Dr. Gregory Jantz

Anxiety: Accept the Small Stuff

May 10, 2016

One of the mistaken beliefs surrounding anxiety is that everything that happens centers around you.  This mistaken belief can take on a life of its own when you are in anxiety overload.  You become a raw nerve, jumping at everything that happens around you and at everyone you come into contact with.  In such a state, there is no such thing as a misspoken word, a casual comment, a harmless mistake, a misunderstanding.

Personalizing everything that happens to you is a form of self-absorption.  This level of self-absorption leads to a sense of martyrdom.  Martyrdom alienates you from people and from the truth.  Under this sense of siege — this state of martyrdom — nothing is neutral.  When the world itself and the people in it always seem to be against you, the only person you listen to is yourself.  When all you do is listen to yourself, you feed the monster.

A vital answer to anxiety is learning to right-size the small stuff.  First you need to stand down from siege mode and realize there actually is small stuff.  Not everything that happens is about you.

Sometimes, the there’s traffic on a road you want to travel.  Other times, the line you’re in will inexplicably move slower than the line next to you.  This is the randomness that happens in the utterly complex dance known as life.  These events are not orchestrated to thwart your will or derail your plans or punish you in any way.  In the game of life, dice are not rigged to come up snake eyes just for you.

Accepting the small stuff means allowing events and people to act without assuming they are acting because of you.  In a similar way, accepting the small stuff means accepting, in a large part, that events and people cannot be controlled, no matter how much you wish you could.  Accepting the small stuff means accepting that the only thing you have control over is you.

For example, say you’re standing in a line that’s moving too slowly and you’re becoming more and more anxious about the time it’s taking.  You specifically chose this line because it was the shortest and seemed to be moving the fastest.  You’ve got to be somewhere in fifteen minutes and you’re going to be late.

The clerk all of a sudden has problems with an item and needs to call the manager.  You can’t believe it.  How could this happen to you?  Why can’t people learn to do their jobs?  You glance around to see if you can get into another line, but by now, they’re all backed up.  Isn’t that just the way it goes?  You look around, sigh, scowl at the person in front of you, fidget and shift your purchases, and mutter under your breath about general incompetence.

How many things in that scenario did you actually have control over?  You didn’t have control over how fast the line moved.  Nor did you have control over the problem with the item.  You had control over the line you chose; that’s about it.

Anxiety seeks to personalize and control, as a way to manage the pain and distress. These strategies, however, don’t decrease pain and distress; they add to them by turning everyday occurrences into disasters.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call 1-888-771-5166 today and a specialist will answer any questions you might have.