The word “chaos” has always intrigued me. I remember my mom using it when she had to raise her voice a couple of octaves just so she could be heard over the chatter of little children. “This is chaos!” she would exclaim and throw her hands up in the air.
Chaos actually has a few different definitions. Chaos theory is a mathematical theory used to explain things such as the weather, astronomy, and politics. The term chaos is a used to describe “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order; any confused, disorderly mass,” which I am sure my mom was referring to.
I don’t know much about chaos theory, but I can relate to the latter, through my experience of raising four children, long before co-parenting was cool. As their fathers saw it, the kids lived with me, so they were my responsibility. End of story. (Eye roll)
Chaos. I lived it. My life was “a state of utter confusion.” Every day there was a new problem, or 10, and I worked through them like a champion. No, that’s not quite how it went. It was more like crawled my way into a hole I didn’t want to come out of. It wasn’t pretty. But somehow we lived through it, and my kids turned out to be pretty good adults.
I have dealt with anxiety all of my life. As a kid, I was plagued with neurotic fears that kept me from enjoying my life. I was scared of everything, all the time. There was no escape from my nightmares.
I developed panic attacks when I was 19, which made me isolate and become a hermit, for fear of having an attack in public. All I could think about was how to prevent the attacks from ruining my life. My life became all about damage control.
I self-medicated with alcohol, and although it helped “take the edge off,” it didn’t help me deal with the attacks. Pretty soon, not even that helped. I lived my life constantly on the verge of a breakdown, letting my emotions control me. I lied and made excuses to hide my feelings of helplessness, but I knew the truth. I was afraid of life itself.
But then I did something I never thought possible. I took back control of my life. (I’m not sure “back” is really an appropriate way of wording it, because I am not sure I ever had control of it. I’d like to think I did, but looking back, I seriously doubt it.)
If I make it sound easy, I assure you, it wasn’t. It took the past 15 years of confronting those fears, accepting who I am, letting go of resentments and regrets, and changing my overall attitude about life to bring me to where I am today; a confident and self-assured woman. I thought I finally had a handle on life, but then the pandemic happened, and the fears I thought had been resolved slapped me upside my head.
Not only was I thrown into my own chaos of figuring out how I am going to deal with this new kind of life, but now I have to do my best to soothe my children and grandchildren’s fears that everything is going to be ok. Because, who knows if it will? The fear of the unknown, the fear of losing something or someone precious to us, are two of the greatest fears plaguing most people today.
As I sat deciding what title I was going to use for this blog, it occurred to me that my anxiety is not helping my situation. I worry too much about things I can’t control. (I blame my overactive imagination.) And for a naturally anxious person like me, adding unfounded fears to the mix just naturally creates an outcome of internal chaos–the belief that we do not have control over our lives.
The truth is, and something we have to continually remind ourselves of, is that we ALL have control over our lives, even while we are forced to stay home to protect ourselves and others from the virus. We still get to decide whether or not we are going to let ourselves be manipulated by our own neurotic minds, or if we are going to take control of the situation and do something constructive, rather than wallow in self-pity.
There is a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt that I use to remind myself that the anxiety-inspired fears are the result of my imagination: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
When I start to feel anxious about the things I can’t control and the “what-ifs” start to race through my mind, I take a step back and look at why this is. It usually indicates that it’s time to turn off the news or get off Facebook. It’s important to stay informed, but if you find yourself reading every single blog that reminds you how bad it is and not balancing it with the good news, of course you are going to get anxious.
Our emotions are not our reality, but it sometimes feels like they are. Our emotions are driven by our thoughts and assumptions. If we change the way we think about something, we can change the way we feel. That’s why it is so important to focus on something positive.
So, we can sit in our homes and twiddle our thumbs, and be anxious and fearful that something bad is going to happen to us, or we can do something positive with our time and focus our energy in a more positive way. A few ideas:
- Start a new creative project
- Take up a new hobby
- Volunteer to help make masks for the hospitals
- Deliver groceries to the elderly
- Learn how to cook new recipes
- Spend quality time with your kids
- Take an online course
- Make cards and take them to the local nursing home
- Read a book or learn a new language
- Clean and declutter your house
- Exercise or take a walk
- Clean up your yard
- Write your life story or the next bestseller
The choices are endless!
Keeping busy is what helped me deal with my anxiety in the past, and I have a feeling it’s what is going to help me get through this latest challenge. But even more than that, I need to remind myself I am in control of the situation, and I can make it a bad experience or a better experience. It’s all about perspective.