Anxiety. An indescribable shape shifter that shows up unannounced and almost always overstays its welcome. Shared by many, anxiety affects roughly 18 percent of the population – approximately 40 million Americans over the age of 18 (National Institute of Mental Health). These figures are likely higher as they exclude adults who do not seek treatment or people who are not aware that they even have anxiety. I was an example of the latter up until this past year.
Although I displayed symptoms from early adolescence, I never thought I had anxiety. I assumed my frantic mind, racing heart, and feelings of dread were a product of normal levels of stress. Truthfully, I did not accept anxiety’s hold on me until it had wrecked havoc on my physical health and I had no choice but to make a change.
Since then, I have developed the following strategies to gain an understanding of my anxiety and how I can better manage it.
For me, anxiety is like the river – go with the flow and I can ride it out, try to stand in its way and I get toppled over. Before, I would try to ignore the physical and mental signs, pretending they did not exist until my emotions became completely debilitating. Now, I acknowledge or even state to myself or partner “I am anxious right now, but I will be ok”. I take a breath and allow myself to feel it, rather than try and will it to disappear. When I do so, my anxiety loosens its grip enough to help me refocus my energy and find some peace.
The most therapeutic thing I ever did was speak openly about my anxiety. First, to my partner and family and then to my friends. Recently, I took this a step further and spoke about my struggle in a TEDx Talk. The positive responses from both strangers and friends were empowering. A condition that had felt isolating became a way to connect with people around me on a deeper level. It was inspiring to see how people began sharing their own anxiety stories because I shared mine. When we are vulnerable, open and honest about our struggles, we can destigmatize mental health disorders and encourage others to speak up. On a larger scale, we can create a more empathetic and connected society.
Let’s get real. Even though I have found ways to ease my anxiety, I still have panic attacks. Sometimes, all the strategies that worked before render themselves useless. Rather than feel defeated, I choose to love myself even harder and embrace anxiety as a part of my story. It is in my power to move forward and remain motivated by the progress I have made so far, on both a small or large scale.
Despite the issues I have had with anxiety, I would not change who I am. We must all remember that we are, in our own way, brilliant, complex and most importantly human. I choose to view this challenge as a lifelong opportunity for growth and as a result, I have found a deeper strength and confidence in myself to live a happy and fulfilling life.