Here’s how to deal with the stresses of modern life.
“The trouble with her is that I always feel like I’m talking to her anxiety.”
I was debriefing a conversation I had had earlier in the day with my hubby, and in that wisdom of the moment – that wisdom that just spontaneously pops out of you when you just let yourself speak from an unscripted space – I cracked it.
“Ah… that’s it,” I said. “That’s why it’s so hard. I just feel like I never get past her anxiety response. I just can’t get through to her.”
Now I don’t want to set up one of those “look at how wise I am and how foolish they are” situations. That’s pretty boring, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no saint.
And I’ve had my fair share of anxiety too. When I was at risk of losing my practice and I didn’t know how I was going to feed my kids, I was anxious as all buggery.
But modern life is stressful.
Middle ages life was stressful too. The biblical ages were no joy-ride either. Actually, so was slave life in ancient civilisations. But I’m sure if you go far enough, you get to a point were humans were leisurely grazing on bananas and having a peaceful old time of it.
Or maybe not. The psychologists say that it’s not stress and anxiety that kills us, it’s our response.
And by that they mean that stress is a natural response to a situation that demands a heightened alertness and physical readiness.
What’s not natural is a world that harasses you on every front, and then never lets you express your natural responses. Never lets you scream your frustration at the call centre attendant.
That’s what we have.
Anyway, I’ve done a lot of work managing my anxiety (remember I do public speaking for a living), and I can admit that that makes me less sympathetic to people who haven’t done that work.
We resent in others what we deny in ourselves. So if someone just lashes out all the time in their insecurities, but I work hard to never let myself, then I can get a bit judge-y. If someone just pursues their career as a prima ballerina while I force myself to do an accounting degree, then I can be a bit resentful.
Anyway, with all that on table, and with full compassion for this woman (despite her being a pain in the arse), I think it is useful to realise that sometimes you will just be talking to someone’s anxiety response.
Simply because talking to people is stressful. Managing your social life is hectic. It causes us all sorts of anxiety.
And people have different ways of dealing with that anxiety. Some people meet it head on, acknowledge it, take a deep breath, and bring themselves back to their centre.
Some people though will shut down. Give you a small target. Say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing.
Other people will do the opposite. They will go on the offensive. They will take control of a conversation to make sure it doesn’t go in any unexpected directions, or lead them into uncomfortable territory.
At worst, they can also lash out, as their body feels under siege, and they feel compelled to defend themselves.
It’s so hard to work with this.
And I’m a busy woman. I don’t want to spend the first fifteen minutes of a five minute conversation soothing someone’s anxieties so I can actually get to speak to them.
Anyway, this isn’t just about me blowing off steam. Let’s talk about you.
I think you, and everybody, needs to have a solid anxiety management plan in place to fully realise your productive potential.
Recognise that anxiety and stress is a natural part of life. You are designed for it.
But also realise that the modern world doesn’t give you license to fully respond to your natural urges.
If the auctioneer looks at you, it’s generally not ok to scream and wet yourself.
The art of a good management plan brings these two things together. It meets your natural biological tendencies with strategies that will work in the modern world.
At this point, everyone is different, and we all need different game plans.
But it’s something we all have to get on top of.
Because you’re a pain in the arse if you don’t.
(Sorry, no, I mean, just do your best.)