Adulting: Happy but Anxious?
If I’m eagerly looking forward to a dinner, a night out with a friend, or shopping for something special, I can still feel anxious. I might have a hard time sitting still. My heart might race. My hands might shake. Even now, as I’m happily typing this blog article, my mind is rushing ahead to what my next sentence will be. My leg is crossed over my knee, bouncing with energy. Why am I feeling so nervous? I adore working on my blog. It’s fun for me.
Yet all these disturbing physical sensations are normal for me. Even when I’m not feeling stressed, I can easily experience them no matter my mood and no matter my activity. Are you the same way?
The very first psychiatrist I ever met with explained that I can feel both happy and anxious at the same time; this truth initially surprised me but brought me a lot of peace over the years.
Huff Post references psychologist Carla Marie Manly in “This is Why You Get More Anxious After Something Good Has Happened.” She further clarifies what I learned in my initial appointment years ago:
“The brain’s fear circuit works very quickly, and it doesn’t always pause to differentiate between good anxiety and bad.” (…) So, when something good happens, the physical symptoms you feel are similar to those that you associate with panic or fear, Manly said.
I’ve taken such comfort learning that symptoms can creep into all aspects of my life. Before that knowledge, I assumed maybe something else (mysterious and undiagnosed) was wrong with me. In my ignorance, I would apprehensively question why my heart was erratically pounding when I was surrounded by my favorite people in a relaxing place.
But it was just the same old angst, leaking out into more nooks and crannies of my life than I cared to admit. Realizing this is frustrating, but also in a way a relief. It’s not because I’m a lost cause:
When your body becomes accustomed to a chronic state of anxiety, the positive physiological changes that happen after good news can, paradoxically, trigger the sense that something isn’t right ― simply because you’re not used to feeling good. As a result, your body never fully lets go of its hypervigilant state, Manly said.
Bottom line: anxiety can be present, even during my most positive experiences. When I take those determined, shaky steps toward healing, I’m working on healing so much more of me. This is why the journey toward recovery isn’t quick and without complications. This is why I need to gather a lot of tools to help me fight. This is why I may have to face anxiety for the rest of my life.
But I shouldn’t feel discouraged by that. Facing it is far different from letting it win.