Original Photo © Pacheco, Pacheco on Flickr.
For most of us, learning to be happy after anxiety isn’t a smooth journey.
If you pushed me into saying more, I’d go as far as saying it’s a bumpy journey.
In fact, I’d probably get over-excited and go super-metaphorical about it:
Life with anxiety is a bumpy journey on a bus with no suspension, chugging its way up a rocky, mountainous road. Occasionally the bus rounds a corner and we see – for an all-too-brief moment – the incredible view that awaits us at the top… but then the engine judders as we hit another inconvenient rock, losing sight of the view once more as we round the corner back behind the mountain for yet more of the endless-feeling climb.
There’s plenty wrong with this metaphor.
Inner critic: For one thing, it’s FAR too long. You suck at this.
But there’s plenty that’s right about it too.
We Can’t Avoid Ups and Downs
It’s easy to get discouraged whenever the beautiful view drifts out of sight… again.
OH NO MY ANXIETY IS BACK, I THOUGHT IT WAS GONE FOR GOOD THIS TIMEMe – everytime
I normally fall into the trap of assuming my current mood is going to be the feeling I have forever. This is despite the fact that my mood changes a LOT. I seem not to learn the lesson that this means all my moods will pass.
From what I can tell, I’m not alone in this.
When we have a good day, it’s easy to dream we’ve arrived at the top of the mountain and that all our problems are going to be gone forever. No more windy bumpy mountain road – EVER!
Then when the inevitable bad day arrives we have the opposite delusional belief: that we’re NEVER going to reach the top. This climb up the mountain is truly ENDLESS!
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps our problems won’t disappear forever, but they certainly can look a lot smaller from the top of the mountain. And – no matter how it feels – the climb isn’t endless.
When I felt like the climb would never end I took inspiration from others who’d made it. If they can do it, why can’t I? I put my faith in their reassuring me that it is possible to make it to the top, where the view is better and the problems seem smaller, somehow.
Anxiety doesn’t want us to believe that. It mistakenly thinks it’s protecting us, and so it tries to ensure its own survival. It fools us into believing that we’re in a uniquely bad situation and other people’s stories don’t apply.
Maybe some people are trapped in truly endless anxiety. I don’t know. All I know is that my own anxiety felt endless, but did actually have an end, as well as many points along the way where the road gave me a glimpse of the better view ahead. I believe most of us can learn to be happier with anxiety – or I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing this blog.
Inner critic: What a favour that would be to the world!
Good one, inner critic. But we’re still not listening to you today.
Enjoying The Good Days
Both good days and bad days will come and go. We need to not get swept up in either.
Obviously, good days are better than bad ones. But it’s possible to even let good days bring us down.
Perhaps we spend our happy times thinking “if only every day was as good as this one”, and so pointlessly spoil our good mood in the moment by wishing for a better past.
Or maybe we grasp the goodness of the present too tightly, ruining our ability to be happy with fear (or certain knowledge) that the happiness will end.
We have to not get carried away. It’s possible – even likely – that another bad day may be along soon, but that’s no reason to ruin what we have. Right now, things are good. Let’s be in the moment and enjoy the beautiful view while we have it.
We’re not in control of this bus. And even if we were, we’d have to drive along the same bumpy road. Might as well enjoy the nice view while it lasts.
And when it’s gone…
The Bad Days Also End
There’s plenty to say about handling the dark days of anxiety. But today I just want to focus on one thing: reminding ourselves that the bad days are just as temporary as the good ones.
It’s likely that this isn’t your first time through a bad day. You’ve been past this side of the mountain before.
It sucks… but it sucked last time too, and that ended, right?
It helped me to view the bad days as practice for future bad days. Whenever one came along I would think “oh, another bout of anxiety. Cool. I’ve done this before, I’m getting good.”
And, weirdly, my enjoyment of ‘getting better’ at feeling anxious made me feel less anxious!
Again, I don’t control where this bus is driving. All I can do is enjoy the view, however good or bad it is right now.
The View Out The Window
The least helpful attitude we could take is to fear that the bad days never end and that the good days are fleeting.
But the opposite belief isn’t helpful either: believing that the good days are infinite just makes us unhappy when they inevitably end.
We have to simply enjoy whatever is before us, good or bad, while it lasts. And to find encouragement in the truth that the bad days are fleeting too.
Do you have any tips for enjoying the bad days? Please share them with others in the comments!
No bus suspension systems were damaged during the production of this blogpost.
Check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, interesting discussion and badly-drawn graphs.
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Read the whole series on Anxiety here.