Don’t stop what you think you’re doing right now. Stop what you don’t realize you’re doing right now.
Somewhere in the back of your mind, something is bothering you. Something someone said, or something you regret doing, is gnawing deep inside your chest. It could be something that happened earlier this week, it could be something that happened years ago. Either way, you can’t move past the feeling that’s holding you back.
Stop. Don’t let uncertainty or terror regarding what might have been tear you apart from within.
This is easier for some than others. Some people grow up in homes where mistakes are addressed as learning experiences. When a mistake occurs, they try to understand why and then move on, knowing they have the experience to not make the same mistake again. Anxiety comes when the mistake is repeated.
Others grow up in a far different environment. They’re taught mistakes are reason for punishment. They learn not just to fear failure, but to fear the anticipation of failure. For them, the potential for anxiety comes with every step and every thought.
Then, there are those whose enemy isn’t nurture, but nature. Regardless of loved ones’ support, they’re constantly filled with a sense of dread they can’t move beyond. In the end, they create the anxiety they most want to avoid because they get locked into a cycle of paralysis by analysis.
In all cases, the solution is the same. We tell ourselves to stop. Stop thinking so much. Stop wanting to have all the answers. Stop creating situations where success will be impossible to find.
I understand it’s not that easy. We can’t let go because we care too much. We can’t let go because we want a solution for every situation, even situations where no solution exists. We can’t let go because we don’t fully understand why we’re holding on.
There once was a famous newspaper advice columnist named Ann Landers. For decades, people from across the country asked questions and she answered them. Much of her advice lives on today, more than a decade after her death.
One piece of relevant advice addresses that anxious feeling. She said, “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”
Teenagers are often told they shouldn’t rush trying to grow up. They’re told, “Stay young while you can, you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing you could relive your youth.”
This is one occasion, maybe the only occasion, where that advice is incorrect.
That’s because Landers was spot on.
We think people care far more about our actions than they actually do. The moments we relive and use to torture ourselves are rarely remembered by those who play prominently in those memories. They can’t help us escape a prison of our own creation, because they don’t know the role they played in building it.
If we want to eliminate the feelings that gnaw in our chests, we need a better way to address the anxiety it creates. Fortunately, I have an idea.
The next time anxiety occurs, find a mirror and stare into it. Look yourself in the eye for a long time. Then say one thing. It’s simple, but it’s not magic.
It won’t make you feel better immediately. But, hopefully repeatedly saying it until the words are truly heard will remind us we have the power to heal ourselves and release the anxiety that holds us down.
Look in your own eyes. This time, don’t say, “Stop.”
This time, say, “You’re forgiven.”