After meeting Sarah Wilson recently and hearing her speak about anxiety (and it’s many flavours) I realised just how much this affects so many of us. Mental illness has been very present in my life either through my own experience, or seeing members of my family suffer through it as well as rise above it. So here are my ten biggest takeaways from what I heard today and also what I know from my own journey with anxiety and depression. I hope they help, empower and inspire you like they have for me...
1) Anxiety and it’s many related disorders actually fulfil a purpose. What you’re doing and feeling in the difficult times is important. We need our journeys and experiences to create the richness of life. The trick is to learn how to nutrure it and live with it so that it serves us, rather than controls us. Anxiety and those that experience it can be celebrated, instead of feared.
2) Excitement and anxiety produce the same hormones. So, in moments of anxiety we can actually practice choosing excitement instead. We have the power to choose our emotions and how we interpret them.
3) When experiencing panic attacks, the best thing to do is sit through it and experience the emotions as they run through you. Being anxious about your anxiety quickly causes your state of being to spiral out of control.
4) There is no "cure" or quick fix for anxiety. There’s no proven medication. There’s no end point. But we don’t need to be fixed, we just need to be understood. By ourselves and others.
5) Anxious people can often appear to be controlling. However, those things that are being managed and controlled are usually a coping mechanism. For myself, when I’m in control of the things I CAN be, I’m preventing unnecessary things from causing me anxiety. Having an anxious meltdown or panic attack would actually be much worse for those around me to experience than my controlling nature! It’s just one of the many ways I manage my emotional wellbeing, and certainly isn’t meant to be a reflection on anyone else.
6) Every action an anxious person (or anyone for that matter) takes is a coping mechanism for something going on beneath the surface. Rather than fixing the person, or the thing that’s happening and trying to stop it, understanding WHY it’s happening and the deep rooted issue is more important. Seeing examples of people who’ve experienced anxiety and are thriving is always reassuring for us too.
7) Attempting to be happy ALL the time isn’t actually possible. Happiness is not a destination, a place to get to. In fact, happy is just ONE emotion of thousands and life is for experiencing them all. Putting pressure on ourselves to be just one emotion can in fact cause anxiety.
8) A daily routine helps to take the thinking out of an already over-active anxious mind. Take away the need to make unnecessary decisions wherever possible. Doing the same activities upon waking each day like doing the same exercise, eating the same breakfast, choosing the same or similar clothes can all help.
9) Walking turns on all the hormones that shutdown anxiety!
10) To embrace anxiety I think we need to embrace ALL the parts of ourselves. The “good” and the “not so good”. To breathe through it all, to experience it all and to not label it as right or wrong. We need to be OK with WHO, and HOW we are. To celebrate the gifts that anxiety offers and to dance with the ups and downs. To sit in the discomfort, to be with ourselves and to look inwardly. Rather than looking outside of ourselves for permission, acceptance, validation or fulfilment.
In the words of Sarah Wilson… first we make the beast beautiful.