One of the shame inducing components of living with anxiety is that you’re likely to assume that others aren’t afflicted or aren’t impacted. That others somehow don’t feel anxious at all and wouldn’t understand what it’s like to live with an anxiety mindset.
I’ve spent many (many) years acknowledging and accepting that anxiety is my constant companion who will sometimes stay quiet in the passenger seat and watch the landscape pass or sometimes shout (or worse whisper) judgmental/negative comments into my ear or, in particular scenarios, will sometimes pull me aside and take over the driving duties.
The years have taught me how to identify the overt manifestations of my anxiety (not that I’m always expert at managing those manifestations), but I’m not nearly as skilled at acknowledging the more subtle signs of build up.
Over the past two weeks, however, I have discovered (I think that is the right word) that when I’m not paying attention, anxiety expressed by others will ignite anxious thoughts and responses within me. Perhaps that’s not so much a discovery as an obvious statement, so to clarify: I’ve recognized on several occasions now when I’m being set off by someone else’s anxious reactions.
At first I reacted with righteousness—I’m not the one generating the anxiety!—but after some reflection (and some actual mindfulness instruction), I now realize that I need to reframe this ‘discovery’ and douse it with empathy.
All of us have and express anxiety—it’s an emotion, right?—but there are many of us who don’t know how to process it so that we don’t pass it around. (In case you’re struggling to find a scenario to test how you react to palpable anxiety, I encourage you to pay attention the next time you’re boarding a plan and the herd crowds the gate...)
Now is the time for me, at least, to pay better attention to—and to help as best I can—those around me who are struggling with their own anxiety companion. Help them without shame and without judgment. That is, after all, what I need from them.