The pursuit of happiness (when you start off anxious)

Anxiety is the Conor McGregor of the emotional world: it will win pretty much every fight, and on the rare occasions it doesn’t, its still got a hell of a lot to say for itself.

So how do you fight back?

Here is an example of the power of anxiety. I spent all last week in the house with the flu, and my body dysmorphia took over to the extent that whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw crooked, yellow teeth. But then I started to recover, the anxiety lifted, and my brain started working properly. So this morning, my teeth looked normal and straight again.

Over the past few months, happiness has been trying to force its way into my brain. It’s not a state in which I feel comfortable. Think about the times you feel happy: hopefully you also have a sense of calm. Well, that’s the exact opposite of what anxiety does to your body. I mostly exist in a tense ball, constantly on guard, and battling my way through life. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for relaxation.

I’m starting to realise that being happy is possible, and not just in some far-off future. I always thought I needed to “be” something different in order to be happy. As in: “if only I looked a certain way, then I could be happy”. Of course, this is another example of my anxieties winning the battle in my brain and telling me I’m not good enough. But I’m discovering that happiness can be attained by letting go a little, and living in the here and now.

It’s difficult though.  My neural pathways need to be retrained to experience life, instead of expecting to struggle through. Anxious people by their very nature feel a need to worry about something, so we distrust feelings of happiness. Common thoughts are: “I don’t deserve to be happy”; “this is all going to go wrong so I probably shouldn’t even try to be happy”; or “I can’t be happy because I have so much to worry about”.

The key step for me has been figuring out that the anxious thoughts in my head are not necessarily true. Sometimes the way to do this is to run with the anxious thought, and think it through to its natural conclusion. So going back to last week, I thought my teeth had changed shape and colour. Umm, is that possible? And even if it was possible, would it be the end of the world? Honestly, would it actually impact on anything else in my life? And of course, it’s no, no, and no again. There you go: a punch in the solar plexus for anxiety! And in fighting back, I have also created some room for other emotions to creep in.

So, welcome to happiness. I can see that I have a lot to be happy about when I think rationally and don’t let the anxiety walk all over me. I’m aware that anxiety may always be a part of my life, but lately I do feel like I’ve worked out how to get it on the ropes. I know I can be happy: I mean, check out the nutella-fuelled delight in the attached photo!

I think I deserve it. Don’t we all?

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