An End To My War With Anxiety

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write this post. Those of you who have followed my struggles with anxiety know how difficult these past few months have been since I moved away from home in September. Well, I think I’ve figured out where the anxiety has been coming from. This time for real, and it’s something that is hard for me to admit, but here goes.

I have been reading a book called “When Panic Attacks” by Dr. David Burns, and it goes through a lot of different methods for relieving anxiety. The idea is that they will give you many options, and you’ll figure out which one works best for you. For example, one method is to directly face your fears by doing what scares you, admitting what you fear, finding out if the fear is valid or if it is over-exaggerated. Another one is to do a cost benefit analysis to decide if what you believe is helping or hurting you (like I worry all the time because I feel like I’m alert to danger listed as a benefit, but it’s controlling my life as a cost.

One phrase in the book really stuck out to me:

“Anxiety is nearly always a symbolic expression of how you really feel inside.”

I thought about this phrase for a long time. Maybe that was true for me, but I had no idea what my anxiety could be “symbolizing”, and just the thought of the word made me worry this was going to turn into a high school English class assignment. You know, the ones where the fish represents shame and struggles, or the man at the store is actually Jesus.

Military Parade 5

Stand here and don’t move. Military parades. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I then proceeded to do the “What-If” technique, as taught in the book. I started with a thought I have, and then started working off of it with more worst case scenarios, in a “if this was true, then what?” fashion. As you guys know, I’ve had a lot of panic relating to going out on parade where we all stand rigidly and they do ceremonial things. I’ve had two panic attacks this year in that situation, and even though I’ve done it a few times since then without having panic attacks, I’ve been living in fear of the next time I have to do it for months. Here is what the “What-If” model turned into:

What if… we go on parade
I might feel anxious and sick
I might faint
I might fall over and hurt myself or embarrass myself
People will look down on me
I will look weak
I won’t be respected
I will never get promoted
If I’m not a leader I won’t be respected
If I’m not respected, I’m worthless.

This blew my mind. I knew that my craving achievement was unhealthy, but I didn’t know how badly it was hurting me. I now see that I’m not afraid of parading because we have to stand still and I might pass out. I’m afraid of parading because people will be looking at me, watching, possibly judging. And the fear of judgment is crippling.

I’m not anxiety-free, of course, but I have to admit that I have only about 15% of the anxiety I’ve been dealing with for the past 8 months. Part of me still worries, but now I know that it’s only my thoughts that hurt me. More to the point, I don’t need to be afraid of my thoughts because I’m in control. I can do this, and I don’t need to be afraid anymore.

As for fixing the source of my anxiety, I’ve decided to take a step back from work. I realize that my time in the military might be short-lived, since once I graduate I might not be able to stay in the military if I’m working full-time. Next year I plan to work less. I’m going to have to learn to accept the place I’m in now, and be okay with it. I can be a leader among subordinates, and people will still respect me for what I contribute to the organization. I don’t need to be at the top to lead, and I don’t need to lead to be respected. I’m good at my job, I just have anxiety sometimes, and that’s okay. I don’t need to feel guilty for being anxious, and I’m not weak for being scared.

Admitting that my anxiety stems from my own feelings of inadequacy was tough to do. I didn’t even realize that I felt inadequate until I really took the time to think about what’s going on with me. Just talking about it wasn’t helping; I had to find the real cause. Well, I’ve found it, and I now feel like I can handle life. Next week is a special parade and awards night at the unit. I’ll be there, and I’ll be on parade. Everything will be okay, because I believe in myself, and am happy with who I am. I don’t need to worry about what others think because it doesn’t change anything, it just makes me feel sick and anxious. I’m happy with where I am, and even if I stayed at this rank forever, that would be okay. It doesn’t mean I’m not respected, and it doesn’t mean I’m bad at my job. It just means I’m doing what I have to do for myself to be happy, and right now, that’s all that really matters.


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About janinerussell

The transition to adulthood; reflecting on the past to create a better future.

8 responses to “An End To My War With Anxiety”

  1. youngemt95 says :

    Thank you for serving, first of all! I’m glad you found this book and that it has worked well for you. My girlfriend has terrible anxiety, usually I can talk her down from it if I’m available, but I believe this book would make it easier on the both of us if she could find some inspiration to kick her anxiety like you have.

    • janinerussell says :

      I know how hard it must be for you at times when things are rough for her. As a person with anxiety, I know how tough that must be to deal with. As for the book, I definitely recommend it. I got it from the library, but you could probably find it in book stores as well. I liked the different approaches it takes, and how it requires you to actually do the exercises along the way. There are many other workbook-type books out there, maybe you could get her one and encourage her to try it. To both of you, stay strong.
      All the best,

  2. Hanno Phenn says :

    I am glad and I think its honours you that you found your own way to deal with it.You are now much stronger and more aware of yourself .I can see that and I congratulate you on that achievement.Well done.

  3. C.J. Black says :

    Yes you must be congratulated, the problem if there is one is with the other person(s) one hurdle at a time you will win the race you are now on an upward curve, you will find your niche and be comfortable in your own skin.

  4. browntroutfisherman says :

    Tough journey for sure, I have my fingers crossed for you.

  5. Christopher says :

    While I’m not involved in the military, some of your ‘What-Ifs’ sound very familiar. While I know I crave attention, admiration, recognition and approval, I can’t seem to control any of those feeling of inadequacy. At least not once they get into that self-perpetuating spiral.
    I’m happy for you, and I’m glad that once you found that one item that it kind of got the Jenga tower of anxiety to fall for you.

  6. t h i n g s + f l e s h says :

    thank you for this post. when i began my career as a singer-songwriter, anxiety was a constant. then one day someone older and wiser told me, “anxiety is repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. what a waste.” soon enough, i got over it … i just didn’t want to fail until i really needed to. tony

  7. ubershell says :

    Great post. I used to suffer from free floating anxiety and it took a long time to beat it and it still overpowers me at times. I read a quote recently that I now live by “worrying is like walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain” With that firmly in my mind, worrying unduly now seems ridiculous to me.

    Whatever is currently working for you, keep doing it 🙂

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