the monkey on my back

I feel like I have a monkey on my back. It sits there quietly most days. Then some days when I encounter conflict with people around me, it doesn’t matter who and at what level that conflict is…the monkey wakes up. It squeals, screeches and jumps around. Nerve-inducing. The conflict could be as minor as being cursed by a stranger for trivial annoyances, to full blown arguments with loved ones. When the monkey jumps around I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel afraid that the screeching will never stop. I’m worried that other people will hear it and then the real trouble will begin. I am afraid of the future, I feel inadequate and most of all, I feel helpless. This damn monkey.

My monkey is called Anxiety, what’s yours called and what triggers it?

Anxiety is the constant worry over multiple things that results in feelings of discomfort and fear inside us. There are unwelcome butterflies in our stomachs, sweating, trembling, the future seems scary as we predict outcomes and make mountains out of molehills. Eckhart Tolle would say that anxiety is the mind predicting a negative future. Your mind is trying to predict the outcomes of situations to keep you safe but instead the predictions are negative scenarios which end up resulting in anxiety. A physical response to an expected and nonexistent situation.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder From the DSM-5

The DSM-5 criteria that are used to diagnose GAD are as follows:

1. The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities.

2. The worry is experienced as very challenging to control.

3. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only one symptom is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD)

  • Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
  • Increased muscle aches or soreness
  • Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)

– see the full article here.

For me, conflict triggers my anxiety. The roots of this fear of conflict stem from my early experiences and hence, resultant panic and incessant worry over the outcome of conflict occur. When a child grows up in an environment where anger is not expressed in a healthy way, they become sensitive to anger in others – and themselves – as adults. I saw anger expressed as a lack of control over one’s actions. Anger was the excuse used to punish, humiliate, torture and abuse weaker individuals. Wherever anger was, pain came with it. Anger was always owned by one individual, the powerful one, and an attempt to stand up for yourself was crushed easily.

Expressing self-love comes in many forms, and many times, to speak up for yourself and to be un-accepting of ill-treatment is a healthy form of showing love to yourself. In the early years of my life, this method of exhibiting self-love was beaten out of you. Anger was something you received not gave. I absorbed so much anger and suppressed my own, so much so that at one point I both imploded and exploded..more on the anger issue later. Anxiety. My fear of conflict and anger meant that any future interactions where such emotions were expressed, raised a fear in me that left me mentally and verbally paralyzed. With my paralysis, came obsessive thoughts and worries. What if I had said something, what if they hate me, what if I am hurt for this, what if, what if…it didn’t end. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking the worst. I was afraid of myself, of my own anger. I suppressed it and it burned me from the inside-out, re-igniting my anxiety along the way.

Now, whilst this post reads like an explanation and in-depth description of my experiences with my monkey anxiety, I would urge you to find your own debilitating monkeys and find coping strategies to conquer them. Only three things have helped me manage and cope with my anxiety: exercise, meditation and music. When I run, I am forcing my body to breathe hard and fast, my heart races…similar sensations to when I am feeling anxiety during the day. After my workout is over, my body relaxes fully, anxiety abated for the moment. Meditation forces me to be more mindful and transfixed in the present. Breathing deeply and focusing on singular objects trains my mind to stay calm. But I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I can find coping strategies if I was yet to identify the problem and it’s root.

I am still afraid of conflict, I still don’t deal with it in the best way but I have got better at preventing the unhealthy thoughts and obsessive thoughts over arguments and potential conflicts with people. Because I know conflict can trigger my anxiety, I am mindful of such situations. I practice self-care when I find myself panicking over it…or I find myself having a challenging conversation that threatens my peace. I love myself enough to notice when anxiety symptoms start to appear, and I go for a run, or meditate. This is one of the reasons I write…it’s a good release.

Good luck with your own monkeys. May the monkey killing gods be with you.

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