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Riding the wave

Please note: I am not a trained mental health professional. Nor have I even taken a psychology course before. 🙈

If you're looking for legitimate help, plz see a trained professional. I have an article on how to find one here.

Whenever we get anxiety, we try to cope with that anxiety. Most of us don't like the feeling of feeling anxious so we engage in behaviours. Some are adaptive and some are maladaptive.

Something my psychologist brought to my attention earlier this year is the following:

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So let me explain. X-axis is time. i.e. time going into the future. Y-axis is Anxiety, specifically how much anxiety you feel.

So an event is approaching (let's say a test) and you start to feel anxious. So the anxiety starts to go up — that's the ascending line on the graph. As a result of that increase in anxiety, you start to engage in behaviours (red dotted line), such as going through lecture notes, redoing tests, etc. etc.

The test approaching is a good example of adaptive coping strategies. You're doing something productive (studying) to address your anxiety. I think a lot of people fall into the trap of maladaptive coping strategies BUT don't even realize they are doing it. Why do I think this? Because I fell (and still fall) for it!

I was having a really tough time earlier this year. I wanted to figure out "what should I do with my life" or "what was I meant to do with my life" almost as if there was a predetermined destiny (I blame Yu-Gi-Oh for that).

Anyways, when I thought about "what should I do with my life?" it, understandably, caused me more anxiety. "Shit, I haven't figured this out yet. OMG. I need to figure this out ASAP ROCKY. Everyone else is beating me!" As a result, i turned to coping behaviours. My main coping behaviours were: 1. Reading 2. Test taking 3. Getting reassurance / opinions from others Let's take reading. I would start to get anxious and then think, "You know what, what if I could find a book about careers? Maybe if I read that, then I will figure out the key I've been missing to my life" Reading the book would calm me down (there's a reason I ordered so many books from January to June of 2020). I would read the book and it would give me some temporary relief. Anxiety would go down (red dotted line). However, I'd start thinking to myself, "Well, what about X? The book I just read didn't factor in X! I need to find another book that factors in X." This would cause anxiety to go up. Then I would order a book on X, read it, and my anxiety would go down (red dotted line).

You see, I started getting trapped in a wave of anxiety —> maladaptive coping behaviour —> anxiety —> maladaptive coping behaviour —> ad infinitum.

What my psychologist pointed out to me is that I was using reading books, test taking (think aptitude testing, personality testing, career testing, etc. to figure out what I'd be the best at), asking opinions of others on what I should do with my life to calm me down.

However, I never really faced the anxiety head on.

The strategy we've taken to deal with this is "riding the wave" or "urge surfing". I believe it comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Basically, you accept that you have an urge (whether it be to cope, to smoke, to drink, to get validation or reassurance, etc.) and try to ride it out as best you can.

Eventually, you'll realize that you can make it through the anxiety without needed to rely on maladaptive coping behaviours. I still have anxiety BUT this has made a world of difference for me.

Written: October 22, 2020 (for Simrah)

Additional:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Meditation helps dealing with this. You become an "impartial observer" of yourself. If you want a place to start meditation, check out here.

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