This is part of my Blog Post Series: How To Thrive As An Adult

I want to share an analogy of how I think about my anxiety’s intensity. It’s not like a light switch, ready to be flipped on or off at any moment. Instead, I liken it to a small glass jar with room for only 100 marbles.

When the jar is full of marbles, my anxiety is extreme. I feel agitated and exhausted, but unable to sleep. Friends and family complain that I am irrational, combative, and unable to concentrate on anything they say. But I’m incapable of internalizing their words as my mind races, and my muscles ache. It feels as though I’m trapped on the 10th floor of a burning building. The flames saunter toward me, and I have exactly two minutes to either jump out of the window or be burned alive.

Conversely, when the jar is empty, I feel completely at peace and serene. Like I’m curled up in a comfy chair by a roaring fire, immersed in a favorite book, without a care in the world. No one is hungry or homeless. My family is perfectly healthy. I never have to worry about making money. I’m the embodiment of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. Most of all, the inner-narrative that babbles all day long is silent.

Of course, having an empty jar is ideal but never actually happens. Despite my best efforts, the count of marbles hovers between 10 and 25 each day. I’d love to decrease that number, but the demands of work, family, and civic concerns continually add marbles. For it to become empty, I’d probably need to live as a hermit on a remote tropical island with no Internet access. And if I’m honest, even on an island, my mind would find or invent something to worry about!

Using this analogy, I now consider how many marbles various activities add to my jar. For example, I know that each can of Diet Mountain Dew, with its jolt of caffeine, will add 10 marbles. And I limit how full my jar is by limiting the amount of caffeinated soda I drink.

Lastly, I noticed that some actions decrease the number of marbles in my jar. These include riding the exercise bike, reading an enjoyable book, and going to bed by 9:30pm. Consequently, I strive to incorporate these into my daily routine.

So try it out. Think about your own anxiety jar and consider how various activities add or subtract marbles. Pick one activity to limit or cut out completely. And select one action that makes you feel better, and do it more often. This will improve your life.

Be well, my friend.

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