I’ve been in Arizona for about a month now and wanted to reflect on what it’s been like to move forward in so many different goals in life at the same time. I unpacked a few journals that I’ve written in sporadically for years and noticed a lot of overarching themes in my life. They are things I think are common to many highly anxious, achieving people – a group I would place myself in. When I look back on the last few years, I can see a characteristic franticness in what I’ve written – a feeling that “life will get great once I do/make/finish/get ______________”. Almost everything I wrote about was future focused, no wonder I felt so frustrated all the time. I wasn’t appreciating things when they happened, just looking to the next thing. Chasing all the time and never stopping.
I’m at a point right now where I have to be slow. If I had any choice, I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t be reflecting to this extent, but COVID-19, building a business from the ground up, and being (mostly) alone in a new place have forced a change of pace. I was able to stress and speed through the last 6 months because I had a lot of milestones to achieve – getting married and moving my life, license and business to another state. Even though I may complain about being stressed and overworked, when I look objectively at my life I have to realize that I enjoy being in that state. Choosing to be stressed has a lot of benefits! You get a space to gripe, if you’re like me and it’s hard to ask for help from others, you can work so hard that people will ask if you’re ok. You get to feel important. You feel like you deserve the things you splurge on, like vacations and good food and new clothes or a 7-part Korean skincare routine.
I think culturally we accept people taking care of themselves in these types of consumerist ways than actually just living healthfully and working less. Even in the height of the COVID-19 crisis, in March and April when EVERYONE was getting laid off, you couldn’t avoid all those toxic posts on social media about how you’ve “wasted your time” if you don’t come out of quarantine with a new side hustle. Our society actively punishes the act of self-care in fundamental, nonconsumerist ways – taking time off of work, living slowly, eating food you enjoy, saying no to extra work or things you don’t want to do. The only people we reward for this kinds of self-care are those who are already beautiful and wealthy, probably because we think they “earned it”.
I was reviewing cognitive distortions (negative, unhelpful thoughts that get ingrained) and ways to respond to them positively, and I came across one that I try to remind myself often. “What if all my hard work pays off?” This is so revolutionary for people who have anxious thoughts about the future and lack of certainty *raises hand*. Many people who have anxiety have had experiences where things unexpectedly went very wrong and they felt helpless and out of control. Their response is to control as much as possible and go out of their way to anticipate every possible negative scenario. While this is great for survival, it’s an exhausting way to live. A lot of times it results in pre-emptive distress for events that never even happen, which is counterproductive if all the planning is done with the purpose of avoiding distress in the first place.
I noticed that anxious people can actually struggle when they have a lack of stress in their life, because they feel that something is going to go wrong. I have a to-do list on my phone that keeps my life running and I noticed there weren’t many things for this week, so I went looking for them. I was riding my usual anxiety train of thoughts, what am I forgetting, things I’m worried about not happening or happening, how I can make sure they happen or don’t happen… and I thought about this idea. Maybe all my hard work is paying off right now. Maybe this peace is earned.
I worked for a long time with people looking for jobs, in a placement program for a nonprofit. I noticed the shame and depression people can feel when they’re looking for work. It’s so hard and so mentally and emotionally exhausting. There are so many people now who are looking for work through absolutely no fault of their own, and I can’t imagine the pain and stress they’re all going through. There is an idea that if you aren’t working, then you should be spending 40 hours a week looking for a job, and this is just utter garbage. You don’t need to punish yourself for already being in a difficult position.
I want for people to feel their peace is earned even when they don’t run to the bottom of their to-do list. Because you’ll never get to the bottom of all the things that you could be doing. You don’t have to have lost 50 pounds, cleaned the house, found a new job, gotten 100K instagram followers, or finished sending all those emails to be deserving of peace. Just take it.