Today I want to talk about something that I am going through in my life right now – and that is, my experience with anxiety. When it comes to making videos and writing blog posts for you guys, I always want to talk about something that I am directly experiencing or practicing in my life. And right now, the main thing is – anxiety, so…that’s what you’re going to get!
Let me start off by telling you a little bit about my experience with anxiety – I have always considered myself to be a peaceful person. I would have, what I would have thought was an appropriate reaction to stressful events, like exams looming, or some kind of personal conflict – where my anxiety would rise, and then eventually come back to almost nothing. I never found the anxiety itself to be debilitating, but it was certainly an uncomfortable experience.
Full disclosure – Peace is something I always prioritized. I hate to be in a frenzied, frantic state. BUT here’s the thing – my peace came at the cost of ambition. Meaning that I didn’t expect too much from myself, and probably neglected some of the responsibilities I did have in order to maintain the peace. “Ignorance is bliss” kind of deal.
I wanted to share this with you because – I realized and I acknowledge that there is a little bit of self deception going on here. What I had, wasn’t “true peace”, it was peace in exchange for living small. And I think that anything in exchange for something is not truly yours, it’s just a deal I’m making.
As I experimented more with being more ambitious and setting higher expectations for myself, raising my standards, and basically transforming myself into what I affectionately refer to as a “Type A Bitch” – I noticed that I was less peaceful. That’s one thing.
The second step into my descent into madness – I became a mother. I have a little human being relying on me for basically her life. My responsibility levels increased, and my peace decreased. Then add in the general stresses of adulthood, most specifically for me, this very uncertain career path that I’m on. Suddenly, I realized that I was not the self proclaimed peaceful person that I thought I was.
I was anxious. All the time. And this time, the anxiety was debilitating. And this time my anxiety never returned to zero. It consistently hovered at around a 5/6 on a scale of 1-10.
Stress/anxiety held in our body over a prolonged period of time, changes the way if functions on a physiological level. I felt unwell. I was constantly in this fight or flight mode, with no return to baseline, no sense of relief, which was exhausting. Something just felt wrong all the time. One day I asked myself – wait a minute, is this just normal? Is this just what being a responsible adult person feels like?
So I did a little research. I asked a few of my friends and family, about their experiences with anxiety on a day to day basis, and how they would rate it on a scale of 1-10. One said 100 on that particular day. But most on a an average day reported their feelings of anxiety hovering at around a 5/6, which then peaked during stressful events. Everyone described this as being a normal part of their life – because as adults, we have so many responsibilities, so many needs to meet, so many expectations to uphold, so many things to keep afloat.
Anxiety seems to be a normal part of our adult experience. Most people (in my friend circle, at least) experience it on a daily basis.
I’ll be honest with you – I was shocked. I was hoping to hear “No Malavika, you’re doing something wrong. Here’s how you fix it. Now go and live your life in peace.” I was not expecting to hear “Yes welcome to the club.”
I couldn’t help but feel that something didn’t feel right with that. This can’t be “normal”, surely. Because no thank you. I don’t want to sign up for that. I don’t want to live my life in this state constantly. I need to operate from peace and joy, and I’m pretty sure you do too. So I made it my mission over the last few weeks to figure out – how am I going to do that? How do I get there?
First let’s talk about anxiety.
I have noticed that anxiety does 2 things that works against the natural flow of life.
It stops you from being present.
First, it stops you from being present. It paralyzes you in a state of limbo between the past and the future, but never in the now. When you’re at home, you worry about work, when you’re at work, you worry about things to do at home. We are never where we are. Never where we need to be in any given moment. Which means, we can never do the things we need to do to truly move forward. It feels like we’re running on a treadmill; expending a lot of energy, but never getting anywhere. There’s no improvement. Life get’s…dizzying.
Secondly, it stops you from celebrating.
The anxious mind diminishes your accomplishments. It says things like “Oh you did ABC? Well, that was the easy stuff, what about XYZ – that’s the real hard stuff, why haven’t you done that yet?! Let’s obsess over that now.”
If there is as task that I know beforehand, that if I complete it, it is worth some kind of acknowledgement, it is worth something, it holds some value – once I have completed it, my anxious mind will not let me acknowledge or celebrate it. It will not let me take a moment to let that win sink in. It will keep the joy, the satisfaction I feel from completing that task small, contained in one fleeting moment, and then it will push me to the next big, scary, task I have to do. When you live your life like this, this is how the imposter syndrome comes about, when you are never really given time to truly take ownership of something you have accomplished, and you are just pushed onto the next daunting task. You are not really building any confidence, you’re doing a lot of worthwhile things, but you are never really internalizing it. This robs us of our own victories and tells us that it was due to luck, or any other factor other than our own great effort.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been testing out a few different solutions to dealing with my anxiety. And I wanted to share with you some things that worked for ME. Everything I am sharing here on my blog or on my youtube channel, is the exact lesson I am learning. I don’t want you to consider me an expert on this topic, but I am an expert on my life, and my own self discovery. So with that…
Fear vs excitement
This is probably the concept that revolutionized how I process anxiety. I first heard of this from Mel Robin’s channel, if you want to hear a much more eloquent explanation, I would head right on over there. But basically – both fear and excitement create almost the exact same physical and physiological response in our body. Our heart rates goes up, our breathing speeds up, butterflies in our tummy, the whole fight or flight response. The only discerning difference between fear and excitement, is how our mind labels it. In a stressful situation, you get those physical responses and your mind says “this is a stressful situation, this is bad, this is scary, help me.”
When we are excited about something, our body does the exact same thing, but this time our mind says “This is so exciting. I’m nervous but I can’t wait.”
So the practice with this concept is – next time you find yourself in an anxious state, try labeling it as excitement. Instead of saying “I am so scared to do this presentation in front of 100 people “, you can can say “I am excited to do this presentation in front of 100 people.”
Keep reframing what the sensation of anxiety is to you and over time, you will essentially teach your mind to transform anxiety to excitement.
Take massive action
The antidote to fear is action in the now, because fear is very rarely in the present moment. It’s usually in regards to an imagined future that has yet to happen or replaying the past. In instances where you are facing true fear in the now, such as, you’re being attacked, or a train is hurtling towards you – the chances are, you don’t have time to be anxious or stressed. You would just spring into action. Your mind would probably go blank and you would just act.
This works for anxiety too. If something is making you nervous, take massive action in the direction of the fear. Don’t think about it, just decide and do. If you can identify the general direction of where your anxiety is coming from, maybe it’s to do with a big project at work, just spending 30 minutes working in the area of your fear, will calm you down significantly.
Do one thing at a time, complete the thing, celebrate it.
Here’s a quote for you – the best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.
And life is comes one moment at a time.
This is something I remind myself of constantly – there is only ever 1 thing you need to do in 1 moment of your life. There is a moment in your day sit. There is a moment to check your e-mail. There is a moment to take a sip of your drink. There is a moment to work. You may have 500 things on your to do list, and there is a moment in your day, and in your week, and in your life for each of those 500 things. You don’t have to do 500 things in 1 moment. You don’t have to do 5 things or even 2 things in 1 moment. In this moment of your life, you only have to do 1 of those things.
It’s sounds simple. But it’s so rarely practiced. We’re always scrambling to do more, to multitask, to be faster, but ultimately we end up being inefficient with our time, and losing our presence of mind.
Pick that one thing. Disregard the rest. Do that thing. Complete that thing. If it’s a big project that is not possible to complete, break it down into a bite size chunk, and complete that chunk. And once you’ve completed it, celebrate it. Do not omit that last step, it is important to your joy. Celebrating the task might mean simply acknowledging that you did the thing, or maybe it means taking a coffee break, or giving yourself a pat on the back, it might mean doing something you really enjoy for the next moment – whatever it is, commit to celebrating what you have accomplished.
Our mind is the most inefficient place to collect tasks and ideas and information. It is the best place to collect vague stress.
Every night before I go to bed, I do a brain dump where I write out all the little niggly things that are on my mind that I need to keep track of.
We’re out of milk, I need to pack a spare outfit in Reya’s diaper bag tomorrow, I need to charge my camera, I have book a doctors appointment, I have to e-mail someone, I didn’t finish the last chapter of my notes etc etc
Let your anxiety be an invitation to upgrade your organization systems in your life. How can you streamline things? How can you make things easier on yourself? What systems can you implement to simplify and minimize various processes of your day to day life?
The gift of being organized is two fold – firstly it ensures you are going to meet the needs of people depending on you for something because you can schedule it in. And secondly if ensures you’re going to meet your own needs. Because if you are not organized, then usually what tends to happen is your needs go to the bottom of the list, and they never get actioned on. OR. They go no where because you’re not organized and you don’t have a list 😛
Learn how to Protect your joy
It is our responsibility to protect our joy. That means saying no to the things that erode your happiness. That means paying attention to what it is that makes us happy, and taking the time to tend to do it, nurture it and give it the space in our life it needs to expand and grow.
Another way I protect my joy is by reminding myself of my impermanence on this planet. My favourite way to do this is to look up at the stars in the night sky. Something about doing that just puts everything into perspective for me. We are barely tiny little fleck of dust in the magnificent universe. My souls journey through this life time is an important one, and I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with, this project at work, or how much money I make or something someone said about me. We get so caught up in this rat race of life, where we feel like we have constantly prove our self worth over and over again. Prove our intelligence, prove our ability, prove our character, prove our value. It’s exhausting and the truth is, that there is nothing to prove. There is nothing to do. We only have to be. We only have to wake up to what we have always been. Just life experiencing itself through a body.
— Important —
It is my responsibility to mention Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a treatable condition- if you feel that you anxiety is not only holding you back from being happy, but if its making you depressed, if it’s affecting the way you go out and live your day, by all means, try the tips I’m sharing this video, but please talk to your doctor too 🙂 Your mental health matters.