I have suffered from anxiety my entire life and it can be debilitating at times. Some of my earliest memories as a child is feeling tummy aches (butterflies), heightened awareness and incessant worry about school, my parents, friends, strangers, what was happening in the world. One time, I overheard a school counselor tell my mother that she had never seen a more anxious person; and I was only 7 years old. I am sensitive to the core, an attribute I’ve come to admire about myself. However, with great sensitivity comes great challenges, as I hold the weight of the world deep inside my being.
Growing up with anxiety had its challenges. Especially being at a developmental stage in which once cannot articulate their feelings or pinpoint the underlying source. As I became a teenager, all of those typical adolescent concerns were heightened under the weight of my condition. And so, I self-medicated, like many of us who experience mental health issues do.
After I got sober, you may think that my anxiety went away. However, it was quite the opposite. I no longer had substances to block or numb my racing thoughts, panic attacks, activated nervous system, flashbacks and irrational fears. It’s hard to go through life operating from a place of fear and navigating the physical symptoms that result from that. There would be times when I was cruising along just fine, not worried or preoccupied with the world ending, and then boom, my body would be taken over; feeling like a thick heavy blanket was placed over me, holding me down, taking my breath away. I lacked the ability to cope and turned to destructive and dangerous behaviors in an attempt to control my intolerable feelings, which was really just my way of finding a release from the grasp of my present awareness.
Anxiety isn’t always situational. It’s organic and a part of who we are. What I find the most challenging about these episodes, is that despite knowing what is happening in the moment, I am unable to stop it. Anxiety can be persistent, excessive and outside of our control.
Over the years, doctors have recommended psychotropic interventions to treat my anxiety and I have opted for a holistic approach. That being said, there is no shame in taking medications if it’s something that will help you find relief. For me, I wanted to learn how to self-soothe and cope in the moment without having to rely on something outside of myself. Treatment can look different for us all and how we go about doing that is a personal choice.
A few years ago, one of my soul sisters began her journey as a yoga teacher. In an attempt to support her, I started taking classes. From that first moment I stepped onto my mat, I knew I had found something special. My mind was quiet, calm and fearless. The beauty of a yoga practice is that it’s an opportunity to realign in mind, body and spirit. This ancient practice was designed to connect with self while preparing you for enlightenment. In simpler terms, yoga helps to provide clarity, rest, ease and serenity. Something that I was desperately searching for despite knowing what I needed.
My life has changed dramatically since that first yoga class. I am a more confident, secure, calm, present version of myself. I have learned how to take the practice with me off the mat as well, into my daily life. When I'm feeling anxious, which still happens; anxiety often finds me in the mornings, I turn to body work, meditation and breathing exercises to calm my nerves and set my mind right.
I believe in the power of sharing our stories. I hope that one person feels less alone or trapped because I am choosing to speak up about my experience. Anxiety effects many people and it can be overwhelming, scary, isolating and stigmatizing. I am inspired by the women and men who so bravely show up despite what they may be going through physically, mentally or emotionally. There is no shame in struggling with a mental health issue. It’s real and we should be having more conversations about treatment options and how to support one another.
I end with 3 tools that have helped me tremendously on my journey to understanding and working through daily anxiety.
(1) Physical Activity - Move your body any chance you get. There’s a reason so many gyms/studios offer early morning classes. It’s a perfect time to get an endorphin hit, which directly benefits the mind. Through exercise, a chemical release goes to the brain telling our body we feel good, ultimately translating to a positive wellbeing. Therefore, the effects of working out can lead to happier moods, calmer emotional states, less stress and a positive shift in perspective.
(2) Meditation/Breath Work - Taking a moment to sit quietly, with no distractions (that includes your iPhone) can have incredible benefits. When consumed by anxiety, calming the body and releasing stressful thoughts through breath work can change the outcome in minutes. I tend to view anxiety as a negative energetic source that festers and becomes stuck if left untreated. When I am feeling particularly anxious and having trouble stabilizing, I stop, close my eyes and begin taking deep inhales and exhales while counting to 10. Being present allows for a release from the intensity of the symptom.
(3) Talk it out - Despite the urge to struggle in private, sharing your experience can release the stigma around what you may be feeling. For years I kept my anxiety hidden, ashamed by my inability to control my mind and body. Over time, I started talking about what was going on with me, identifying where the thoughts were coming from and finding a solution. Ask for help and lean on the ones who understand what you’re going through. I suggest finding a counselor, therapist, doctor or coach that you trust who can help guide you through the process to finding relief. There’s a lot of hope being offered if you’re needing it.