Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.
I haven’t really discussed it before. I’ve dealt with it quietly. My husband and son understand. As a family, we’ve talked openly about it, and have figured out how to deal with it. I sometimes mention a little hint here or there in passing, sliding it into conversation with family or friends.
But mostly, it lives quietly beneath the surface of my life.
I’ll be honest, when I first felt the grip of it, I was shocked. Emotionally, I’ve lived a white knuckle kind of life. I often joke and say my life could be called a cautionary tale for others to learn from. The ups have been up and the downs have been subterranean. And I’ve handled it. I’ve been worried, scared, angry and bitter. But the grip of anxiety did not close its vice grip on me until my son died. And then everything changed.
Confronted with the fragility of life, with the knowledge that it could change in an instant with no notice, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because if that could happen, what else was coming down the pipe?
As a strong and intelligent woman, it frustrated me because I knew rationally that the thoughts that immobilized me were not likely to happen. Then I would think, “I never thought my son would die simply because he decided to go for a swim either.” Boom. Consider every scenario and be afraid. Be very afraid.
It has been a quiet family journey. I have learned to cope. My family has made certain allowances to help me manage it. My younger son, even though he deserves the same level of independence as his peers, continues to check in more frequently than he needs to because he knows that it is something I need. I remember the conversation with him about this, explaining to him that it wasn’t him, it was me. I trusted him, I believed in him, I just sometimes found it hard to breathe until I knew he was safe and okay. Saying it aloud made me feel weak. But it was my truth, and if I’ve learned one thing over the past seven years, it is the fact that the truth does set you free.
The truth is I have anxiety about that other shoe dropping. I have anxiety that life could change in an instant….again. If you call me late at night, I don’t think you need to talk. I think someone is dead. And then I talk myself out of that, and life moves forward.
It’s been a private matter for me. I have made peace with it, and I have figured out what I need to do each day to manage it. But just as I walk with gratitude each day, I also walk with anxiety.
But recently, I was speaking with someone who praised me for my attitude of gratitude in loss, and I could tell she had mistakenly thought that my gratitude for the little things has somehow shielded me from the pain. From her view, it seemed that the road had been somewhat easier because I chose to look for the tiny blessings each day to be thankful for. I could see why she would think that, but realized this was something I wanted to speak about openly.
Let’s be clear. Gratitude did not take away the pain. It did alleviate some of my suffering, and looking for the little things each day anchored me to the present moment. But the earth shattering pain greeted me each morning, accompanied by the chest tightening fear that someone else in my circle of love could be ripped away from me at any moment. I used gratitude to manage it. I still do. Every single day.
So yes, I have this grateful, happy and peaceful life. But I also have anxiety. And that is okay.
We coexist together. So let’s talk about that. Here’s some daily practices I’ve implemented in my own life to manage anxiety:
- Morning and Evening Rituals: Each morning and evening, I set the tone for my life. I affirm that I am safe, that everything is okay. I look for blessings. Our family has a group text, and we message each other before bed just to say I love you, and that final check-in allows me to go to sleep. I use Yoga, music and meditation to help to calm my overactive mind. Find positive habits and set your days up for success. Use affirmations to manage your mind.
- Sleep: When stressed, you body needs additional rest. But even without the stress, we need rest to feel well and think positive thoughts. Remove the electronics and make sure your bedroom is a quiet calm place for you to sleep. I try and get at least seven hours per night.
- Maintain a Daily Gratitude Practice: Look for what is working in your life. Find blessings in the little things. When you put your attention on what is working and what is beautiful, you can quell the churning waters of anxiety. If you make this a daily practice, your perspective on life changes, and you can replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Need some help? Join my global gratitude conversation at Just One Little Thing. I started looking for “just one little thing” each day in the depths of despair, and I can promise you. Gratitude will save you.
- Embrace the Perfectly Imperfect You: Truly accept and love yourself no matter what difficult decisions you’ve faced, questionable choices you’ve made, or events that have shattered you. No matter what has happened, you are still beautiful and deserving of love. And because of what has happened, you are stronger and wiser. Embrace that.
- Breathe: If you find yourself fixating on a certain stressor, and you are feeling anxious, breathe. Sit in a quiet place, and give yourself a few minutes to regroup. Inhale and exhale slowly. Count to ten. Repeat a calming phrase. When I feel anxious, I remind myself that “In this moment, everything is okay.”
- Release the Need to Control the World: I always thought I had my life under control. And then I didn’t. But let’s be honest: control is simply an illusion. You can’t control everything anyway. Relinquish the need and the responsibility to take everything on as your burden to bear, your ship to steady in the storm, or your disaster to avoid.
- Journal to Observe, Discover and Manage Your Triggers: We all have patterns. Journal your thoughts to discover what triggers your anxiety, and what helps you manage it. My writing helped me uncover my own triggers, giving me the information I needed to find ways to manage them.
- Eat a Well-Balanced Diet: Your diet affects not only your waistline. It affects your mood. Pay attention to the fuel you are putting in your body, and how you feel. Make healthy choices.
- Exercise: Dr. Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, who blogs at www.DrewRamseyMD.com. says even 20 minutes of exercise per day can reduce anxiety. Make exercise part of your daily routine.
- Don’t Hide in the Shadows: We’ve made huge strides with normalizing the conversation around mental health in the last few years. But we still have work to do. So, let’s talk about it. I’ll tell you my story, you tell me yours. We all struggle, and our strength comes from sharing our stories and solutions.
- Don’t Walk Alone: Get involved. Volunteer and become an active participant in your life. It’s important that you have a sense of community to provide you with support and perspective on your own journey.
- Laugh: Life is not all good. It is also not all bad. it is a balance. So laugh when you can. Laugh often.
- Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: Simulants can aggravate anxiety. Pay attention to how your body and mind reacts to these substances, and use with caution and always in moderation. Sometimes the best way to deal with anxiety is to find clarity in a situation. When your senses are dulled or heightened, that clarity can be hard to grasp.
- Get Help When You Need It: Sometimes, all of the above just isn’t enough. And that’s okay. I had a counselor for a full year after my son died, and it was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When you’ve tried everything, and you still can’t find your way, seek out the help of a professional who can help you navigate a path through your anxiety. And most importantly, celebrate that you are strong and self-aware enough to do so.
Anxiety has, at times, crippled me. But it has also illuminated what I value most in my life. It has humbled me, but also given me an opportunity to look inward and rediscover my strength and wisdom. I am accepting of my life as perfectly imperfect, and each morning, I can honestly say I start the day still believing in the possibility and magic of life.
Sending you wishes for a super-chill worry-free day,
p.s Continue the conversation about the path From Pain to Purpose at Strong Wise Women.