Rule #1 for reducing anxiety


Adams Beach, Florida (DB)

We all know somebody who accepts invitations only to beg off at the last minute.  It may be you, and it has certainly been me.  Different areas of my brain disagree about my social life.  There are times when I’m doing quite well and can socialize with the best of extroverts.  However, there are also times when each day is a struggle and I find myself canceling appointments, feeling as if I’ve disappointed myself and my friends.

The ‘well’ part of my brain optimistically accepts invitations on my behalf, telling me, “Yes, you can be a social butterfly!”  Then my depressive brain begins its negative incantations:

  • It will be crowded…lots of people you don’t know
  • It’s a late event – you’ll be too tired
  • You have nothing decent to wear
  • Blah blah blah

Do you say things like that to yourself?  My brain is littered with the carcasses of dead social butterfly dreams.

What makes these negatives so easy to accept is their ever-so-slight ring of truth.  Now, a couple of things actually are true about me; I get nervous in crowds and — thanks to thyroid cancer — I have chronically low energy levels.  Over time I can learn methods to ease my social anxiety, and even learn to maximize my energy, but what to do right now to avoid another butterfly death?

Rule #1: Know your limits.

Does having anxiety or depression mean you should become a recluse?  On the contrary, a little self-awareness can help you make appointments you will be able to keep, thus reducing your anxiety and guilt.  My hope is someday we will all feel well enough to accept any invitation which comes our way, but if you aren’t quite there yet, try asking yourself two questions:

How am I doing today?

How have I been doing lately?

One of the frustrating things about depression is its unpredictability.  I’m sad to say pride, embarrassment, obligation, and guilt have all kept me from simply admitting “I don’t feel up to this” at one time or another.  Instead, I forced myself into going out only to spread my misery to the people I care about.  To those who say I was just feeling sorry for myself or being selfish, I say: You don’t get it and this blog may not be for you.

We can probably all think of an occasion when a friend talked us into breaking out of our shell for a while and we ended up having a great time.   This is the ‘today’ aspect of Rule #1.  Some days we feel more willing and able to take a chance.  The key is in recognizing those days as well as admitting to ourselves when we just aren’t feeling it.

Please don’t believe you are doomed to staying home and missing out on important events, but rather believe you have a choice, and choices empower us.  Our limits are ours to control.  As we learn new ways of coping with depression and grow stronger, our limits can be expanded.  This is the ‘lately’ aspect.

Have you heard the phrase “play your cards close to your chest”?  It simply means be cautious.  When you’re going through a rough patch, play your calendar close to your chest.  In other words, only commit to what you feel able to do.  No more over-promising and under-delivering – just do what you can.  When you feel more inclined, try scheduling farther out.  YOU choose!

Circumstances don’t care how we feel, and some events are compulsory, or not attending would make us feel worse.  How can you make the best of being a reluctant attendee?  That will be next week’s focus: Rule #2.

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