honesty, I do believe in an honest self-assessment. I believe an honest assessment of my performance is not only useful but necessary to improve. However, an honest assessment helps to create a higher standard, which is constructive, as in “Constructive criticism.”
However, in most cases and in cases like me or anyone else like me, as this relates to anxiety, being overly critical runs the risk of tripping the anxiety machine into overload.
For example, I remember one of my earlier presentations in a classroom. There were two instances in which I mishandled a situation.
Being mindful that there was no right or wrong in this situation, still, as experience and maturity has shown, looking back, there was another way I could have handled them.
This happened three years ago. After an honest assessment, I saw where I would make changes. After honestly re-thinking my performance, I saw where I could improve and how I can navigate myself differently.
No one else criticized me on this. In fact, I was told I did well and some of the students reached out to me on a few occasions afterward. But me being me, I was critical of my performance.
Certainly no one else is thinking about my presentation from three years ago or losing sleep over it, or thinking about this at like, say, 2:30 in the morning when the rest of the world is sleeping.
An honest assessment stops after the assessment. But this is not an honest assessment. No, this is being overly critical. This is entertaining the emotional narrative that lingers in the mind.
Anxiety is mental distress caused by fear. I say anxiety is a voice. I say anxiety is the internal narrative based on perception, interpretation, personal biases, and memories of previous letdowns and failures.
Anxiety is a machine. Once enabled, the machine rages in a constant state of apprehension. This triggers anticipation. This triggers the predictions of adversity and the expectation of doom.
“Something is wrong!”
And of course something is wrong. Something is always wrong when the anxiety machine shifts into overload. And be mindful, once the machine trips, the panic attack begins, and then (Oh my God!) I swear, it seems like no one can help and nothing can stop the gears in the mind from crushing and turning until everything seems destroyed.
In full anxiety or panic attack, breathing becomes difficult, chest tightens, can’t think clearly, every nerve is on high-alert, can’t get away, can’t run, can’t stop, can’t escape the machine, which becomes merciless and churning, devouring the tracks like an angry train speeding out of control.
And now it’s too late
One of my practices is to replace thought with action or create an outlet when my thinking grow voices. I had to learn how to navigate away from the internal narrative with a “Don’t look back,” mindset.
Otherwise, if I look back I fall backwards into my consideration. I find myself picking apart my performance, which leads me to other related instances, which split, and lead to more, and more.
I had to learn how to stop interacting with the internal voice and reliving or re-having old or past conversations that I cannot change or re-litigate. I had to learn ho ti create distance between me and my thinking,
This sort of thing is draining. My thoughts dovetail and fan out to appear more threatening than they really are.
And now I’m thinking too much.
Now the regret churns.
Next the shame begins; now the blame and guilt starts to work. Suddenly, I give in to depressive and degrading thoughts.
My anxiety is me—this is my ego; this is my fear screaming out, “Please God, don’t let them see me like this!!”
This creates a rejection sensitive condition that creates rejection sensitive opinions and biases.
Next, this triggers the personal defense mechanisms and chimes in the compulsive behaviors as a means to soothe the struggle by using something external to solve an internal dilemma.
I have spoken with others that can relate to this and asked, “What it look like to have this all go away?”
Imagine the energy we could conserve if the mind were able to relax. Consider it this way, our thoughts travel along a neuropathway.
Consider this pathway like a tube, in which, in perfect conditions, our thoughts would slide through without issue; however, in high anxiety situations, the tubes are restrictive.
The receptors in our brain overreact, and suddenly our neuropathways (or the tubes which our thoughts pass through) are clogged and congested like a bad day of gridlock in N.Y.C. traffic.
Anxiety is perception based and perception is not truth; it’s just our perception. That’s all. However, true or not, our perception has a way of running away from us and churning the gears in the anxiety machine.
Over the years, I have been practicing ways to disassemble the anxiety machine. Yet still, I do have my moments when anxiety levels shoot to a higher level, in which case, I have to create distance from me and my stressor.
I have to find an outlet. I have to find a better source to draw my energy from and a different way to expel the excess of my wasted breath.
One word I use and I use often is the word “STOP!”
I say this to myself when tensions are too high. I have had instances when my anxiety was so high that I’ve had to say “STOP!” out loud.
In fact one time (and I laugh about this now) I was on a bus and the man next to me apologized after I growled the word, “STOP!” from my grinding jaw.
I swear, he must have thought I was crazy. And who knows? At the time, I just might have been.
I have created an acronym for myself: S.T.O.P.
Stop The Overthinking Process.
Since anxiety is thought based, I view anxiety the same as a fire. A fire needs fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn. Remove either of the three and the fire goes out.
Anxiety needs fuel too. It needs oxygen. I t needs the heat as well, which is a creation of the thought machine once the gears rev too high. Take out one of the three away and the machine can’t run.
When I use the acronym S.T.O.P. this enables me to shut the system down because like a fire, I only have so much time before the rage burns out of control.
So I had to learn how to S.T.O.P. it!