Anxiety: An ongoing journey
This week is Mental Health Week and I decided that it was time to revisit a topic that I used to talk about a lot more.
You might think that the reason I haven’t written about it for a while is because I no longer struggle with it, or that it no longer plays a large role in my life. But that is not the truth.
You see, the thing about anxiety - for me anyway - is that it comes in peaks and troughs, and I have learned to understand that it will always play a part in my life. Where I used to fight it and resist the feelings that would overwhelm me, I now surrender to the lessons that it brings - because each time it shows up there is always something to learn.
After recording a really wonderful podcast with Ban Hass this week, which you can listen to here, I feel compelled to write more on a topic that we discussed briefly in our conversation.
The ongoing journey of anxiety.
I don’t talk about this to make you feel hopeless about anxiety - because there are so many things that you can do to support yourself, however - I do want to be open and honest and say - I don’t think it ever really goes away. Not entirely anyway.
There are many days where anxiety doesn’t show up for me now. Which is huge compared to the Lauren you would have met ten years ago. But there are also days when it still consumes me.
Getting to know YOUR anxiety
Everyone I speak to has anxiety show up in a different way - because nobody can experience what you experience exactly in the same way. Of course there are common themes and similarities - but it is never exactly the same. Which is why when someone tries to tell you ‘how’ to deal with it - it can be frustrating and actually unhelpful.
It really is about finding your own path - which is tricky because when you are consumed by it all you want is someone else to tell you how to ‘get rid’ of it, or fix you.
But you aren’t broken. Just because anxiety is in your life - you are definitely not broken.
Identifying your version of anxiety is key.
How does it show up physically in your body? What are the commonly repeated thoughts that go through your head? What behaviours do you notice yourself adopting when you are anxious?
For me personally, physically it most commonly shows up in my stomach - with feelings of sickness, in my chest - with short breath, and sometimes with my vision - feeling dizzy or ‘spinny headed’ as I call it. I also often have an upset tummy and get either hot and sweaty, or shivery and freezing and sometimes I get overcome with a feeling of needing to go to sleep.
The thoughts that go round and round in my head are… There is something wrong with me. I must be ill. What if I spoil this moment? What are people going to think of me? I can’t let anyone know I feel like this. People are going to think I am pathetic. I can’t do this.
And the behaviours I often adopt are… a need to retreat and escape from wherever I am, a desperate need for fresh air, an over focus on my breath, a feeling that I will never be ‘normal’, a hatred for myself and these feelings, a complete hopelessness that makes me feel like a total failure. It can make me feel like a burden - especially to my loved ones and I know in the past it has had a detrimental effect on relationships.
The most common times for these feelings to arise are when I have meetings for work - particularly if it is a small group of people and I am required to talk, when I sit down to eat a meal out - particularly in a restaurant and particularly if it is a place I have been really looking forward to going to, when I have to drive in the car, or be a passenger in a car on a long drive, and when I am exhausted and have been over stretching myself in any way.
You see - by now - I know my anxiety intimately - when I allowed myself to get acquanted with it then it started to have less power over me. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t there - but the effect it has is not nearly as dramatic.
When anxiety changes it’s appearance
Now… the curveball happens when anxiety creeps up in a new place, with a new sensation and a new behaviour.
This happened to me recently when I first became pregnant. My anxiety was higher than it has been in years and NONE of my normal ‘tools’ helped me to manage it. Exercise, yoga, walking in nature, breathwork, meditation, dance, writing, nutrition… nothing helped to ease it, and combined with the physical exhaustion and nausea, I felt helpless. I was stripped away of all of these things and left to face the worries and the anxiety alone without my coping mechanisms. PLUS - I felt guilt and shame for feeling these things when I knew how blessed and miraculous this experience was.
That is when we can start to berate ourselves and feel as though we have failed. We might feel as though we have gone ‘backwards’ or wonder what have we done wrong.
But you haven’t done anything ‘wrong’ my lovely friend. This is unfortunately what anxiety seems to do, and is why at the heart of it - we need to get to the root cause of anxiety. Coping mechanisms and tools are wonderful and can be a huge part of the journey with anxiety - but they can sometimes trap you into controlling behaviour and actually act as a mask for what is really going on.
And then when they don’t work anymore - it can cause even more anxiety.
Never feel afraid to try something you haven’t tried before, perhaps you tried a type of therapy which worked for a while and now isn’t? Perhaps medication worked for you but it no longer has an effect? Perhaps meditation was your go-to but now meditation itself is making you anxious.
We are every changing beings and that means it is totally OK to evolve your self care and psychological wellbeing practices. Just like sometimes we eat a certain food and then suddenly it doesn’t agree with us anymore, or sometimes we enjoy a type of exercise for a period of time and then it doesn’t feel good in our body anymore - our mental health practices can be the same.
A message in my anxiety.
Interestingly enough there are times in my life when I would expect anxiety it to show up and yet it doesn’t. When I am teaching a yoga class or retreat, when I am coaching people, when I am speaking or giving a workshop, or when I am doing a podcast episode. To me this is because when I am aligned and doing things that I am truly ‘meant’ to be doing - there is no reason for me to feel anxious.
It is a work in progress, but despite anxiety being something that I have in the past battled with - I also am very grateful for the gifts that it has given me and the lessons it has taught me.
It has helped me prioritise my self care, my creativity and my heart and soul’s true calling. It has allowed me to connect with incredible people. It has lead me to yoga and meditation and many other wonderful practices that I might never have discovered. It was the reason I started my first blog many years ago.
So I can’t be too mad at you anxiety now can I?