Anxiety and depression can act like a house fire. It starts as a small flame ignited in your mind and can ravage your entire body unless the source is snuffed out. How we do stop the raging fire from coursing through our entire body, damaging everything in its way? By using our voice.
Scenario: You come home, after a long day at work. Your significant other (or children) greet you at the door with “Hey, what’s for supper?” There’s no “Hello, how was your day?” or “Hi honey, when should we start supper?”
Anxiety and frustration takes over and you stay silent. You know that if you voice your feelings it will either cause an argument or conflict, or you will come across as a “bitch”.
What you really want to say to him, is “You know what? I have had a long day and I want to relax before I make dinner, okay?” But you don’t. You want to make sure they get fed, so you pull out a quick meal, peeling vegetables and frying meat. As the meal is cooking, your mind is going 100 miles an hour with hurt feelings, exhaustion and frustration. You are tired and seething inside, but you do what is expected of you. AND, YOU STAY SILENT.
You have just added fuel to the fire of anxiety.
Scenario: Your husband asks you to get ready for a date night. You are thrilled to go out for a nice supper and relax over a glass of wine to talk about your week, and just be together. You spend an hour getting ready. You shave, primp, curl your hair, put on a nice dress and his favorite perfume. You emerge from the bedroom feeling pretty. Not only does he NOT compliment you and your efforts, but he is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans and telling you to hurry up.
What are your choices? You can a) Make a comment about what he is wearing and cause him to get frustrated and possibly ruin your hopes for a nice evening. b) Try and make light of it and say, “Are you going like that? I just took an hour getting ready for you. You could at least wear a nicer shirt. You know how much I love that green one.” or c) Stay silent.
Scenario: You hand in a work report that you have spent hours completing. You have read it over, re-read it and feel accomplished and satisfied that you have done the best that you can. You are relieved to get it off your desk and cannot wait for your boss’s feedback. You know you have nailed it.
Two days later, it is put back into your hands with sticky notes and red marks all over it. Your boss has not verbally asked you about the words that she wants changed but passive aggressively, she sets it back on your desk while you aren’t in the office.
You, again, have the choices of a) approaching her and asking her if she has time to discuss it and the changes she would like to see, b) fix what she tells you to and follow up with a smile, handing it back to her proudly or c) stay silent, fix what she wants, and put it on her desk when she is not there. Feeling saddened, frustrated and unappreciated.
My go-to has always been C. I have used the silent method for years now, and because of this practice, I have really gotten myself into a cycle of anxiety, depression and self sabotage.
What happens when you stay silent?
> Your mind plays tricks on you. You “think” you know what your man, or boss or friend is thinking. But unless you have the courage to ask them, you REALLY don’t know. You think the worst and come up with all kinds of reasons why the other person has said mean things to you.
> You design stories in your head. You believe that the people in your life must think you are lazy, or that you aren’t capable of their expectations of you. If your man doesn’t compliment you on efforts or if your boss doesn’t make at least one positive comment about your hard work , you stay silent. You start with stories in your head like:
- He/she must think I am stupid
- He isn’t attracted to me anymore. I am old and getting wrinkles. I try and look good for him, and he just doesn’t care.
- Oh, I bet he’s having an affair.
- He thinks I am annoying and I feel like I am in his way.
- Clearly, it’s not worth making the effort for him/her anymore. Why should I even try?
- I work so hard and it is never acknowledged. I wonder if they will fire me for my errors?
- Why do I even bother to put myself out there, when it’s not reciprocated? I knew he/she didn’t like me. Maybe I should just quit/leave.
- Maybe I should be more like ______. I bet she would make him/her happier than I can.
The fire of anxiety has been ignited. The silence is like a match thrown on a puddle of gasoline. Inside your brain, you begin to make excuses for others’ behaviors, and you start to blame yourself for it. Why? Because it is so much easier than starting a conflict or making the situation worse for yourself, or for them.
What do we need to do?
The answer is so easy, yet so difficult for someone with anxiety.
YOU NEED TO SPEAK YOUR MIND.
That’s it. Just let it out. Say what you feel inside, regardless of the impending conflict it may cause. I know it seems daunting and overwhelming, and yes, scary. But, in order to tackle your anxious thoughts and feelings, it is a skill that you need to teach yourself.
We hear this all the time with children. They don’t know how to communicate so they might hit another child, or grab a toy out of their hands. Their parent or caregiver says, “Use your words”. This is how we avoid anxiety and stressful situations — by USING OUR WORDS. More of us, as adults, need to listen to what we are teaching children.
If your boss questions a report, sit and think for a moment, what you would like to ask. Write your thoughts down if you need to, but don’t let the fear of anxiety keep you from standing up for yourself, or possibly learning from a mistake you made. We are all humans and your boss is just like you. She is PAID to give feedback. Sometimes it can be hard to hear her opinions, but there are ways to approach situations that are tactful and professional, without starting a conflict. The key is to take a deep breath, sort your thoughts, and stay positive. Ask the hard questions and maintain your cool. “ I was looking at your comments on my report. I will change them, but just wanted some clarification. Do you have some time for me?”
This gives her the opportunity to see that you have read her feedback and want to learn from it. It also shows her that you are not intimidated by her passive-aggressive sticky notes and that you truly want to do a good job. Trust me, the first time is always the toughest, but overcoming your feelings of anxiety and frustration, just once, will make such a difference. In the end, you will earn respect for being able to have an open dialogue about your work and your skills.
If you feel like you have put an effort into looking nice for your date and it is overlooked, it could be that he was just distracted, or hungry, or wants to beat traffic. Take a deep breath and say something like, “Hey honey, when you don’t notice the efforts I make for our date nights, it makes me feel sad. And when you don’t try and make an effort for me, it makes me feel like I am not worth it. Can we work on this together? It would mean a lot to me.”
Smile, and take deep breath. You did it! You broke your silence, and it wasn’t in a way that could cause a conflict. It’s not open for argument, because he can’t argue about your feelings. Right? Chances are it will open his eyes and show him that you have a right to feel the way you do. He probably had no idea that you felt that way.
One of the most important and effective tools I have learned while struggling emotionally is that it is so much easier to fight with myself. It is a vicious cycle that never seems to end. I let rude comments or others’ unkind behavior fall onto my shoulders. From my shoulders, it creeps into the tunnels of my anxiety filled brain and gets trapped. The ONLY way to purge the darkness and confusion is to get it out of there and the only route out is through your mouth. You NEED to voice your feelings. You need to let it all out of the trap, or it will sit and fester like a smoldering flame, allowing the next shot of gasoline to cause it to burst into flames. Those flames are your anxiety.
Voice the flames, and douse that fire.
Some people choose to go to the gym and take out frustrations on their body and the equipment. Others choose to vent it by screaming into their pillow when no one is looking. Some people choose addictions like alcohol or drugs. Then there are the people who are medicated to “control” their anxiety and depression. I used to go for runs, just to get away from all of the mental stress I was feeling. There are MANY ways to try and force it out of the intricate tunnels of your mind. But, the ONLY way to get all of your feelings out, and FINALLY extinguish those flames, is to VOICE them. Tell the person how you feel. Tell them WHY you feel that way, and make them take responsibility for the words or actions that they inflict on you.
Logically, it is the only way to move forward and tackle your anxious, struggling brain. Once you begin to say how you feel and get the demons out of your head, you can overcome anything. Your voice is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Once you have mastered how to use it, you will see the strength and power you really have. The more you practice and train yourself to do this, just like any muscle, the more strength it builds.