I have dealt with undiagnosed anxiety since my mid-20’s. The anxiety was triggered when I discovered that a partner, whom I thought I would marry, was cheating on me. As naïve as this next statement may sound to many of you reading this blog, I was shocked and devastated by this experience because I didn’t, in a million years, think a cheating partner could be part of my reality.
The anxiety worsened when I took a job at a local university right out of my Masters program in developmental psychology at the age of 25 years. It was a dream job at the time. I was hired to teach introductory and developmental psychology courses and advise students who had not yet declared a major. While it was a dream job, it also stretched me outside of my comfort zone. Public speaking was a big fear of mine; I took the position in large part to overcome this fear. In retrospect, I stretched myself a bit too far outside of my comfort zone with this position; I literally lost my voice and had no choice but to seek help from the department Director. I was devastated. Fortunately, the department supported me as well as I had colleagues who supported me. Mid-way through the year I learned that I had been accepted into a Doctoral program. The anxiety subsided when I wasn’t teaching; however, I would spend the next 15 years constantly worrying that I would lose my voice again.
That was a dark and shameful time in my life. I did not seek therapy. To be honest, at that time, I didn’t realize therapy was an option and I didn’t know that anxiety was a thing that trained people could help me overcome or at the very least manage. At that time in my life, I made a promise to myself to never talk about this ‘problem’ to anyone. I was ashamed and truly thought there was definitely something wrong with me.
When the problem reappeared in my late 20’s, I did end up talking about it with a therapist whom I reached out to when I found her in a phonebook – she looked nice in her picture (this was just a couple of years after the Internet was introduced and before any social media)! At this time, I had completed my Doctoral training, was working full-time at the American Academy of Pediatrics as a Research Associate, and I was married (I was 29-years-old). The only way I could actually talk with the therapist was by talking to my husband while the therapist listened. Again, devastating! This time the anxiety was triggered by a difficult job situation, a long commute, a rocky start to my marriage, and worry about what others thought about me and my life situation. I felt like I was being judged by the life I was living (at the time I had everything going for me: a successful career, a new marriage, two solid incomes, and the ability to live a comfortable lifestyle).
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how to manage anxiety (which by the way, I still am managing). I began to look at healing as something that takes place at multiple levels (physical, emotional, energetic, spiritual) and all the levels needed attention!
1. I hired a therapist who helped me bring awareness to my emotions and the root causes of my issues.
2. I worked on healing at an energetic level. I got involved with a group of older and wiser women who were spiritually connected; I felt at home with them. One of the first things I did was receive Reiki sessions to balance blocked chakras. This was an amazingly powerful process for me at that time.
3. I began writing a daily journal that was basically a stream of consciousness of the mind-chatter constantly playing in my head (I engaged in this process for about three years and on a daily basis before I finally felt like everything was out of my head).
4. I enrolled in a coach-training program and hired a coach who helped me get to know myself and who helped me get clear about what I wanted for my life. This was life-changing. I learned about my values (what mattered TO ME), my purpose in life, and how to look at my issues from different perspectives – not the ones that kept me stuck and unhappy! This made me feel alive in my own body! I didn’t know this was possible.
5. I enrolled in a personal leadership development program that enabled me to engage in relationship with like-minded people. Through my relationships with them, I learned about who I am, what my intended/untended impact was, where I hold myself small, and what others find compelling about me.
6. I began exploring things that made me feel alive – pottery, exercise, all sorts of spiritual endeavors.
7. I began a gentle yoga practice to help me access my divine nature (eventually I took teacher training to deepen my own practice).
8. I began and cultivated a meditation and mantra practice that helps me access my essential nature and deeper and deeper aspects of myself.
9. I got involved in anything and everything that spoke about the soul (one of my favorite activities is creating soul collages). I am committed to soul work.
These strategies I identified above all worked for me and they continue to work for me. I will probably continue to add new strategies! They may or may not work for you. The reality here is that I took a deep dive into myself (deep reflection) to learn about who I am and then actively engaged in activities that felt good and right to me. While I had help from others to do this, ultimately it was me who had to find these answers inside of me. All the answers are within. I am not a psychologist, but I know that knowing oneself is a critical and necessary strategy to address anxiety. It is an important strategy for creating a life that is in alignment with you!
However, as Benjamin Franklin said “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” This is why therapy, coaching, and reflection are so helpful when you want help knowing who you are and taking actions in alignment with this information!
One interesting bit of information I recently came across from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley website (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu) is an article about 36 questions for increasing closeness (with others). This work is based in science (https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/36_questions_for_increasing_closeness#data-tab-how) and is designed to help people feel closer to one another. This process can be useful in romantic relationships as well as in friendships. The process includes asking a person you want to be closer to a series questions such as ‘Would you like to be famous and in what way?’, or ‘What would constitute a perfect day for you?’, ‘What is your most treasured memory?’ It also includes sentence completions such as “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
While these are really great questions to ask of others and to get to know others at a deeper level, these are also wonderful questions we can use to get to know ourselves; to take a deeper dive into self, which is arguably the greatest relationship we could ever nurture! So, if you don’t know how to know how to get started in a process to know yourself, these questions may be a great place for you to start! Use these questions to get a deeper understanding of YOU. Reflect on them and journal about them. This process may just help you settle more comfortably into yourself and maybe just maybe, as a result of settling into your own self, you may experience greater capacity to manage your own anxiety.
What is your road from anxiety to wholeness?
If any of this resonates with you, please leave a comment. If any of this doesn’t resonate with you, please leave a comment! I would love to hear from you no matter what your stance.
Thank you for reading!