I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager.
I’m going on 32 now and anxiety is still a very real presence in my life. If you read my last blog post, A Love Note To My Anxiety, you know that I don’t hate the fact that I live with it. I have not only learned to accept my anxiety, I’ve also learned to appreciate what it does for me. I’ve come to understand that, without my anxiety, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And I really like who I am today.
Getting to a place of peace and acceptance didn’t happen overnight.
I didn’t go all woo woo and suddenly flip the switch from hate to love when it came to my anxiety. As with most things in life, it was a process.
I can recall many times I’d hide away and cry out of frustration with myself. Ha, “many times”. It sounds like you could count the number of times on my fingers and toes. No, I cried a shit ton of times because of this. A. SHIT. TON. I wasn’t just upset that I had to deal with the emotions that accompany anxiety, I was angry with myself for having it in the first place.
Getting to a place of peace and acceptance required that I change my mind about a lot of what I believed about myself and my anxiety. Over the course of the last several years, I’ve had four major mindset shifts that helped me overcome the hard emotions associated with anxiety. Not only did they help me overcome the emotions, they made my anxiety bearable and quick to pass. I want to share those mindset shifts with anyone who may also be in the same place I was just a few years ago.
But first, here’s a quick story for you…
About 5 or 6 years ago, my boyfriend and I were headed to a friends wedding.
I was really looking forward to it because it meant I would see so many people I hadn’t in a really long time. He and I were all spruced up, gift in hand and ready for a good time.
On the car ride over, my anxiety subtly crept up on me. By the time we got to the wedding venue, it was hitting hard. I still had a smile on my face, though. I was still greeting old friends and meeting new people, but I wanted to run away. When it came time to sit down and eat, anxiety was nearly in full control. I needed to leave. I wanted to go home but I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. #fomo. I was growing more anxious and more frustrated by the minute. By the time my table was called to get food, I had reached my max. I was short of breath and certain my head was going to fall off. (From my last post, you’ll know that’s a common feeling that comes over me. Weird. I know!)
Instead of bailing completely, I left the area where everyone was gathered and found a secluded storage room. It was full of boxes and wedding decorations but it was peaceful and quiet. As soon as I entered it, I was able to take a deep breath and regain some calmness. As soon as the panic subsided, I busted out into tears.
I was at a beautiful wedding surrounded by happy people and old friends. Everyone was having such a good time and I was alone crying in a storage room for no reason at all. I was so pissed at myself for needing to be in there. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to have a good time like everyone else was. I couldn’t understand why I needed to find some peace and quiet for a moment. I couldn’t understand why I had to be so different from everyone else.
After a bit of time, my boyfriend found me and brought a glass of wine – he knows me so well. We sat and talked for a bit as he let me work through my emotions. Eventually, I was ready to go back to the party. The rest of the evening was great. From the outside, no one could tell that I just had an anxiety attack. They had no idea that I had been crying. They never would have guessed that I was feeling anything other than joy and excitement. I was just like everyone else again.
When I look back on that day, I see so many sad errors in my judgment.
I thought my anxiety struck up out of nowhere. I tried to resist it for as long as I could. I fought against it and attempted to suppress my feelings – I did so with a smile on my face. When it finally did take over, I was beyond angry at myself for feeling any of it. I beat myself up about it which left me in tears. I didn’t even try to consider what it was that I might be needing in that moment. I just fought against it until it won.
Where this story came from, there are tons more like it. I know I’m not alone either. Anxiety seems to be more common than ever and there are so many people who share similar experiences. When I take a moment to really consider all that occurred that day – when I sift through all the emotions and negative thoughts running through my head – I’m able to see things more clearly.
To get to a place of acceptance, I had a change my mind about what happened during that experience, I had to change my mind about so many other days just like that one, I had to change my mind about myself. These mindset shifts have made the acceptance of anxiety in my life so much easier. I wish I would have taken this perspective earlier on but that’s not generally how these things work, is it?
So here they are, my four biggest mindset changes that help me through the most difficult times.
1. Having anxiety and moving forward is one of the strongest things a person can do.
I used to think anxiety made me weak. Obviously, I don’t believe this anymore. I think having anxiety and showing up for life anyway makes me an incredibly strong, determined person.
Maybe I have anxiety because I’m highly sensitive. I feel my emotions deeply. I feel other people’s emotions deeply. I also get a little wigged out when there is too many stimuli and too many high energy people around. I generally need to mentally prepare to take on big events and large celebrations.
Maybe I have anxiety because my dad passed it down to me. I grew up knowing he was easy to anger. I saw him take medication all his life. He still takes them to this day. I learned in high school that this was all due to his anxiety so maybe it’s in my genes.
Whatever the reason, when my anxiety is high, it makes it a challenge to do the simplest of things. Even going to fun exciting events can be a little daunting. But I never let it stop me. With a racing heart and trembling hands, I take deep breaths and show up anyway.
In the case of the wedding story – I got so angry with myself for not being strong enough to suppress the negative emotions. I was pissed that I had felt them to begin with. What I hadn’t considered was how resilient I was for sticking to my guns and holding on tight. I didn’t go home, I simply took a break then came back ready for more. What a champ, right?!
If you’ve ever felt weak for having anxiety, consider all the times you’ve had it and still pushed forward. I’m willing to bet you’ve done this on countless occasions. I don’t think that makes you weak, I think that makes you a badass.
2. Know your comfort zone. Go there often.
“Growth happens just outside of your comfort zone.” It’s a quote we’ve seen all over the internet, on mugs and etched in pillows. I agree with it too. To level up in life, it requires you to get comfortable in your discomfort. What I don’t believe is that we must live outside our comfort zone. We don’t need to leave it and stay away. Growth happens when you step out of it from time to time. Living in a constant state of discomfort is just self-neglect, not growth.
When I was at that wedding, I was so mad at myself for needing to step away. I couldn’t understand why leaving for a bit was necessary. What I hadn’t realized was that by doing so for a moment, it allowed me to stay at the party for the rest of the night. I needed my comfort zone then. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to push forward. When I think about comfort zones in this way, I see now how necessary they are. Comfort zones aren’t a safe space for the weak, they’re launching pads for the determined.
Now that I’ve changed my mind about comfort zones – now that I view them as necessary for my ability to step outside of them – I no longer try to stay in a constant state of discomfort. In fact, I’ve dedicated a whole room in my house towards my comfort! This room is where I meditate and write. It’s my go-to place when anxiety sneaks back in. It’s got fluffy pillows, soft lighting, cute tiny plants and positive words posted all over the walls. Only me, my boyfriend and one cat are allowed in here. I won’t even let my other two cats come in because they’re kinda bitches and, sorry not sorry, I just can’t allow that energy in.
If you are anything like me, I get it. I get being so stubborn that you want to live on the outside of your comfort zone – you want to prove to yourself that you are capable of doing so. But I swear to you, your comfort zone is not the enemy. It’s the space you need to re-energize, to calm you when you’ve felt too much, to bring you back to center as you prepare to move forward once again. So know what comforts you. Create a comfort zone if you have to. Don’t be ashamed to go there often. It’s necessary for your growth.
3. Love who you are, even with anxiety.
I used to think I wasn’t a good enough person because I had anxiety. “Not good enough” sounds like an understatement. I didn’t hate myself, at least I don’t think I did, but I was pretty damn close to it.
“Damn it, Rory. You’re fucking ridiculous.” Y’all, I’m dead serious. These are the kinds of things I would silently tell myself. I would go through a panicky moment and be angry with myself. As soon as the moment passed, I’d beat myself up over the fact that it occurred at all. I know I don’t have to tell you this but these are not the words and actions you see from someone who loves herself. It breaks my heart to know that the person who was ever the meanest to me was … me.
Now I realize that the last thing a person with high anxiety needs is to be belittled for having it in the first place. Beating myself up only perpetuated the problem. What I needed was love, support, and compassion. I try to give myself that now, not only when anxiety hits but when any kind of difficult emotion arises.
If you have anxiety, I hope you’re also showing yourself love and compassion. Being too hard on yourself won’t solve anything. It will likely do more damage. If you ever find it challenging to do this, reach out. I’m not kidding when I say that. This mindset shift is close to my heart. Without self-love, we’re so susceptible to anything life throws our way.
4. Your anxiety is trying to tell you something. Listen.
I used to think that my anxiety came out of nowhere. Now I see that all it was ever trying to do was get my attention. It had a message for me and each time I’d take a moment to really listen to it, I always learned something new.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says that when we find meaning in our suffering, it ceases to be suffering. Of course I know that my hardships are nowhere near as traumatic as his but his words still ring true for me. The more I listen to my anxiety, the more I learn from it. The more I learn from it, the more I understand it’s place in my life. As my understanding grows, so too does my acceptance of it. When I accept it, it doesn’t feel like suffering anymore.
So if anxiety has been a part of your life for a long time or short while, I promise you, it is trying to tell you something. If you stopped trying to force it back down and allowed it to share its message with you, it would pass easier. You’d view it less through a lense of pain and suffering and more in the light of something you can learn from.
My perspective on anxiety and who I am with it is very different now.
When I started to think of things with these new ideas in mind, I gave up on my mission to rid myself of anxiety. Oddly enough, when I gave up that goal, the outcome was that anxiety subsided quite a bit. My life feels very different than what it did 3 to 6 years ago. Anxiety’s daily visits are more like monthly check-ins. When it does spur up, it leaves just as quickly. Easy come, easy go.
It’s not easy to change your perspective around these 4 areas, but it’s easier than resisting the realities of anxiety and 100% worth a try. They’ve changed my life. I hope they can change someone else’s life too.
I share a lot of stories because that is how we all relate to one another but this blog is more than just my story. It contains the mindset shifts that anyone who battles with anxiety could use. My words aren’t gospel, I know that. But I do think they are very relatable to so many people out there. I do think they could help other struggling souls. So if you know anyone who battles with this or something similar, please share this post. If you can relate to this, either now or in the past, let me know. If you could use a kind word or two or just need to get some shit off your chest, reach out!