What I’ve Learned About My Anxiety and How to Manage It

Dear Friends,

Let’s have a mental health day! Our mental and emotional health and happiness is just as important as our physical health, so let’s just jump in and break the egg wide open.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a phenomenon of anxiety out there these days? It seems everyone is having trouble with it to some degree, and I am not excluded from that. I hadn’t experienced much anxiety for a couple of years, until this past fall while I was dating someone. For some reason, it’s always in dating that my anxiety seems to come out in full force. I have constant worries, fears and doubts running through my mind and they always end up causing things to run off course. This time I decided to make an appointment with my counselor to get to the bottom of it, and figure out how to outsmart it.

Here is what I learned in the process. My anxiety was coming from a place of fear, which I already knew. What I learned is that the feeling of fear comes from our thoughts, many of which happen subconsciously. So in order to understand the anxiety, I needed to address the thoughts that were driving it. To do this, when I’m experiencing the physical signs of anxiety–racing heart, fluttering stomach, muscle tension and insomnia for me–I have to stop and ask myself “what are you afraid of right now?”

This forces the thoughts running through the back of my mind to come to the forefront. Once I pinpoint what I’m feeling afraid of or worried about, I can then ask myself the most important question–why? I thought back to some of the worries I had while I was dating that person and my anxiety piqued, and uncovered why I was afraid of the things that I was afraid of. What I figured out by the end of my last session with my counselor (I had three in total) was that I was hiding myself and holding back because I was afraid of how he’d respond to things I did or said, or more specifically that I might scare him off by being honest and open about who I am, how I felt and what I wanted.

So stripping away everything in the middle–all of the links between anxiety and thoughts–it came down to this: my anxiety was triggered because I wasn’t being true to who I am and I wasn’t following my heart. It wasn’t the fear that was causing my anxiety as much as it was me holding back what I really needed to be putting out into the world. I was afraid to be myself, afraid to fully live my life and honor what was in my heart. A saying comes to mind that goes, “the heart knows what to do; the trick is to silence the mind.” I can now fully understand the meaning of that phrase. My heart says “do this,” and my mind defaults to “you can’t, because…”. And then anxiety consumes me.

My last session with my counselor was last Tuesday, January 22nd, and I immediately made some changes. I think the yoga and meditation I’ve been doing helps, because it causes me to draw focus to my thoughts and that’s undoubtedly helped me to recognize them and be able to stop the fear defaults from stepping in. I was able to stop holding myself back, and I felt suddenly safe speaking up for myself and putting my thoughts and feelings out into the world without fear of how they’d be received. Or rather, in spite of the fear…because I still have the fear, but now I address the underlying cause, don’t let myself overthink it, and do what my heart needs me to do. It doesn’t matter how anyone receives me, it only matters that I’m honoring myself and letting myself be heard.

I have to share what happened last weekend as a result. I felt different, of course. But I also appeared different to those around me. First of all, I spoke up for myself at work last week and it felt good to voice what I wanted. Then I righted a wrong with the person I had dated by admitting to my faults and letting him know some things about myself that I’d been holding back–and he took it surprisingly well, only sufficing to prove I never had anything to worry about! And then, I spent Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with my friends…

I met one friend first for a beer, and he realized something was different. He said, “wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this!” I’d only had half of a beer at that point, but he thought I was already drunk, or that the beer was responsible for my joyous and vocal spirit. After I finished my beer we went to another friend’s house to hang out for the evening. Another friend there made a similar remark: “this is a side of you we’ve never seen before.” They all thought I was drunk, but I was really just being myself, unfiltered and unaltered. I was holding nothing back, and enjoying life without those limiting thoughts consuming me. This was further confirmed when my good mood continued the next day when we met for “Sunday Funday”, and I drank nothing but tea so they couldn’t make the assumption that alcohol was responsible.

I will admit that it’s easy right now. I’ve just made this discovery and started putting things into practice. I do know how easy it is to fall back into default patterns. The reason that people don’t change is that it really is a hard, hard process, and it’s so much easier to let the old habits stay in control. The brain is not easily willing to give up its default settings. That is the comfort zone it has come to know and love after years of conditioning to get it there, and it isn’t easy to change it and make the changes stick. I know that I’m going to have to push through and keep putting in the work, long after the newness has worn off and I’m growing weary. But if it means I’ll get to feel permanently the way I’ve been feeling for the last week, then I will never, ever give up!

Here’s a little example from the work situation last week of how I’m using prompts to clear my anxiety:

What am I feeling? – Anxious and upset

Why? – Because I was told I have to move to a different location

Why does that matter? – Because I’ve been with the bank for nine years and I’m happier at my location than I’ve been anywhere else. I love it there, it feels like home and I don’t want to leave. Because I’m downtown and close to stores and restaurants and all of my friends who work downtown and I get to meet for lunch.

What can I do about it to follow my heart?Be honest about what I want! Tell my boss how I feel about it. We have a good relationship and I shouldn’t need to be afraid of her reaction to me disagreeing with the decision. Offer suggestions for compromise. Communicate my thoughts and feelings openly. If it doesn’t do me any good and I still end up moving (which I am, by the way, in a week and a half), then I know that I have done something to stand up for what I want and I won’t have to wonder “what if I’d done xyz”. {I can tell you that, even though things ultimately didn’t turn out how I wanted them to, by doing this I was able to make peace with it, I haven’t felt anxious for one moment since, and I’m feeling okay overall. It isn’t about getting what I want, it’s about being true to myself and speaking what’s in my heart}

If you have struggles with anxiety, or limiting thoughts of your own, I hope this might help provide a little insight for your own struggles. The root of my anxiety may not be the root of yours, but it could be something you haven’t thought of before that may help. That is why, no matter how personal discussing mental health and human behaviors can sometimes be, I wanted to share with all of you. Life can be tough, but with a little support and encouragement from others, the storms can be weathered a bit easier. I’d love to help you weather yours if I can.

If you find yourself struggling, I highly encourage talking to someone. If you see a doctor when you have the flu, why not see a counselor when you’re having a hard time emotionally? From my voice of experience…it really can work magic in your life!

Love,
Loren

Author: Loren Miller

I'm a Midwestern woman living my best and healthiest life, fueled by passion and caffeine. I follow the Mediterranean diet, I'm a yoga newbie, and a hiker and general explorer of the outdoors. I adore fashion and dressing up, and finding amazing, quality designer pieces through thrift shopping. Most all of my outfits have at least one thrifted item--saving my wallet and the planet one designer top at a time <3

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