I am home alone, in my study. Working at the computer. I am writing up transcripts from a series of videos. The films are interviews/stories I’ve collected to support the writing of a play to be performed by the Barbican Theatre, in Devon. I am listening to the films and typing away when I suddenly hear a noise. It sounds like someone is coming up the stairs. There’s no-one else in the house but me. Or so I thought.
Who is it? My heart beats so fast? I can’t turn the video off. I press the space bar on my computer to turn the video off but it carries on playing and I can’t tell if the person on the stairs is still coming up them. Who can it be? I panic. I finally cut the sound on the video and listen. It’s windy outside. The wind is playing havoc with stuff on the roof. There is no-one on the stairs. I’m just very anxious, that’s all.
Having recently been made redundant (from my role as a producer – this is a new experience for me) – my feelings of self worth have become a bit of an issue. I was never a super confident person to begin with though my friends and colleagues might dispute this. As a therapist, I see a lot of people who don’t think much of themselves. Some suffer from serious attacks of anxiety. The link between self worth and anxiety is quite strong. Now I’m experiencing it for myself, I can also report that it’s very unsettling.
One way of learning to reduce the anxiety, is to understand how and why it happens. Now you could sign up for a course of CBT to get down to the real nitty gritties or you could do even better, and settle for some good old fashioned counselling. But some people don’t need any of that – they just need a basic understanding of what is going on. With that, they can do the rest of the psychological work themselves. So here are some of my basic understandings that help me to reduce my anxiety levels.
I know that:-
There’s a strong visceral link between what we think and how we feel. So if we start to think of ourselves as ‘less than’, ‘not good enough’, ‘no use to anyone’, ‘failed’, then our brain links this description of ourselves to a physical status on par with ‘I’m vulnerable, exposed, open for abuse, probably about to be attacked by someone.’
Of course such attacks are highly unlikely to be physical but our mind does not discriminate between ‘psychological warfare’ and ‘real warfare’. The brain is a very stupid organ – they say we don’t know much about what it gets up to. I have a hunch it spends a lot of time processing things that are of no use to man nor beast.
Our vulnerabilities are relative to the environment we inhabit. To lose your executive job is to lose your shield, your cave, your tank – compared to other people in the world you’ve been inhabiting, you really are less than, not good enough, no use to anyone.
To reduce levels of anxiety, you have to take a long hard look at yourself. Am ‘I’ the person to be defined by ‘THE JOB’. Am ‘I” the person, more than my job? Am I not also a mother, a grandmother, a husband or wife. Am I not a footballer, a sudoko player. I am quite a few things that don’t fall under the heading of ’employed’.
If you have other identities, then as soon as your anxiety kicks in, call in on one of your other personas and get cracking doing whatever that other persona does…knitting? cooking? singing?
If I choose to accept society’s view of me as ‘less than’, then I guarantee my own anxieties. I am telling the world, that without a job, I’m defenceless.
We are raised to believe that the size of our wage/salary is an indication of our worth and so it’s hardly a surprise to find that when we lose our wage/salary, and possibly our car, house, holidays abroad, along with it…that we consider ourselves to have failed. Well, in terms of a career in the media/car/insurance/catering industry, we might well have to accept that we have failed. And we should also accept there’s no shame in that. Shame is so often self referenced. No-one I know feels it’s shameful to be out of work, to have lost a job, to be without the funds to send Jimmy off to that lovely school I had my eye on. Work is just work. Great if you can get it but not shameful if you can’t. If you forget shame and reclaim yourself as a complex and rich human being, then anxiety lessens.
So much of our life outside work, depends on the money we get from work. Living ‘according to’ rather than ‘despite’ our means, is a classic error of our modern capitalist society. It is the very yoke of capitalism in fact. But the yoke of capitalism is no match for the spirit of human endurance. For humans to reach their full potential, it is only by achieving personal goals ‘outside of the yoke of capitalism’ that informs us that we are more than and bigger than ‘The JOB’. Now you don’t have a job, you have all the time in the world to discover where this potential may lie – it could be in the boozer as chief joke teller, or down by the river as champion fisherman, or in the bingo hall, as luckiest woman in the city, or in the library as chief family tree sleuth. Wherever it may be, go to it and enjoy. Your anxiety will lessen.