A simple google search for the definition anxiety explains it as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Those of us who experience it to catastrophic levels understand that it goes beyond just feelings of worry or unease. Anxiety roots itself in our minds and stomachs, it elicits fear that shapes our entire way of thinking, chokes our entire being, and can manifest into major panic disorders that cripple us from any semblance of a normal life.
This is drastically different from the day to day normative levels of anxiety. Just to be clear, anyone can have anxiety for any reason. Like if you really want to go to some party and your ride is running late and you start feeling anxious because you just want to get there. Or if you know a big test is coming up and you want to do well. Or if you’re getting married soon. Anxious feelings are normal. It’s only when it starts to affect your life, the decisions you make, and the way you care for yourself (or don’t) that anxiety become dangerous.
I did not realize that I was living with high-functioning anxiety until after I had a complete meltdown. On the outside, I was a power house of achievement. I pushed through a master’s program, teacher credentialing program, I owned my own house, managed my own business, and kept my grades high despite stretching myself so thin any snag could snap me in half. And eventually, that’s exactly what happened.
During these phases, I would smoke weed to achieve the level of concentration I needed to get things done. Without it, I was completely and utterly stunted. At the time I saw nothing wrong with it. If it helped me concentrate, then that’s what needed to happen. I didn’t realize I was using it as a crutch. I was becoming dependent. And that, my friends, was not who I wanted to be.
When I began therapy I was given tools to be the master of my own mind and body again. Where I was once unable to identify anxious feelings, now I was able to physically feel the difference between calm and anxious. That tight feeling in my chest wasn’t supposed to be there. The fogginess of my brain wasn’t normal. Inability to eat and nausea weren’t supposed to be part of my daily routine.
One integral piece of reclaiming my mind and body is practicing meditation. So many people are reluctant to meditation because they think you need to be zen before you even start. Your thoughts will always to be there. Practicing meditation is just that— practice. Start with a few minutes every day, and increase from there. My routine is every morning and every night. But when I felt like I was going crazy, I meditated whenever I felt panicky, which was pretty much multiple times throughout the day. Take as much time as you need to take care of you. These simple moments to call your own, to get back into your own space, your own mind, makes all the difference in your day and your overall well being.
If you’re very new to meditation, I suggest downloading the Headspace app.Headspace explains meditation in an easy to understand way and guides you through the experience piece by piece.
If you’re intermediate level, using the free meditations on YouTube are great too. There are guided or unguided. All free. You don’t have to pay to learn how to get back in touch with yourself.
Another method that worked for me is called name it to tame it. Each time I would feel anxious I would name, out loud, all the different emotions I was feeling. It works. Now it’s so ingrained in my head I name it to tame it each time I’m upset, whether I’m angry, anxious, sad—doesn’t matter. If I’m worked up, just naming my feelings sends me a warm blanket of relief so my nerves don’t get out of control.
The most helpful technique was learning how to tap. Tapping targets the pressure points in your body to slow the fight or flight response we get when our minds are triggered. In just ten minutes you can feel relief— seriously. All it takes is you wanting to feel better and following through on making it happen. In the audio I listen to the woman says, “you’re teaching your body to feel calm.” At first, I was skeptical. When you’re in the throws of anxiety, waking up with teeth chattering, or nauseous, heart beating so fast it feels like it’ll rip right through your chest, it’s hard to imagine anxiety can be controlled. After a few months, I noticed that certain things that used to trigger me simply didn’t anymore. And now, a year later, I can proudly say I am in control of my mind and body.
That’s not to say the struggle is over. Each time anxiety tries to take over, I do the work to regain control. It gets easier. All you have to do is do the work.