What I’ve learned from living with anxiety
I suffered from anxiety as a little kid. I took things super seriously and as with a lot of kids, felt the pressure to be perform to standards of perfection. I had sleepless nights about having to narrate a play in Afrikaans, and spent endless hours getting the colouring- in on my history project just right.
I carried on taking school rather seriously and then suddenly in my 4th year of university, things changed and I realized how much easier life could be. I started having fun, letting things go and finally realized the true value of the effort vs. gain equation. For the following 18 years or so, I was pretty chilled out. I’ve been able to take things in my stride. I’ve had perspective. I’ve generally been able to handle things with ease and calmness.
Until recently that is.
About 6 months ago I started experiencing chronic anxiety.
The kind that causes pain in your chest and makes it difficult to breathe. Most often, I can’t directly relate it to any particular event or life stressor. It’s just there. And it’s all consuming. It makes me feel like a basket case. It makes things feel bigger and scarier than they actually are.
For those of you who face anxiety on a regular basis, you know how debilitating it can be.
People around you don’t understand it, or the person you’ve become. They too are scared because the easy-going, fun-loving person they know seems to have disappeared and they don’t know how to help you. For me personally, I get super quiet and withdraw completely…but mostly because I have no idea how to handle what I’m feeling.
I’ve spent the past few months trying to navigate my way through this and I’ve learned a lot so far.
I’m not there yet, but I’m certainly on my way. Part of me is even grateful that I can now understand what so many of my clients are experiencing.
Here is what I’ve learned:
- Mood swings are a normal part of life. In order to feel the full spectrum of emotion, we have to learn to embrace the lows along with the highs. For me, this means learning to befriend the anxiety, not shun it, shout at it, or shame it.
- The more I fight anxiety, the more it lingers. The more I allow it to be there, without judgment, the quicker it passes.
- Anxiety is always telling me something. It’s telling me that something is not right with my world and that I need to look a little deeper. For me, it’s made me take a deeper look at my environment, relationships and personal purpose.
- I need to know what tools work best for me – and make sure I do them regularly. For me daily movement, meditation and deep breathing make the world of difference. A swim in the sea is an added bonus. You need to know what works for you. And then you have to make it a non-negotiable. Every. Single. Day.
- I’ve learned to observe what foods help or hinder. I’ve become increasingly caffeine sensitive, so I need to watch that. The same with excess sugar. I’ve also noticed that if I don’t allow a good eating rhythm i.e. I skip meals, the anxiety definitely gets worse. Pay attention to your diet for a week and see if you can spot any patterns.
- Having the right support from the right people can get you through the day. People who don’t understand anxiety tend to try “fix” it. It doesn’t need solving - it just needs to be heard. It’s a crying out to be listened to, felt, understood and loved. Make sure you have at least 1 person in your life that will hold space for you and put their arms around you when you’re having a difficult moment. I often find that the energy of love and care helps the anguish dissolve.
- Seek expert help. Try practitioners of various modalities and see what works for you. I’d say stress, anxiety and mood challenges make up the bulk of my client work as a BodyTalk practitioner. BodyTalk really works well in this area. If you don’t have a practitioner, ask around and find someone with whom you resonate. A good practitioner will also help you examine every aspect of your life and address the changes required.